MATCH REPORT: AFC Wimbledon 2-2 Watford

WATFORD drew their second pre-season friendly 2-2 with AFC Wimbledon on Saturday afternoon.

Odion Ighalo and Fernando Forestieri scored either side of half-time as the teams shared the Football Manager Cup.

Wimbledon scored twice from the penalty spot, the final goal coming right at the end of a hard-fought game.

Head Coach Quique Sanchez Flores made two changes to the starting XI that took the field at St Albans City on Wednesday. Sebastian Prödl and Matej Vydra came into a side that retained their shape in a 4-2-3-1.

The 28-year-old Austrian lined up alongside Craig Cathcart, Ikechi Anya and Daniel Pudil in a back four packed with international experience.

In the centre of the pitch, Etienne Capoue continued his work as part of a defensive midfield duo alongside Almen Abdi. 

The interchanging front four combined for 62 goals last season, and started with Troy Deeney ahead of a three-strong supporting cast; Vydra, Forestieri and Ighalo made up this trio at the start of play.

Wimbledon started brightly in the afternoon sunshine, giving the defence plenty to get to work with. Big frontman Ade Akinfenwa was kept at bay by Prödl on more than occasion while Capoue calmly controlled the play from the middle.

The home side capitalised on their early form from the penalty spot after 11 minutes. Newly-signed Womble Tom Elliott was clipped by Anya on his way into the box. Callum Kennedy converted the kick, sending Heurelho Gomes the wrong way.

Flores’ team responded quickly, creating a chance within minutes of the goal. Anya burst down the right before cutting the ball inside for Vydra, who unselfishly let it run for Deeney. The captain’s shot was deflected over the crossbar.

With 26 minutes gone, the referee called for a quick water break and both sides took the chance to exchange instructions between coaching staff and playing staff.

Shortly after half an hour of play, the Hornets were back in the game. Ighalo closed down Wombles goalkeeper Joe McDonnell and was able to block his attempted clearance. The ball rebounded off the Nigerian forward and dropped into the net.

Moments later, a quick free-kick almost had them in behind again with Forestieri. This time McDonnell was able to parry the shot away from danger.

Gomes’ best moment of the first half saw him tip a dipping shot from Elliott narrowly over the left apex. 

Just before half-time, his opposite number was in action again to stop a low drive from Ighalo.

Both teams made changes at the break. Wimbledon were vastly more dramatic as they replaced all 10 outfield players. Watford swapped Gomes for Giedrius Arlauskis between the sticks, while Ben Watson replaced Vydra. 

The Hornets picked up from where they left off after the break, immediately putting a lot of pressure on the hosts.

Only a matter of moments into the second 45 minutes, Abdi almost put his side ahead when he smashed a close range free-kick off the crossbar.

The Swiss maestro nearly turned provider as Deeney met his cross inside the six-yard box, but McDonnell knocked the ball away. Unfortunately for the young stopper, Forestieri was on hand to bundle home the second goal.

Two former Hornets on the opposing bench, Neal Ardley and Neil Cox, rallied their boys and saw two chances fall their way in quick succession.

After Arlauskis couldn’t reach a high cross from the right, Prödl was on hand to clear an Andy Barcham header off the line. Then Adebayo Azeez saw a goal disallowed after he had barged Pudil off the ball before finding the net.

Fans in Kingston-upon-Thames had time to catch a glimpse of new signing Jose Holebas at left-back, as he was just one of many changes made in the second half.

Late drama came when a second penalty was awarded in favour of the Dons right at the death. Barcham cut inside Juan Carlos Paredes and was brought to the floor. George Francomb converted the spot-kick in similar fashion to the first. 

HORNETS STARTING XI: Gomes (GK); Anya, Prödl, Cathcart, Pudil; Capoue, Abdi; Forestieri, Ighalo, Vydra; Deeney (C).

HORNETS (second half): Arlauskis (GK); Anya (Paredes 64), Prödl (Hoban 81), Cathcart, Pudil (Holebas 75); Watson, Capoue; Abdi (Lewis 89), Ighalo (McGugan 70), Forestieri (Fabbrini 87); Deeney.

Subs Not Used: Gilmartin (GK), Doherty, Belkalem, Byers, Smith, Dyer, Jakubiak.

DONS STARTING XI: McDonnell (GK); Fuller (C), Harrison, Nightingale, Kennedy; Toonga, Bulman, Beere; Fitzpatrick, Akinfenwa, Elliott.

DONS (second half): McDonnell (GK); Francomb (C), Pilbeam, Osborne, Sweeney; Reeves, Meades, Rigg; Azeez, Oakley, Barcham.

Subs Not Used: Wilson, Kaja, Gallagher.

REFEREE: Tim Robinson.

ATT: 2,988 (1,307 away fans).

First Team 07/07/2015

Prödl | “Excited To Be Part Of This Team”

SEBASTIAN PRODL describes his switch from Werder Bremen to Premier League newcomers Watford as a dream come true.

The 28-year-old defender called time on a seven-year spell with the German Bundesliga outfit last month, signing a five-year deal to join up with the Hornets.

“The decision to leave Werder Bremen was hard, but the decision to come to the Premier League and to come to Watford was very easy,” Prodl told watfordfc.com

“I have dreamed about getting a contract in the Premier League and in the summer I got the opportunity to come to Watford, so it was easy for me to decide.

“I met Mr Pozzo and I was impressed with his ideas, so I became interested in trying to make a contract with Watford. I had a good feeling about the people here, and I think it’s a good choice to come here.

“I’m very excited to be part of this team and part of the Premier League, and I’m very much looking forward to the big challenge.”

A former team-mate of Per Mertesacker’s, Prodl says he spoke to the Arsenal and Germany defender before and after completing his move to Watford.

“When I first signed here I met Per in London and he gave me some good recommendations about the area, because their training ground is nearby,” admitted Prodl, who earned his 50th cap for the Austrian national team last month.

“He also gave me a good feeling about coming to the Premier League. He knows me as a player and as a human, so he recommended that I come and I’m very excited about it.”

Prodl played 174 times for German top-flight side Werder Bremen, including outings in the Champions League and Europa League – losing to Shakhtar Donetsk in the 2009 final of the latter competition.

But the former Sturm Graz centre-half reckons playing in the Premier League will top each of those experiences.

“I know that the German league is a very good league and one of the best in the world, but I don’t think you can compare it with the Premier League,” he said.

“The passion for the football here, the passion of the fans, the stadiums, and the big clubs you’re going to play against, there’s nothing better in the world. I’m very excited to get this experience.

“I hope I can play a very good part for the team. Watford got promoted last year and the first season’s always difficult, but never underestimate the underdogs because we’re looking forward to staying with the team in the Premier League.”