Enjoying the summer sun in the beer garden I strolled round to the ground 20 minutes before kick off and walked in to see the pitch still looking good and shorter following St Lloyd Doyley Day last Sunday. Receiving news of the squad I was hardly surprised, whilst Zola would still appear to be experimenting and instilling belief and ideologies within the team, he would want to get off to a winning start in competitive games, and lay the groundwork for a potential cup run. There was a lot of yellow shirts around the High St, and the centre of town which was encouraging to see, I'd hoped that due to it being played on a Saturday, and there being excitement amongst the support, that the attendance would be higher than normal for a cup game.
Doyley Nosworthy Taylor Dickinson
Bond (GK), Thompson, Hodson, Forsyth, Anya, Iwelumo, Buaben
I'd heard whispers about Murray not being in the squad for today, either due to compassionate leave or an injury picked up in training depending on who you believe so that was no surprise, disappointing not to see Pudil or Hodson start at full back, nor Connor Smith in centre midfield after a very impressive game against Gillingham earlier this week. In between tweeting rubbish, I was being sprayed by drizzle from the sprinkler system and trying to figure out why the Lower Rous had been kept clear.
The home side started well, with Hogg and Vydra combining well and then the former Villa man heading just wide from inside the area. Next swing was for the visitors, with former Hornet Joel Grant doing well and new signing Richard Logan going close, forcing Almunia into a double save which the Spanish keeper watched drop just wide, much to the relief of the Rookery. Czech striker Matej Vydra had picked up where he'd left off in his last outing for Watford, terrorising League Two defenders with his pace, trickery and flair and you could tell despite not being fully fit, the boy has impressive talent. He could be a vitally important player this season if we can keep him from his reputed injury issues. Another spell of intent from the hosts and we won two corners in a row, interestingly Yeates took neither with Dickinson kicking in from one side, and Vydra the other, unfortunately as I found out later this isn't a permanent change.
The game seemed to hit a lull and really flatten down with the ball spending the majority of the time in the middle third, Abdi on occasion managed to break through but generally looked lethargic and out of the face. Former academy player Marvin McCoy unfortunately had to be stretchered off mid way through the first half following an unfortunate collision with the Swiss midfielder, at the time of writing we're still yet to hear what has happened, hopefully it's good news. What was to follow can only be described as one of the worst periods of watching Watford in my life, the only occasion I can recall being barely threatening was an aimless lofted ball deep from Eustace being flicked on by Garner towards the goal, but straight into the arms of Nikki Bull. As the first half drew to a close both sides went close in an attempt to go in to the break ahead, first Yeates found himself wide out left, zigzagging inside his marker before driving the ball from outside the box, but again was straight into the arms of the keeper. Young Anthony Stewart nearly grabbed his first goal for Wycombe just before the whistle, a free kick given away following Hogg needlessly losing the ball and chasing back aggressively, was floated to the far post and met by the defender who headed high and over the bar.
So half time had arrived, I can't remember a time when I've been so happy for the half time whistle to go. My enjoyment furthered when going for a wee, I find myself next to Gavin Massey, slightly surreal, yet unimpressive. Anyway. I (and other tweeps) were cheered up by the fact that L*ton were 2-0 down themselves, hopefully starting as they mean to go on.
The second half started as the first half ended, a flurry of chances for either side with Mark Yeates again threatening from the wing, using his footwork before darting between two defenders and then curling a cross-cum-shot just past the far post of Wycombe's goal. Vydra and Abdi were really starting to come alive now, and the former was running the visitor's defence ragged winning free kick after free kick, unfortunately Yeates was on free kick duty, and unfortunately still couldn't put them past the first man. (At this point during the game Dickinson shot with his right foot = he doesn't have one). Hogg was starting to get into the game a bit more, and a fantastic cross field ball to Garner was caught by the striker on the volley first time, impressive technique but unfortunately too clean as it was straight into the chest of Bull. Matty Spring went through the paces and then nearly reminded the home fans why he won us over despite being a scummer (he's alright now.. well, was then) by firing from distance and going a bit too close.
The moment of the game that never was came up now, when watching the ball come in from the left I look to the right, and LLOYD DOYLEY IS THERE. Surprisingly, he doesn't get a header away, it sort of bounces off him, but one step at a time towards #2 and all that. At this point, young full back Hodson comes on for Doyley, who presumably after a depleted pre-season still isn't fully fit. Garner was very anonymous upfront, but in the second half he won a free kick well despite being a bit isolated, which Yeates put just over, thanks to a little flick from the wall, (he put the following corner straight into the first man). The visitors had a good chance to draw first blood mid-way through the second half with Logan springing the offside trap and running in on goal, but nerves got the better of him and his shot was scuffed, not pretty and into the side netting, probably the best chance of the game so far. (At this point in the game, Dickinson managed to slice a clearance straight out into the Rous = no left foot either. He was also subsequently substituted for Forsyth.) As the clock ticked down the hosts had yet another corner which Yeates swing across from the left, Abdi rose well but his header was just wide with the keeper left rooted to the spot.
The Chairboys then nearly broke the dead lock in impressive fashion, with Lewis running in from the half way line and shooting from 35 yards, off target but close enough for Almunia to need to fly across his goalmouth sprawling. As normal time drew to a close, Vydra nearly scrambled a corner in from within the six yard box but too many bodies in the way. As full time blew, unfortunately there were boos from the Rookery, not a huge amount but not great to hear. Iwelumo came on for Garner to try and make his mark on the extra time, a bold move by Zola cup tying the striker, I assume now Liverpool won't be interested in signing him to defend their trophy. As the Hornets attacked the Vicarage Road end again, Abdi and Vydra combined well down the left and the ball was sent into the box, Iwelumo got to it and swung at it but unfortunately put it wide when it was seemingly easier to score. Hodson was getting forward more and more, as was Forsyth, both overlapping their midfield to put balls in. The right back put several teasing balls in, the best of which Iwelumo got underneath but put his header over the bar, looping up and over into the stand behind.
As penalties looked inevitable, Abdi and Vydra combined well again in the second half of extra time, working the ball down the right with a delayed one-two and Vydra ran in the box, chipping the ball over the rushing Bull where Iwelumo stood 2 yards out, with the simple task of tapping it in, it looked like he made a meal of it but it was done, 1-0 thanks to the flying scotsman. Following the goal, Watford were really in control and never looked like conceding, Abdi nearly doubled the lead when Yeates deep cross found him on the edge of the box, he had time to bring it down and half volley it but put it high and not so handsome. Despite reportedly being unfit and not featuring until this week, Vydra was still running in the 120th minute, and chasing down the goalkeeper managed to land awkwardly which required attention, worryingly, though it could have just been tiredness with the circumstances considered.
Full time, Watford FC 1 - 0 Wycombe Wanderers FC.
So not a great game to watch, still lacking conviction and creativity in the final third but one would presume Murray and Geijo coming in for Yeates and Garner would resolve that. Plus rather fittingly, Rome wasn't built in a day and you can't expect players who haven't played it before, to automatically work in such a style, at the moment it's square pegs and round holes but it's also the start of a learning curve. Almunia was impressive, very vocal and organised his defence well, distribution was good and only hesitant moments were in the first half early on and when he should have come for a loose ball in the second half. Defence were assured but didn't look that comfortable in playing the ball constantly, especially the full backs. Abdi and Hogg took sometime to get into the game, but when they did we looked a lot better, Eustace was anonymous but did the dirty work. Yeates has some ability, but no brain to go with it and seems to have a great knack of just running into groups of opposition players.