Stevenage *




Stevenage win 4-3 on penalties

Watford’s run in the 2023/24 Carabao Cup ended at the first hurdle, with Hertfordshire neighbours Stevenage edging a penalty shoot-out between the teams after it ended 1-1 at the end of normal time at the Lamex Stadium.

Vakoun Bayo made it two goals in two games when he put the away side in front early on, though going behind somewhat kicked League One Stevenage into gear and they eventually levelled through Josh March in the 43rd minute.

There were several chances for both teams after the break, with Bayo enjoying the best of them but being acrobatically stopped by Krisztián Hegyi, and with honours even at the end of the 90 the match was taken to a shoot-out.

Nathan Thompson struck the last blow to seal the shoot-out win 4-3, leaving Watford to turn their attention back to the league and returning to winning ways at home to Plymouth Argyle on Saturday (August 12, 3pm KO).

Head Coach Valérien Ismaël made just one change to the starting XI that comfortably saw off QPR last time out (Saturday August 5), with Ben Hamer coming in for Daniel Bachmann between the sticks, and Wesley Hoedt taking over captaincy duties.

The visitors quickly established control of possession after the first whistle, and it took fewer than six minutes for Bayo to prod in the opener at the back post following a Tom Dele-Bashiru free-kick out on the right.

Stevenage - whose line-up featured six changes from their season-opening win at Northampton - quickly went in search of a response, but Kane Smith’s fierce drive was blocked by Hoedt before a defensive mix-up involving Ryan Porteous and Hamer was rescued by the latter.

A spell of home pressure was successfully weathered by the Golden Boys - with the defence and midfield working resolutely, but Hamer rarely being tested - and back at the other end Matheus Martins continued to enjoy pockets of space down the left flank.

Hamer was called into action to make an impressive double save shortly after the half-hour mark, first to deny Jake Forster-Caskey from close range and then March with the follow-up.

Jeremy Ngakia’s night ended prematurely when he was forced off through injury in the 34th minute, with Ryan Andrews coming on in his place, moments before Imrân Louza tamely shot at Stevenage keeper Hegyi from the edge of the box.

Martins was next to have a go as he looked to follow up his goalscoring exploits at the weekend, but it was Boro who notched the equaliser just two minutes before the break, March this time making no mistake at point-blank range from a Forster-Caskey corner.

An Alex MacDonald free-kick flashed narrowly wide in the early stages of the second period, as Stevenage picked up where they left off, but a silky move involving Martins and Andrews quickly drew a Watford corner that Francisco Sierralta headed just off target.

A coming together between Hoedt and Aaron Pressley resulted in both players picking up a booking, soon after Hamer did well to come off his line to beat Nick Freeman to the ball near the six-yard line.

The introduction of Jake Livermore and Ismaël Koné prompted a slight change of shape, with Sierralta dropping into a more uniform back three, but it was Stevenage who continued to enjoy the better chances, and a Forster-Caskey shot was deflected out in the 68th minute.

With plenty of talent on the pitch though the Hornets were still capable of quickly turning the tide, and with little over quarter-of-an-hour to go a swift counter-attacking move culminated in Porteous picking out Bayo at the back post, only for the Ivorian’s effort to be spectacularly kept out by Hegyi.

Home stopper Hegyi then had to be alert to keep out a Louza drive and a well-placed header from substitute Rhys Healey, as Watford grew into the ascendancy late on, but the teams couldn’t be separated despite nine minutes being added on to the normal 90.

After Hoedt calmly dispatched the first spot-kick, Jamie Reid’s miss quickly put Stevenage on the back foot, but Porteous and Healey failed to convert and Thompson buried the decisive penalty to seal the Hornets’ fate.


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