By Kevin Affleck
Darren Sarll felt his Under-23 side ticked most boxes after they put four unanswered goals past Bristol City to register their first Professional Development League win of the season.
In front of UK Football Recruitment Director Andy Scott, the teenage Hornets raced into a handsome half-time lead with three goals of the highest quality. Harry Forster rattled one in from distance off the post; Dion Peirera cut inside to blast one in with his wand of a left foot and then Michael Folivi planted one in-off the bar and post on the stroke of half-time.
The last time these two sides met, Watford staged a remarkable recovery from four down to draw 5-5, but the Hornets did not give the young Robins a sniff here and wrapped things up in the second half when Folivi got his second after being sent clear by Ryan Cassidy.
The only disappointment was that the Hornets did not win by a bigger margin, as they created enough chances to, but Sarll was not about to get greedy following a nine-match winless run.
“I thought it was a good performance,” said Sarll, who took over as Head of Academy in the summer. “It's been a long time coming, but if this was a first-team squad and you had a new manager and a completely new set of players you'd be talking about giving the project time and having an adjustment period to blend. It's been a massive change in culture and mentality and we are always striving for days like today. When you get a team playing in harmony and playing with instinct it's very pleasing as that is what you work for all week.”
Sarll said the clean sheet, which came hot on the heels of the one they kept against Potters Bar in midweek, pleased him as much as the quality of the goals.
“I said to them at half-time that if it stayed at three and we don't concede that I would have been absolutely delighted,” he said. “We weren't complacent and we weren't sloppy, particular as you knew there was going to be a reaction from them after they were heavily punished in the first half. It was as comfortable as can be.”
Watford's Reece Miller won the Premier League Under-23 Goal of the Season for his strike at Colchester last season. Forster posted a genuine contender for this season's crown at Wingate & Finchley after coming in off his flank to collect a cross-field pass from Pereira and then letting fly from distance.
“He's got good ability and we are always reassuring Harry that he can make risky decisions as a dribbler and that he's not going to be tormented or punished for it,” said Sarll. “The pleasing thing with him and Dion is that when a good shooting opportunity came up, they didn't try and find a better shooting opportunity or take another touch. It was probably the most shots we've had in any first half.”
Folivi's double either side of half-time took him to six for the season and he looked bright and full of running alongside Cassidy.
“I enjoy working with Michael,” said Sarll. “I work with the forwards and I like Michael because he has a good appetite. He could maybe have another two and they were maybe the easiest two chances he had. I thought he took his first goal absolutely superbly and I was disappointed he didn't get his hat-trick as I feel he deserved it. I really enjoyed how much better the chemistry was between Cassidy and Folivi. I thought, for the first time this year, that they were really in tune with each other.”
Forster, Pereira and Folivi will get the plaudits for the quality of their goals, but the win was built on the performances of captain Ashley Charles and Dan Phillips in the middle of midfield. Charles put his foot in, built attacks from deep and showcased his full range of passing in a performance that showed he is back to his best after a spell out injured.
“Ashley is ready for senior football now,” said Sarll. “Ashley has taken to what we are doing and I really believe he's ready for that senior experience out in the Football League. With performances like that he is doing himself no harm. Dan still has got so much to do but, physically, he could cope with men's football now. He's got all the endearing qualities you look for in a player as a fan.”
HORNETS | Hoskins; Eleftheriou, Mukena, Hudson, Gordon; Pereira, Phillips, Charles (C) (Bennetts 78), Forster; Cassidy (Hutchinson 83), Folivi.
Subs not used | Baptiste (GK), Tricker, Holsgrove.