Tag Archives: St Albans City FC

The U21s Start their Season at Clarence Park

Jakubiak and Ovenden waiting for a corner

Jakubiak and Ovenden waiting for a corner

The main Watford news on Saturday morning was the signing of Colombian international, Zuniga.  While I don’t tend to get too excited about new signings until I see them play, the signing of an experienced wing back could only be a good thing.  But, with the first team flying out to their pre-season training camp in Austria, Saturday’s focus was on the U21s first game at St Albans.

I met Toddy in our usual pre-match pub for a lovely lunch in the beer garden before heading for the ground.

On arrival at Clarence Park, we bumped into Jon Marks and had a good catch up.  With many of last year’s U21s having been released, I wondered what the team would look like and was not surprised to see two trialists and a number who were in the U18s last season.  The starting line-up was Trialist GK, Eleftheriou, Stevens, Belkalem, Trialist, Murray, Ovenden, Stewart, Pereira, Jakubiak and Adeyemo.  The U21s had a very disappointing season last year and there was an impression that there was quite a distance between them and the first team.  Given that Mazzarri is a proponent of 3-5-2 and the U21s were lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, the first indications were not positive that there will be more of a collaboration between the development squad and the first team this season.

Lining up to defend

Lining up to defend

The young Hornets started brightly with Jakubiak setting up his strike partner, Adeyemo, who shot over the bar.  But, on a very warm afternoon in Hertfordshire, chances were at a premium.  The best came when Murray unleashed a volley that tested the City keeper, Russell.  Towards the end of the half, Jakubiak broke into the box and forced another save from Russell, but the first-half ended goalless.  The home side had had chances of their own, but none that tested the unknown goalkeeper.

There were a number of substitutions at the start of the second half with Watford bringing on two more trialists and replacing Jakubiak and Adeyemo with Folivi and Obi.  The substitutions for St Albans were a bit of a blast from the past as they introduced former Watford youngsters Matty Whichelow and Billy Gibson.  Whichelow, who was a player that I had a soft spot for, had the best chance of the game with a cracking shot that the Watford goalkeeper had to tip over the bar.  St Albans dominated the first period of the second half as captain, Theophanous, hit a shot wide and Whichelow again drew a save from the keeper.

Belkalem bandaged after the clash of heads

Belkalem bandaged after the clash of heads

The most notable event of the half for the Hornets was a clash of heads between Belkalem and his team mate Ryan.  The youngster had jumped late for the ball, causing the clash but, as he fell to the ground with blood pouring down his face, I thought Belkalem should have made sure he was all right.  It was then that I noticed that the Algerian, who had shrugged off the challenge, was also bleeding.  The St Albans physio saw to his injury and, being made of stern stuff, he was soon bandaged up and returned to the field.  Ryan, sadly, was unable to continue and, because Watford could not make any more substitutions, they were down to 10 men.  But the Saints’ manager, Ian Allinson, made the very sporting decision to withdraw one of his players (his captain) to even things up.  In the last minutes of the game, both of the Watford strikers had chances to win the game as, first, Folivi broke through and hit a shot that was blocked by the keeper.  Then Obi received a lovely pass from Stewart before shooting straight at the keeper’s legs.

So the game finished goalless on a very hot afternoon in St Albans.  It was not a happy start to the U21 season and I was disappointed to hear that their next game would be held at the training ground and so would not be open to fans.  I really hope that the U21s are given more opportunities to play in front of supporters next season and that they are integrated further with the first team as there are some great youngsters there that deserve that opportunity.

Quique Flores Takes a Walk in Clarence Park

Arlauskis warming up

Arlauskis warming up

I was supposed to be going to the theatre on Wednesday evening, but the announcement of a pre-season friendly at Clarence Park put paid to that.  I know that there are varying schools of thought about pre-season games, with many regarding attendance as pointless, but I love them.  It is a chance to ease yourself gently back in with games whose results don’t matter, to get an early look at new signings and to catch up with your football friends.

