U23 Report | Southampton 1-2 Watford
Hayden Mullins’ side continued the club’s rich pickings on the south coast this season, deservedly beating Southampton 2-1 in their opening Under-23 Premier League Cup Group B fixture.
A penalty from Michael Folivi, a superb penalty save from Nathan Gartside and a screamer from the excellent Brice Dja Djèdjè was good enough to defeat a Category 1 club with a rich pedigree of producing players and add to the wins the first team have picked up on the road at Bournemouth and Southampton.
This was easily the team’s best performance of the season and despite the close nature of the scoreline, there was no smash and grab about it. Apart from the penalty Southampton scored with 11 minutes to go, it was difficult to recall Southampton having a shot on target while the Hornets should have been given the chance to add to their tally with another penalty of their own.
This squad, boasting several first-teamers, struck the outside of the post twice against QPR on Monday afternoon but this time it was Watford grateful for the woodwork early on, Jonathan Afolabi hitting the outside of Gartside’s right-hand upright inside two minutes. It was an ominous start.
If that served as a wake-up call, then it worked as Watford largely controlled the half and the match thereafter, except for the last hairy ten minutes.
The back three of Charlie Rowan, Max Ryan and Joy Mukena smothered Southampton’s front two, Carl Stewart and Dja Djèdjè controlled the middle of the park, Andrew Eleftheriou and Brandon Mason needed no second invitation to overlap while the front three of Dennon Lewis, Michael Folivi and Dion Pereira were always a threat in behind and, crucially, stopped Southampton’s full-backs getting forward.
Playing in the middle of midfield, Dja Djèdjè bossed the first half of the opening period and it was from a penetrative pass by the Ivory Coast international that Pereira registered Watford’s first attempt on goal. Last season’s Young Player of the Season struck it well with his sweet left foot, and a foot either side and the goalkeeper would have stood no chance.
From their next meaningful attack, Watford scored and it would have been hard to argue they didn’t deserve it. Folivi was sent darting into the box by Eleftheriou and just as he was about to pull the trigger, he was pulled back. Folivi showed a good striker’s instinct to wrestle the ball off Djèdjè and make no mistake with the spot-kick, sending the keeper the wrong way.
He should have been given the chance to make it two from the spot minutes later but having just given one penalty, the referee lacked the conviction to award the away side a second in quick succession for another foul on Folivi. The young striker couldn’t believe it and was still remonstrating with the referee minutes later.
Watford might have thought it wasn’t going to be their night when, on 33 minutes, the referee awarded the Saints a penalty. Rowan had no complaints at the decision, so he would have been hugely grateful to Gartside for diving high to his right and keeping out Marcus Barnes’ spot-kick. It was a superb save.
The Golden Boys had to weather a mini storm at the start of the second half but once they did, they quickly got back into their stride. Lewis had a goal-bound shot that was nestling in the far corner deflected wide for a corner, Ryan, rising highest, nodded a header just wide and then Dja Djèdjè fired over on the run.
But it turns out the former Marseille man was just getting his eye in as on 66 minutes and from the centre of the goal, he beat the Southampton keeper with a swerving long-range effort that never got above hip height and crashed into the back of the net. It was some goal.
Southampton set up a grandstand finish by scoring from the spot through Callum Slattery with 11 minutes to go, but, thanks to a brilliant one-handed save from the excellent Gartside, the young Hornets showed good character to hold on for a notable win.
HORNETS | Gartside; Rowan, Ryan, Mukena; Eleftheriou, Djèdjè, Stewart, Mason; Lewis (Williams 60), Folivi (Sesay 86), Pereira (Charles 70). Subs not used: Hoskins (GK), Bradbury.