U23 Report: Hull City 4-1 Watford
By Kevin Affleck
The boot was very much on the other foot for the Under-23s this evening. Just over a year after dishing out a six-goal thrashing to the same opponents at the very same venue, the young Golden Boys experienced a chastening evening at the hands of the Tigers this time, conceding three unanswered goals in the first period and another in the second to slip to a heavy defeat.
This lively game was effectively won with a three-goal burst in 29 minutes from the home side. Watford, to their credit, did not roll over and hit back early in the second half through Ryan Cassidy and, with a change in formation, had a bit of a go for 15 minutes of the second half.
But Keane Lewis-Potter, the outstanding player on the field, showed why he was offered a two-and-a-half year professional deal in February by scoring his second of the night just past the hour mark to put the result beyond doubt. He would certainly have caught the eye of the watching Hull manager Nigel Adkins.
Head of Watford's Academy Darren Sarll will have been disappointed at the soft nature of three of the goals and concerned that it's now five matches without a win this season, but he is likely to cut this lot a bit of slack as some of them played for the Under-18s against Leeds at the weekend and this level is whole a new experience for many of them. There were only three survivors from this fixture last season when Alex Jakubiak, Michael Folivi, Ashley Charles, Dion Pereira and David Sesay were on target and only four players over the age of 19. This season is largely about accelerating the development of players and playing them out of their comfort zone, so there are likely to be a few learning curves along the way.
Following on from the 2-2 draw with Crewe last time out, Sarll fielded a 4-3-3 formation, with Harry Forster given license to operate in a free role behind Folivi and Cassidy. And the Hornets looked lively early on here, with Forster and Folivi both going close with low efforts from close range. The fluid nature of the front three looked to be suiting the visitors and they were experiencing real joy down the left.
But that proved to be the Hornets' best spell of the half and the Tigers took control thereafter. Lewis Ritson stooped to head in the opener on 13 minutes, marauding right-back Robbie McKenzie crashed one high above Sam Howes and into the roof of the net for the second, and then Lewis-Potter effectively put the game to bed by half-time by riding a couple of soft challenges and smashing one into the top right-hand corner.
Sarll responded at the break by moving Ryan Maclean to right-back, shunting Andrew Eleftheriou to left-back, bringing on Imaad Sankoh in the middle of midfield, fielding two wingers in Kieran Holsgrove and Forster and playing Folivi and Cassidy in a two-pronged attack. It was more like the 4-4-2 system deployed so successfully by the first team.
The move worked a treat as within six minutes of the restart, the Hornets were back in business. An in-swinging corner from Forster was not dealt with by the Hull keeper and Cassidy was on hand to poke home from close range. The Irishman will not score an easier goal all season. The keeper almost gifted the Hornets a second but his rushed clearance crashed into Folivi and, luckily for him, bounced to safety.
There were to be no more gifts, however, only another tidy finish from Lewis-Potter that made the game safe just past the hour mark. By the time he left the field, with five minutes remaining to a generous round of applause from an appreciative crowd that included Micky Adams, the game was in the bag for the Tigers. The search for that all-important confidence boosting win for this group goes on.
HORNETS | Howes; Eleftheriou (Tricker, 63), Hudson, Suckling, Holsgrove; Charles (C), Maclean, Bennetts (Sankoh, 46); Forster (Sesay, 75), Cassidy, Folivi.
Subs | Hoskins (GK), Tricker, Hutchinson.