I was rather pleased when the draw for the second round of the League Cup gave us a trip to Reading as it is almost a home game for me. Even more so when the game was scheduled for Wednesday evening as I was already planning to work from home due to a dental check-up in Maidenhead in the afternoon. I always have a chat about football with my dentist, who is really an Arsenal fan but used to be a Reading Season Ticket holder who gave up going because the team were hopeless. We chatted about the game and he warned that they may cause us problems. I assured him that, given our recent history in this cup, I was taking nothing for granted. Once he gave me the all clear, I was on my way to Reading where I was in the pre-match pub far too early, although not as early as the chap in the Watford shirt who was already sitting in the corner. I bought myself a lovely real cider and then found a little booth to hide away in and wait for the rest of my party who arrived in due course.
On arrival at the ground, the bag search was being undertaken by a woman whose main concern seemed to be to find some goodies that could be shared with her. It always makes the day a bit nicer when the stewards have a sense of humour. As our pre-match pub is excellent for beer but doesn’t serve food, I had a chicken balti pie inside the ground that I have to say was very good indeed. While waiting for kick-off, Sweet Caroline was played which apparently is a Reading favourite but made me a little homesick for Fenway Park.
Team news was that Gracia had made 11 changes with debuts for Navarro, Masina, Wilmot and Quina and the return of Chalobah, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Navarro, Mariappa, Prödl, Masina; Femenía, Chalobah, Wilmot, Quina, Sema; Success. I have to say that looked like a pretty decent team. Reading had also made 8 changes, but the main Watford connection with the opposition was in the dug out in the person of Sir Nigel Gibbs.
The first chance of the game came from a Navarro free kick from distance that was an easy save for Walker in the Reading goal. Early in the game there was a switch in formation to three at the back with Wilmot in the middle and Navarro and Masina playing as wing backs. Watford’s next chance also came from a free kick from Chalobah that just cleared the bar. From a corner, Femenía played the ball back into the box where it was parried and fell to Mariappa whose shot was blocked before Wilmot tried a cheeky back heel that was cleared. Young Wilmot was having an impressive start and he was soon in action at the other end of the pitch cutting out a dangerous ball into the box. The first chance for the home side came in the 23rd minute as Watford failed to clear a cross into their box allowing McNulty to volley over the bar. Then Watford launched a great break, Success got to the byline and put in a low cross, but nobody was there to take advantage. Soon after, a corner from Sema reached Femenía who played it in to Success whose shot missed the target. He wasn’t to make the same mistake a minute later as Masina played the ball back to him, he took one touch and then finished past Walker. Reading had a chance to break back from a free kick which was launched over the wall, but Gomes dropped to make an easy catch. So Watford reached half time a goal to the good and looking uncharacteristically comfortable.
Reading made a change at the break bringing Sims on for Swift. The second half started with a decent chance for the Hornets. After a fast break, Navarro crossed for Success who headed just over the bar. Soon after, the Watford striker had another chance to increase the lead, this time from a Masina cross, but he nodded wide. The travelling Hornets were in good voice and a lovely bit of skill from Quina was greeted with an appreciative chorus of “sexy football”. There was a decent chance to get a second as Chalobah played a lovely ball for Femenía to run on to, but the shot was blocked by the Reading keeper. The second Watford goal was a thing of beauty, the ball was cleared to Quina outside the box, he advanced a couple of steps and then took the advice of the bloke standing behind me who was yelling ‘hit it’ and powered a rocket into the top corner. It was quite a strike. There were changes for both sides soon after as Baldock and former Watford youngster Yiadom came on for O’Shea and Richards for the home side. For the Hornets, Sema made way for Okaka. The Watford substitute had an immediate chance to get on the score sheet as he got on the end of a looping cross from Femenía, but his glancing header was wide of the target. There was a rare chance for the home side as a ball dropped to Kelly inside the box, but he hit it over the bar. Quina’s enjoyable debut came to an end as he was replaced by Doucouré. He looked shattered as he left to field to an ovation from the travelling Hornets. Watford were still pushing to extend their lead as a shot from Navarro was pushed over the bar. At the other end McNulty lobbed Gomes, but Mariappa was back to clear the ball. Reading threatened again with a decent shot from distance from Méïté, but Gomes was down to make the save. Watford’s final change saw Hughes come on for Chalobah, it was so great to see him back in action and managing almost 90 minutes. Reading had one last chance to reduce the deficit from a free kick, but the shot was easily caught by Gomes.
So, in the end, it was a convincing and comfortable win for the Hornets. The second string put in a very good performance which gives a pleasing indication of the strength of the squad. Of the new guys, Wilmot was the most impressive, looking very assured in the middle of the back three. The other youngster, Quina, made some lovely touches and his goal was a worldie. These two look to have very promising futures. It was also a delight to see Chalobah back on the pitch and putting in a great shift for almost the entire 90 minutes. He was beaming as he responded to the chants of “Chalobah, my lord” after the final whistle.
Also, fair play to the 2514 fans who travelled to the game. It is not a long journey but, given our recent record in this competition, they would have travelled more in hope than expectation, so thoroughly deserved that win.
We have Spurs next in both the league and the cup. I don’t expect anything from either game, but if this team continues to perform as they have so far this season, we are in for a rather enjoyable season.