By Kevin Affleck
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As if the first team didn't produce enough thrills last night, the Under-23s decided to join in the yellow party in a quite staggering Professional Development League game against Bristol City this afternoon.
Hayden Mullins' side looked dead and buried after conceding four goals inside 23 minutes at Bristol's Academy training ground. It looked a question of how many the rampant Robins might get and it looked like getting very ugly for the Hornets but they dug deep, real deep and staged an astonishing fightback.
We knew on the back of the late equaliser at Cardiff last week that this team has clearly got something about it but this was on another level completely to what happened at the Cardiff City Stadium.
They scored five goals in 19 minutes, including four in the space of nine bonkers minutes, to incredibly turn the match completely on its head and lead 5-4 after 47 minutes. It was astonishing stuff. Ryan Cassidy sparked the fightback, scoring a nine-minute hat-trick on his full debut at this level. The 16-year-old won't forget this one in a hurry.
Ultimately, he didn't end up on the winning side as a shell-shocked Bristol City side somehow regained their composure to level the match on 58 minutes and that was, just about, how it stayed. Everyone needed a long lie down after this one.
The madcap action started on nine minutes when Rory Holden jinked past a couple of Watford defenders on the edge of the box to fire past Nathan Gartside and find the back of the net in-off the post. No dramas, you thought - plenty of time to get back into it.
But then the home side struck again, three minutes later, this time through Antoine Semenyo after a mix-up between Max Ryan and Gartside. When the Robins made it three, again just three minutes later, through Kel Akpobire, you started to think something was up.
Watford really were at sixes and sevens by this stage and the sinking feeling that this was going to be one of those days to forget was beginning to take root when Holden scored his second, from a deflected free-kick. We were only midway through the first half and the Hornets had conceded four goals. It looked an awfully long way back.
Watford needed to score and score quick to stem the bleeding and Ashley Charles, the hero of the draw at Cardiff last week, delivered, smashing in a loose ball from a corner for his second in as many games.
The chances, all of a sudden, were starting to come thick and fast for the vistiors. Cassidy saw a close-range shot saved and then Dennon Lewis hit the foot of the post. You sensed there were more goals in this and so it proved when Cassidy converted cool as a cucumber after being put through one-on-one by Charles.
Watford now had their tails up and Cassidy was at it again on 43 minutes, converting from close range after purposeful play down the left from Dion Pereira. Now it was game on.
You sensed Watford would have been happy to get to half-time 4-3, especially after the disastrous start they made, but they had other ideas and capped off a breathless first 45 minutes when Lewis burst clear, rounded the keeper and slotted in to make it 4-4. It was scarcely believable stuff. The Watford players went wild.
But they weren't done there and they continued their goal spree within two minutes of the second half, Cassidy again showing a poacher's instinct to score at the second attempt after David Sesay had made inroads down the right. Cassidy now had a hat-trick after just 47 minutes.
The freewheeling football and rich supply of goals had to end sometime, it couldn't carry on like this and so it did but it wasn't for the want of trying. Gartside spectacularly tipped over to stop it being 5-5 and then Semenyo missed when it seemed easier to score from six yards out.
You hoped Watford could hold out for a sensational 5-4 win as it would have been some story, some comeback to tell everyone about when they got home but Tyreek Bakinson ruined that by making it 5-5 on the hour.
There were still half chances to win it for both sides - Sesay hit the post for Watford - and plenty of thunderous challenges, including one that led to a lively flashpoint, but in the end everybody had to settle for a point and both coaches didn't know whether to laugh or cry at full-time. There will not be a more entertaining Under-23 game all season.
HORNETS | Gartside, Eleftheriou, Mukena, Ryan, Gordon, Stewart, Charles, Sesay, Lewis, Pereira, Cassidy (Cruz Cabrera 85).
Subs not used: Jones, Howes, Forster, Empson.