We stationed ourselves outside the Sponsors’ Lounge and there was a different vibe from previous games at the same venue with the visit of Premier League opposition attracting a different class of visitor.  I don’t think I have ever seen glasses of white wine being drunk on the perimeter of a non-league pitch before.

Deeney doesn't look sure about the bloke with the bling next to him

Deeney doesn’t look sure about the bloke with the bling next to him

Our position turned to our advantage as I looked up to see our new manager approaching.  I took the opportunity to welcome him, for which he thanked me.  He was followed by the coaching staff and then the players.  I was impressed that Vydra didn’t look the least bit scared when I greeted him with “At last you are ours.”  Inside, he smiled and said, “At last.”  As the last of the players passed us, I wondered where Deeney was and then saw that he was having photos taken with fans.  He was running late behind his teammates, but still took time when he saw us ask how we were and to shake Don’s hand and give me a kiss.

Crowds had flocked to the game but, as the scheduled kick-off time drew near, many were still outside the gates so kick-off was delayed for 15 minutes.  That must be a first for a Watford pre-season game.

Quique Sanchez Flores named a very strong starting line-up:  Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Angella, Anya, Capoue, Watson, Ighalo, Abdi, Forestieri and Deeney.  I must admit that, since I always struggle to identify players in pre-season while writing my match reports (new hair-cuts usually do for me), I was happy that only one unfamiliar face was on show.

An early sight of Capoue on the ball

An early sight of Capoue on the ball

Prior to kick-off, as the players formed the line for the ‘respect’ handshake, they were joined by the Mayor of St Albans.  I don’t remember that happening when we played in the Football League.

Watford had an early chance as Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo but the ball ran away from the Nigerian and the chance was gone.  Then Capoue released Pudil on the wing, he crossed for Deeney who couldn’t connect.  Forestieri played a low cross to Deeney who cut it back to Abdi, but the Professor’s shot was straight at the Saints keeper.  The first goal attempt from the home side was put out for a corner which Gomes punched in the direction of a Saints player but Forestieri was on hand to block the follow-up.  Watford resumed their attacks as Deeney passed to Forestieri, who found space for a shot but it was a bit soft, so easily saved.  An attempt by Deeney to reach an Abdi ball over the top to him in the box was stopped by a push, but there was no penalty appeal.  Deeney then shaped for a scissor kick, but a defender blocked the ball before he could connect.

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

A lovely Abdi corner should have been converted but Capoue’s header was mistimed and the ball went sailing past him.  Pudil found Forestieri who cut inside and shot into the side netting.  It had been mostly one way traffic in the first 25 minutes, but St Albans threatened as Cathcart was pushed off the ball and the cross reached Hilliard whose shot cleared the bar.  It was then Angella who lost out to Hilliard but the striker again shot over the target.  At the other end, an Abdi free kick was easily gathered by Jones.  The home side threatened again as a cross from Bishop was headed clear by Angella while Hilliard’s follow-up shot flew wide of the far post.  Watford took the lead in the 32rd minute as a cross from Anya was turned back by Pudil to Ighalo who powered the ball into the net.  We were two up very soon afterwards as Capoue played a one-two with Anya before very generously feeding Ighalo who finished.  It could have been three goals within five minutes as Deeney hit a lovely half volley that just cleared the bar.  So we went into the break two goals up after a half that was thoroughly entertaining.  The new boy certainly impressed and there was a lot of lovely passing and not tiki-taka stuff, but Bolton-esque crossfield balls.

