By Jon Marks
A youthful Watford Reserve side went down to their first pre-season defeat at Buckingham Road on Friday to a strong and physical Aylesbury outfit. However, there was much to feel positive about after the game despite the defeat as there really are some exciting young players emerging onto the scene.
Aylesbury are yet another club in crisis. The main benefactor announced earlier in the week that he could no longer continue to support the Club financially, therefore all those attending the game were handed a leaflet from the Aylesbury Supporters Trust pleading for help in keeping their club alive. The main sense of frustration is aimed at the local business community as there is very little support forthcoming. This seems a shame as the facilities at Buckingham Road are excellent, both for players and spectators. The pitch was in its usual good condition albeit quite hard but groundsmen everywhere are probably doing rain dances around the clock ahead of the new season in order to get their pitches in tiptop condition.
The young Hornets donned the new all white away kit as they had done at Hitchin earlier in the week and it does look very smart. However, it appeared they were all still admiring how smart they looked in the opening exchanges as Jerel Ifil conceded a penalty after some sloppy play at the back inside two minutes. The Aylesbury centre forward tucked the ball into the corner with local boy Richard Lee diving the wrong way.
Aylesbury were a very big side which, Ifil and the enormous man mountain that is Nathan Boothe apart, Watford were not. The aerial balls knocked towards an out-of-sorts Scott Fitzgerald, who didn't look at all comfortable for the thirty-five minutes he lasted before succumbing to a hip injury, and the more diminutive Elliott Godfrey brought little joy. However, Watford certainly moved the ball around nicely when they got the ball down and the two central midfield players, skipper Sam Swonnell and Dominic Blizzard, displayed good vision and calmness with the ball at their feet. Swonnell picked out his midfield partners' forward runs on a couple of occasions in the first twenty minutes, which nearly created an equaliser. Aylesbury's physical dominance continued with Swonnell sporting a bloodied nose after one aerial challenge and Anthony McNamee the victim of a nasty challenge from the number eight who was probably a little fortunate to remain on the pitch as he kicked anything that moved in white whether it was the ball or not.
Aylesbury surprisingly doubled their lead on the half-hour when a cross to the far post was headed back towards goal past a helpless Lee and tapped in from virtually on the line, which meant the Ducks had scored from both their goal attempts.
Watford came back strongly and began to create some chances from some enterprising wing play, mainly down the right involving the highly impressive Ashley Young. This boy is quick, can beat people for fun with pace or tricks, displays great control and can also deliver a cross. With a bit more awareness of where his team-mates are, which will surely develop over the next year playing in Gibbsy's side, we could have a real talent on our hands here, ready to step into Jimmy Davis' shoes when he returns to Old Trafford next May. Young shot just over from twelve yards with a fierce drive and Elliott Godfrey got on the end of a Young cross but could only divert it down into the ground and over the bar from six yards. Five minutes before the break, Watford hit back and Young was the provider with a deep cross that eluded everyone apart from Anthony McNamee arriving at the far post to volley home with his left foot into the roof of the net.
This signalled five minutes of intense Watford pressure before half-time. Almost straight from the re-start Simon Patterson, who had replaced the injured Fitzgerald, broke clear of the home defence but was denied by a fine save from the keeper as he attempted to drive the ball home. From the resulting corner, a Godfrey flick was cleared from near the line and Aylesbury survived the ensuing goalmouth scramble.
The second-half was not such a lively affair and was interspersed with the inevitable substitutions. Richard Lee was a virtual spectator apart from moving smartly to smother some danger at the edge of his box from a late Aylesbury breakaway.
Watford dominated without ever really looking like breaking through. Young continued to cause the home defence all sorts of problems although was a little guilty of not releasing the ball soon enough on a couple of occasions. He and McNamee on the opposite flank saw a lot of the ball and will perhaps be a little disappointed with the quality of their deliveries into the box at times. Patterson led the line well although was guilty of spurning a good opportunity with a weak shot midway through the half.
Hamaur Bouazza replaced Godfrey for the final twenty minutes and frightened the life out of the tiring Ducks defenders. One run from inside his own half, when he won the ball himself, and proceeded to take on the Aylesbury back line and left them trailing was exhilarating and deserved to result in a goal. Unfortunately his final touch at the edge of the area was just too heavy and gave the goalkeeper the opportunity to pounce and smother just before Bouazza was able to tuck the ball past him. However, this gave a glimpse of what he is capable of and he looks a terrific prospect.
These youngsters offer a lot of promise and much to enthuse over for the forthcoming years. Whilst history tells us that not all will make it into our first team, the way football is having to change will give these boys a greater chance here. The Watford philosophy to blood youngsters if they are good enough will surely mean first team followers will see Ashley Young, Hamaur Bouazza, Ben Herd and Jack Smith before too long. Others such as Ifil, Swonnell and Fitzgerald may have to wait a little longer as the senior pros currently block their path. But it is reassuring that we have capable understudies should they be required and they will continue to develop under the watchful eye of Nigel Gibbs. I have not mentioned McNamee or Lee but I have not forgotten them. They will no doubt be in the first team frame all season long and I doubt whether a physical battle such as this would be at the top of Macker's agenda but fitness wise it will do him no harm to play full games for Gibbsy's side in preparation for the long season ahead.
I look forward to seeing this side develop further over the season and watching with interest who can make an impact when they get their chance with the big boys. Forget the result, this was an excellent training workout for the team.