By Kevin Affleck
With minimal fuss and no trace of a scare, Watford ensured they were not the shock result of the round by doing a very professional job on Woking this afternoon.
Plenty had gathered at the Laithwaite Stadium in hope of what, in terms of league positions, would have ranked as one of the biggest cup upsets of all time, but the Hornets were in no mood to be giant-killed. They never racked up the cricket score Woking boss Alan Dowson had feared, but they were also never in danger of suffering their first defeat at the hands of non-league opposition in 42 years.
Will Hughes whipped in the first and then Troy Deeney came off the bench to put the flame out on any flickering hopes Woking had of forcing a lucrative replay. It will not be a game that lingers long in the memory if Watford are to have a cup run, but this stage of the competition is not about making statements: it's about resting a few tired legs after an exhausting Christmas period and making sure your name is in the hat for the fourth round. To that end, it was mission accomplished.
Javi Gracia made 11 changes to the side who drew 3-3 with Bournemouth last time out, but he still managed to send out a side boasting six internationals and four youth internationals. This was no scratch side: it was one that meant business and who went out with the all-important mind-set needed in tricky ties like this.
Enjoying plenty of joy down the right side, the Hornets set their stall out early on and flexed their muscles thanks to an overhead kick from Isaac Success and then two long-range efforts from debutant Adalberto Peñaranda, the second of which flashed past the far post. The Golden Boys wanted to strike the first blow and remove the possibility of an upset as soon as possible.
They thought the breakthrough had come via the unlikely source of Adam Masina on 14 minutes when he stabbed a knockdown from Miguel Britos at goal, but it smacked the man on the post in the face and went behind for another set-piece. This time, the Hornets made no mistake. Masina cut the ball back for Hughes who had found himself in yards of space after the dummy runners had dragged the markers towards goal. Hughes didn't even opt to take a touch as he ripped the ball across his body and into the far corner. It was a goal of Premier League quality.
With any nerves now settled, Watford started to zip the ball around and started playing with surprising cohesion for a side thrown together this week. Enjoying 74 per cent possession in the first period, Success saw a chance at the near post saved well by Craig Ross, Domingos Quina smashed one over from distance and then Cleverley smacked a lovely free-kick against the bar. With Woking failing to muster a single effort at goal let alone on target, it was just a question of when Watford would kill the tie stone dead.
The very bright Peñaranda tried to do that ten minutes after half-time, but he failed to just get enough curl on a shot he tried to bend in the far corner after cutting in on his right foot. Woking were keen to show they had something to offer going forward and that it wasn't just all one-way traffic. Just past the hour mark, the Cards fashioned their first shot on goal when Armani Little forced Heurelho Gomes to make a save.
Perhaps that chance, which highlighted just how in the balance the tie was, was what prompted Gracia to send for the cavalry on 71 minutes. Deeney and Ken Sema, two of the heroes of the thriller at the Vitality Stadium, were sent charging on and it took the pair less than five minutes to carve out the match-sealing second. Sema muscled his way down the left, threaded the ball across the face of goal and there was Deeney to tap in the easiest goal he will score all season.
And that was that. Woking's FA Cup run was over. Watford's, on the other hand, is just getting started.
HORNETS | Gomes (GK)(c); Janmaat, Wilmot, Britos, Masina; Cleverley, Chalobah, Quina, Hughes (Navarro 80), Success (Deeney 71), Peñaranda (Sema 71).
Subs not used | Dahlberg, Mariappa, Deulofeu, Femenía.