Abdi whips in a free kick

Abdi whips in a free kick

I expected wholesale changes for the Hornets at half-time, but there were only five substitutions with Arlauskis, Prödl, Hoban, McGugan and Vydra replacing Gomes, Angella, Pudil, Watson and Ighalo.  The home side also made a number of changes.  Connor Smith soon joined the fray replacing Capoue, who had a very good first game in a Watford shirt.  Almost immediately, Deeney was bearing down on the St Albans goal but Jones came off his line and put him off so he shot over the bar.  The next change was Lloyd Dyer (no, I didn’t think I’d see him in a Watford shirt again either) replacing Forestieri.  For the home side, Ngoyi shot wide of the far post, although the whistle had already gone for a rather harsh offside decision.  On the hour Abdi shot just wide.  Another unexpected face returned as Belkalem came on for Cathcart.  Dyer played a one-two with Vydra before putting in a cross that was turned out for a corner from which Prödl’s header over the target.  Dyer was instrumental in the third Watford goal as he rounded the keeper and hit a shot which was cleared back to him so he squared for Deeney to blast home.  Watford’s next substitution saw young professional Dennon Lewis replacing Abdi.  The first time Arlauskis was called into action he impressed, blocking a close range shot and then saving the follow-up.

Prodl in Action

Prodl in Action

Watford’s next chance was a McGugan free-kick which flew over the bar.  There was a further substitution as Anya was replaced by Paredes.  The home side hadn’t given up and a shot from Medlock was saved by the legs of Arlauskis.  At the other end a chance for Deeney was slightly scuffed and went straight to the keeper.  Dennon Lewis broke into the box, but his shot was saved.  The final substitution saw the last of the starters, Deeney, replaced by Byers.  Watford’s fourth came in the 87th minute as a cut back from Paredes was met with a shot from Smith that took a wicked deflection to fly over Jones in the St Albans goal.  There was one last chance for the Hornets but McGugan’s shot was saved so the visitors ran out 4 goal winners.

Those who shun pre-season games missed a treat.  It was a very good performance on a gorgeous Summer’s evening.  The new boys all looked impressive, the old boys played their part, there were four goals and I got a kiss from the Watford captain.  All in all, a very good evening.

 

A Glorious Afternoon in Clarence Park

Welcome to Clarence Park

Welcome to Clarence Park

While in Austria, there had been speculation that this weekend would see us playing a couple of games in Scotland.  Late last week, the bizarre prospect of playing Osasuna at Meadow Park raised its head.  But the final outcome was a trip to St Albans, which was rather lovely.

The main topic of discussion when the team was announced was the presence of Deeney on the bench.  None of our party really believe that he will be with us come the end of the transfer window so it felt like a treat to see him in a Watford shirt again.  It would also be our first chance to see Keith Andrews as the starting line-up was Gomes; Hoban, Tamas, Ekstrand, Pudil; McGugan, Andrews, Abdi; Anya, Ranegie and Dyer.

Ready for kick-off

Ready for kick-off

There was an early scare for the visitors as Andrews gave the ball away in midfield leading to a shot from McBean that Gomes collected.  A counterattack from the Saints finished with a shot from Kyriacou that flew well over the bar.  Watford then began to assert their authority.  Ranegie did well to beat the defender but, with only the keeper to beat, his shot was wide of the target.  A lovely Watford move finished with a shot from Dyer that beat Coulton in the St Albans goal, but the celebrations were cut short as the linesman’s flag was raised.

Congratulations for Anya

Congratulations for Anya

We were not to be denied for long, though, as the next move  saw Dyer outpace the defence, put a square cross to Ranegie who played it back to Anya whose powerful shot hit the back of the net.  Soon after, a lovely cross from Hoban went begging as McGugan couldn’t reach it.  Then Dyer tried to play Ranegie in, but the keeper was first to the ball.  There was a bit of pinball in the St Albans area as multiple shots from McGugan and Anya were blocked.  Then Andrews played a ball over to Dyer who teed up McGugan but his shot rebounded off the crossbar with the keeper beaten.  Abdi went on a forward run and crossed, but Ranegie could not connect with a header.  At the other end, a spectacular dive from Gomes seemed to be more to give him something to do than to reach a shot from Corcoran that was well wide of the target.

