U23 Report & Reaction: QPR 1-2 Watford
By Kevin Affleck
Darren Sarll believes Michael Folivi’s splendid double in a significant 2-1 win over high-riding Queens Park Rangers will prompt renewed interest in the striker.
The Head of the club’s Academy has made no secret of his desire to send his most promising players out on loan in a bid to enhance their development and he hopes the match-winning nature of Folivi’s performance here will spark a flurry of phone calls.
The 20-year-old scored the first with a goal strikingly similar to the one Troy Deeney got at West Ham a couple of seasons back and then gave his side the comfort blanket of a second with a spectacular second from a similar area of the pitch that crashed in off the bar.
It meant the Hornets were able to withstand a late QPR goal and hold on deservedly for their fourth league win of the Professional Development League season.
“They were wonderful goals,” said Sarll. “I’m very critical of Michael when he gets in on that left-hand side on the angle as I feel too many times he doesn’t have a picture of what he looks like. He did what I’ve asked of him today and they were two great finishes. We’ve worked very hard on that and he’s scoring a good amount of goals now and should be a very attractive proposition for someone.”
Folivi, who now has nine for the season, turns 21 in February and Sarll feels he will continue to mature if he follows up his loan spells at Coventry City and Boreham Wood with another temporary switch.
“The plan for him is the same as for everyone else: the minute we can get them out playing senior football, they’ll go,” he said. “That doesn’t matter if you are a second-year scholar or a second-year pro. It’s important to play senior football every week and see what it’s like at the coal face.”
The Under-23 side certainly had to dig in against an experienced QPR team who fielded well-travelled defender Alex Baptiste at the back, Sean Goss, who played for Glasgow Rangers last season, in midfield, and the giant Matt Smith, who averages one in two league starts for the Hoops, in attack.
Given the quality of the opposition, the fact they had not lost since September and that they thrashed the Hornets 6-2 at Vicarage Road in October, it probably ranks as the team’s best win of the campaign.
“I thought it was a wonderful performance,” said Sarll. “You could see how motivated the group were and these are enjoyable games. You try and hang onto things like that [the defeat at Vicarage Road] and elements of that performance, but we just asked them to be brave and not to give the opponents too much respect.
“There were some very good bits today. I felt we had lost a bit of momentum and a bit of intensity in training after coming back from Christmas, but I thought they really found their legs after the first 15 minutes and played with a great mentality and harmony. It was really enjoyable.”
Sarll fielded another callow team packed with teenagers – only one player was above the age of 19 – and yet they stood up and played with great spirit and discipline. They all rushed over to stand up for their teammate when the game boiled over in the second half, while you had striker Ryan Cassidy making two key clearances in his own box and playmaker Sonny Blu-Lo Everton taking one for the team and picking up a yellow card to thwart one late attack from the home side.
“You always go back to player development,” said Sarll. “You had 16-year-old Imaad Sanko in the middle of the park, Dan Phillips a second-year apprentice, Ash Charles hasn’t played really for four weeks, you’ve got a first-year scholar [Harry Hudson] at right-back, a second-year scholar [Lewis Gordon] at left-back and a first-year scholar [Dante Baptiste] in goal.
“You then see Sonny come on and show a wonderful touch of class around the box. This was a wonderful experience for them and feel-good performances like today are the fuel that gets the fire going in their belly and takes them onto a good career.”
The Academy coaches will all talk at length about how player development is far more important than the result, but it didn’t half feel good to register a win like this.
“It’s important you develop them knowing how to win,” said Sarll. “That’s why I love having people like [Academy goalkeeping coach] Graham Stack around me because he’s got that cynical, winning edge to him. He doesn’t care if the players are 16, 18 or 21 – he just wants to win.
“The minute they get a lead you see people like Graham turn into another beast and it’s about winning. No manager wants a loser in their team and that’s what we are trying to create here. It was a good day and a nice one for player development.”
HORNETS: Baptiste; Hudson, Mukena, Leighton, Gordon (Mullins 80); Sankoh, Phillips, Charles (C) (Blu-Lo Everton 77), Forster (Holsgrove 85); Folivi, Cassidy.
Subs not used: Hoskins (GK), Hutchinson.