First Team 18/12/2018

Gallery: Watford v Cardiff City

See an alternative view of Watford v Cardiff City, December 15, 2018.

Photo credit: Sol Tomlinson.

Under-23's 17/12/2018

U23 Report & Reaction: Bristol City 2-1 Watford

By Kevin Affleck

Darren Sarll felt there was no disgrace whatsoever in losing 2-1 to an experienced Bristol City side, believing the test against a side featuring an Australia international, an England Under-21 star and a striker who cost more than a £1million will stand his young bucks in good stead.

The Robins used the Professional Development League game as a chance to play a number of fringe players, some on their way back from injury and others who have just returned from spells out. City manager Lee Johnson was there to watch reported £1.5million buy Mo Eisa, Soccerroos defender and club captain Bailey Wright and Freddie Hinds, who scored in the Carabao Cup game at Vicarage Road last year. Chelsea loanee Jay DsSilva played at left-back while Frank Fielding, who has played more than 150 games for the Robins, was in between the sticks.

They looked set to provide the teenage Hornets, who had some first-year scholars in their ranks, with a searching examination at the Robins’ training ground, but the Hornets shaped up really, really well. In fact, it took a soft penalty, converted by Eisa, and then a cracking strike from the same player, who scored 23 goals in 45 games for Cheltenham last season, to sink them. Ryan Cassidy scored in between for his sixth of the Under-23 season.

“I thought it was a real good game for the players, a good experience to play against a side with plenty of Football League experience,” said Darren Sarll, the Head of the club’s Academy. “That’s an experience we can’t create on the training field. To come here and play against some good players, who did it properly for Bristol City, I thought was a positive experience for us. 

“They were strong, but then we were strong, too. In the first half an hour we had three good opportunities and we worked their goalkeeper. It was a a good test, with plenty of positives and it was a good experience all round.”

Like he did in the FA Youth Cup win over Birmingham City on Thursday, Sarll fielded a 4-3-3 formation and was pleased with how his 16-year-old and two 17-year-olds did in the middle of the park.

“I thought the midfield three were excellent,” said Sarll. “That’s the midfield three in the Under-18s and they are playing well against players with Football League pedigree. Imaad Sankoh is still only a first-year scholar and he seems to thrive on stepping-up. Dan Phillips was terrific again and that was Jayden Bennetts’ first real start in there at this level and he stood up. Folivi and Cassidy also worked tirelessly up front and were a real threat. The two Under-18 full-backs [Harry Hudson and Lewis Gordon] were splendid as well.”

Former Watford keeper Richard Lee was on the sidelines and he provided a reminder of the success of the club’s Academy. Sarll is half a season into his role and he is pleased with the progress at the top end of the Academy. The Under-23s had won three of their last five before this, the Under-18s have lost one in eight while the Academy has got the club through to the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup and the quarter-final of the Herts Senior Challenge Cup.

“We talk a lot about getting the wheels moving and building some momentum,” said Sarll. “Everyone can see the evolution of this group and we are very. very competitive with a lot of apprentices in the Under-23 side. 

“This is the stage where there needs to be an evolution of players. The Under-16s who are going to be full-time next year need to be playing for the Under-18 team and the scholars need to step up and show they can handle Under-23s football. We’ve already got really promising signs from Dan Phillips, Imaad and Jayden. This is the start of the next wave. It’s a big transition, but the Under-18s and the Under-23s have got a great bond and blimey, do they try hard.”

HORNETS | Howes (C); Hudson, Tricker, Mukena, Gordon; Sankoh, Phillps, Bennetts (Holsgrove 64); Forster (Hutchinson 81), Cassidy, Folivi. 

Subs not used | Baptiste (GK), Mullings, Adebiyi.