U23 Report | QPR 2-2 Watford
By Kevin Affleck
Watford’s Under-23 side can enter the Christmas break with a warm feeling of satisfaction after holding high-riding Queens Park Rangers to a point in West London this afternoon (Monday).
The Hornets showed huge character to recover from the blow of conceding an early penalty to lead 2-1 at half-time thanks to excellently-taken goals from Alex Jakubiak and Michael Folivi, the deadly duo leading the line for the Golden Boys.
QPR, as you expected them to, came roaring back in the second half, levelling just before the hour and looking the more likely of the two sides to go on and win it. But Watford stood firm defensively, perhaps more resolutely than they have done all season, and showed they are capable, after all, of digging in and holding on for their first draw in 16 matches this season.
They could, had things gone their way, have been celebrating all three points but David Sesay struck the post and the crossbar, and saw a free-kick kept out by a flying save by the keeper. In the end a draw was probably a fair result from a very watchable game.
QPR started the better of the two sides and seemed like they were all singing off the same hymn sheet. Watford took a while to find their feet but when they did, they almost scored with a counterattacking move that was to become a feature of their first-half play. Sesay, playing in the No 10 role, won a crunching tackle in the centre of the park that was more reminiscent of his days as a full-back and then played a one-two with Folivi before almost finding the bottom corner with a finessed angled drive toward the far corner. It would have been a lovely goal.
QPR made the most of their reprieve and won a penalty three minutes later. Max Ryan turned over possession in the middle of midfield, which resulted in Yeni Ngbakoto charging into the Watford box. In a bid to rescue the situation, Connor Stevens slid in but his timing was a fraction out and he felled the onrushing midfielder. Reece Grego-Cox made no mistake from 12 yards, beating Nathan Gartside with a shot straight down the middle.
Watford’s response was as swift as it was impressive. By the 25th minute they were level. Carl Stewart launched a swift length-of-the-field counter-attack from a QPR corner that was very much out of Liverpool’s playbook.
He played a lovely-weighted pass from inside his own half to set Jakubiak sprinting clear. Jakubiak was second in the foot race with the defender at that point but he scorched past his marker and then beat the keeper with a side-footed effort into the far corner. It was the classic sucker punch.
Things got even better five minutes later when Folivi, not to be outdone, zig-zagged his way across the box before checking back on his right and beating the QPR keeper, who had just crept off his line, with a beautifully dipped effort with his right foot.
There was plenty of whooping from his teammates and with good reason. It was his 13th goal of the season and easily his best.
The Hornets were good value for their lead but they were grateful for a Stevens block, which wasn’t too dis-similar to the one Adrian Mariappa pulled off at Swansea, for ensuring they went to the changing rooms at the break with their noses in front.
The expected fightback from Rangers didn’t take long to materialise and there was a collective sigh of relief when Aramide Oteh blazed over from six yards out. But Oteh made amends just minutes later when he shrugged off Brandon Mason, which is no mean feat, and slotted past Gartside and into the far corner. Now it was game on. Now we'd see what this young side were made of.
QPR slung plenty of crosses into the box, particularly from the right, but they were either blocked, headed away or punched clear by Gartside. It was all hands to the pump at times but the defence point blank refused to yield. Stevens, who has missed so much football through injury, was particularly good.
Watford didn’t just sit back, though, and the fact QPR had three players booked for halting attacks shows you the sort of ambition Hayden Mullins’ side were determined to play with and the threat they posed on the break. They had a go and got stronger as the game wore on.
The leggy Ryan marauded forward from the centre of midfield to force a low save from Martin Herdman in the QPR goal while Sesay, given a new lease of life behind the strikers, showed he has plenty in his locker with three long-range strikes that were all on target, including a free-kick that smacked the crossbar and came back out. QPR knew they had been in a ding-dong of a game.
HORNETS | Gartside; Mukena, Rowan, Stevens; Eleftheriou, Ryan, Stewart, Mason (Gordon 67); Sesay; Folivi, Jakubiak (Bradbury) 72.
Subs not used: Lacy, Stray.