Under-23 report: Birmingham City 0-1 Watford
A heroic defensive performance from Harry Kewell’s Under-23 side earned the Hornets an excellent 1-0 win against Birmingham at St Andrew’s this evening, in their opening league game of the 2016/17 season.
In the end it was a single goal from Alex Jakubiak which sealed the three points for the Golden Boys, with the forward poking home from close-range on the stroke of half-time.
The home side had a number of decent opportunities to find the back of the net in an open and entertaining encounter, but a mixture of excellent defending and good goalkeeping from Charlie Bannister allowed the Hornets to return to Hertfordshire with the win.
Harry Kewell was forced to name a somewhat makeshift backline due to a number of injures, with Bannister starting in goal behind a back-four consisting of Andrew Eleftheriou at right-back, Charlie Rowan and Max Ryan central and Dion Pereira at left-back.
Ogo Obi and Michael Folivi occupied the right and left flanks respectively with captain Carl Stewart sitting in-front of the back-four and Ashley Charles beginning the more advanced of the two midfielders.
That left last season’s top-scorer Jakubiak to lead the line for the Golden Boys alongside Ola Adeyemo.
On a sunny evening in Birmingham, it was the Hornets who started on the front-foot. A long ball from kick-off could only be cleared for a corner, and after a front-post flick-on, Obi could only fire over when left unmarked at the back post.
This opening appeared to spark the home side into life with a flurry of opportunities created in the opening 20 minutes following in an excellent attacking spell. The clearest of these opportunities fell to the feet of forward Koby Arthur, with the youngster firing wide of the Watford goal on two occasions when well-placed inside the area before forcing Bannister into a smart save low to his left.
The clearest of Arthur’s chances, however, were to come just after the 20-minute mark, with the 20-year-old presented with two golden opportunities in the space of a minute. First a low cross found its way to Arthur, with the striker fluffing his lines from six-yards. However, the ball found its way through to wide-man Corey O’Keeffe, who again found Arthur with a perfectly weighted cross but the striker this time headed wide with the goal gaping.
Despite his struggles in-front of goal, Arthur did turn provider for the Blues’ next opportunity on 25 minutes. Arthur did well to get beyond left-back Pereira before drawing Bannister out his goal and squaring to the onrushing Kyle McFarlane who couldn’t quite stretch to slot into an empty net.
Despite creating the better opportunities in an entertaining opening 45 minutes, it was the home side who went in a goal down. In a passage of play typical with the open style of match, the Blues went within inches of scoring at one end before conceding at the other. A Birmingham corner was met by the head of defender Luke Maxwell, only for Rowan to clear off the line.
A swift counter-attack then followed with the ball finding its way to Folivi on the edge of the Birmingham penalty-area. The wide-man demonstrated fantastic feet to beat his full-back before crossing into the area, although the covering Birmingham defenders appeared to have the danger covered. However, a sliced clearance from Joshua Dacres-Cogley fell to the onrushing Jakubiak who had the easy job of firing into an empty net from a yard out.
After such an open first-half, the second period began in a far more controlled tempo with the first opportunity after the break not arriving until the hour-mark. The lively Wes McDonald picked the ball up on the Watford right before cutting in and curling an effort towards the far corner of Bannister’s goal, only for the ball to rebound off the crossbar and away to safety.
Five minutes later an excellent Watford move nearly resulted in a second goal of the match. A clipped ball forward from Ryan found Charles on the edge of the area, whose clever flick fell to the onrushing Stewart, but his volley from the edge of the area flew narrowly over the Birmingham goal.
With the game becoming increasingly stretched, only more heroic defending stopped the home side finding a way back into the game. Another deep corner this time found McFarland, who looped a header goalwards, only for the covering Ryan to clear off the line and preserve the Hornets’ lead.
As the game entered the final 15 minutes, Arthur continued his quest for the goal his work-rate deserved but again headed wide when well-placed before Bannister made another good save, this time palming away Charlie Adams’ long-range, bouncing effort.
Full-back Dacres-Cogley was next to try his luck but dragged his effort inches wide of the far post, and despite an aerial bombardment in the final 10 minutes, more resilient defending allowed Kewell’s side to claim a dogged three points.
HORNETS: Bannister (GK); Eleftheriou, Rowan, Ryan, Pereira; Obi, Charles, Stewart (c), Folivi; Jakubiak, Adeyemo.