Abdi on the attack

Abdi on the attack

Anya went on another run down the left and beat a defender before crossing for Dyer who generously passed to McGugan, but the shot was weak and easy for Coulton, which left us wishing that Dyer had buried it himself.  Dyer and Anya combined again, but there was another weak finish, this time a poor header from Ranegie.  McGugan and Ranegie then played a one-two but the shot was blocked.  With 5 minutes to go to half time, we finally got a second goal as Tamas played a long ball to Hoban on the right wing, he put in a lovely cross and Ranegie was there to nod it past Coulton.  His celebration indicated his relief at finally capitalizing on one of his chances.  Abdi was the next to threaten, but his shot was blocked.  At the other end, Gomes had a chance to demonstrate his ball skills as, with two players closing in, he played himself out of trouble beating the forwards and clearing.  On the stroke of half-time, the Hornets were 3 up as Ekstrand headed an Abdi corner goalwards.  As the ball hit a defender on the way in, it was given as an own goal, but it looked like Ekstrand’s goal to me.

Very nearly there

Very nearly there

After the paucity of goals in most of the pre-season games, it was great to reach the interval with three to discuss.  St Albans may be playing in the same league as Boreham Wood next season, but the quality of their team was not a patch on their rivals and the Watford team had played very well.

At half time, we decided to swap ends to remain behind the goal that Watford were attacking. It was roasting at that end of the ground, but worth it to see the goals.

Sannino made five substitutions at the start of the second half, with Bond, Doyley, Angella, Tozser and Fabbrini replacing Gomes, Hoban, Ekstrand, Abdi and Dyer.  Early in the half, Anya went on a run and put in a cross that Coulton intercepted before it reached Fabbrini.  McGugan, who had taken the captain’s armband, played a ball over the top for Fabbrini to run on to, he received the return pass and unleashed a shot that Coulton turned around the post.  McGugan took the corner which was headed over by Angella.

Fabbrini on the ball

Fabbrini on the ball

On 55 minutes, Ranegie and Andrews made way for Vydra and Battocchio.  Vydra was involved immediately as he received the ball from Doyley then exchanged passes with Anya before shooting, but Coulton was equal to his effort.  Just after the hour, Deeney made an appearance in place of McGugan while Johnson came on for Pudil.  The next Watford chance came as Fabbrini cut into the box and hit a shot which required a good save to keep it out.  At the other end, St Albans had their first chance for some time as Pires, who had just come on as a substitute, shot just wide of the far post.  Bond was called into action soon after and pulled off a great save to tip Ward’s strike over.  This inspired the St Albans fans into a chant of “We’re the pride of Hertfordshire.”  Sannino’s final substitution saw Smith replacing Anya.

Deeney goes to congratulate Battocchio

Deeney goes to congratulate Battocchio

Battocchio tried a shot from too far out that was caught before it got anywhere near the goal.  He made up for that soon after as he latched on to a ball from Vydra and coolly chipped the keeper.  A lovely goal.  He scored his second, and Watford’s fifth, soon after as he ran onto a ball from Deeney, outpacing the defence, and hit the ball past Coulton.  With 10 minutes remaining, the game was stopped for a drinks break.  I suspect that the Saints players were hoping for something rather strong in theirs.  Bond was in action again with 6 minutes to go, but he dealt comfortably with Frendo’s shot.  Smith tried a shot from distance that was well wide of the target.

Deeney confirms Battocchio's brace

Is this our last view of Deeney in a Watford shirt?

Then Deeney, who had berated the lino for an earlier decision, was flagged offside but he chipped the ball past the keeper for the entertainment of the Watford fans in the crowd.  In the final minutes, Jallow had a chance to get a consolation for the home side, but his shot from wide right flew past the far post.  The last chance went Watford’s way as a shot from Fabbrini was blocked and the ball fell to Deeney whose cross was headed over by Vydra.

With goals having been at a premium in most of the other games, it was a treat to see so many in this one.  It was also rather pleasing to see the strength in depth that we have this season as every change was positive rather than weakening the team as the game went on.  All in all a fun pre-season afternoon.