03/04: Reports: Friendlies:
Pre-Season Friendly, 15/07/03
Hitchin Town 0(0)
Watford Reserves 2(1)
Team: Chalmers, Herd, J.Smith, Ifil, Boothe, Young, Swonnell, Blizzard, McNamee, Fitzgerald, Patterson
Subs: Godfrey (for Patterson, 45), Collins (for Blizzard, 61), Martin (for McNamee, 61), Mawer (for Herd, 76), Coyne (for Swonnell, 76), Kirk
Scorers: Patterson (2), Boothe (58)
A Detour on the way to a Meeting
By Tony Wallis
Last week a colleague visited me in the office. "I need you to go to Harlow next Wednesday. Our supplier's giving us trouble and we need you to sort them out." "Okay," I reluctantly agreed - part of the job, I'm afraid. My mood instantly switches to depression - with travelling (I live in Bristol, you see), that's two days out of the office and an overnight in a hotel - believe me, at my age the novelty of travelling miles to stay in identikit hotels and spending the evening talking shop with my colleagues has long since worn off. Now how was I to break up this visit? Flash of inspiration - quick look at the BSaD web page shows the ressies are playing their first friendly game of the season at Hitchin on the night before. How far is Hitchin from Harlow? Good - near enough. Let's go. I made my excuses about meeting up with my colleagues for an evening meal and set off for rural North Herts.
In truth, I didn't know what to expect. In all my years of watching the Horns, I've never even watched a proper reserve game at the Vic, never mind a friendly away from home. A quick check on the excellent Hitchin Town FC website provides directions to the ground and reveals that the kick-off is at 7:30 rather than the 7:45 stated on the Watford FC site.
I arrive at 7:15 to find Hitchin pretty much as I remembered it - I can't have visited it for twenty years. Finding the ground is easy and there's a small stream of people queuing to enter through the only turnstile. Park the car for free - legally - in a car park right next to the ground (not often you can say that), pay my money at the gate and go in. The ground's quite compact with a small stand on one side, an even smaller stand - more like a hut missing a side with seats in behind one goal and open terraces on the other two. But it's homely and it definitely has a pleasant atmosphere. This is what I imagine all lower league grounds to be like. The GBs are already warming up on the pitch, most faces I recognise, some only from their pictures in the club programme, a mixture of first and second year pros and senior academy players - but the goalie looks new - he's definitely not Richard Lee nor Alec - I find out later that he's a trialist, Scott Chalmers. If anyone's looking for clues for the away kit for next year, the Horns were turned out in all white (as Hitchin's home kit is not unlike Norwich City's). The pitch looked uneven and hard - indeed during the game on a number of occasions, a gentle ball played out of defence towards Macca or Young bounced just before reaching them, then took off, clearing their heads, and out for a throw.
Teams were announced before kick-off to reveal a fairly typical Watford reserve side from last season, all the names turned out to be familiar. Hitchin fielded former Watford trainee Stuart Maynard as right back and Andy Douglas (former Arsenal trainee and Paolo's mate in the stabbing incident) as a striker - both had reasonable games without being spectacular.
So - what of the game? Well, it started well for Watford with the first goal going in after only ninety seconds, in their first attack. A speculative through ball from Fitzgerald found Simon Patterson in a little space in the eighteen yard box. His first shot connected only with air, but he did enough to unnerve the defenders, reacted first and poked the ball home. Cue the goal rush? Well, not exactly - not that they played badly. Swonnell and Blizzard controlled the midfield from the start and Ashley Young was tormenting the Hitchin left back and getting in some good crosses. Jerel Ifil and Nathan Boothe looked to be a fine pairing in the centre of defence and were untroubled for most of the evening. Make no mistake, Watford were in control of the game, but nothing approaching another chance came in the first half. Mind you, it took Hitchin until the half hour mark to create any chance worthy of the name, before which we'd had a succession of crosses and darting runs that a forward had been unable to get the telling touch on. Then like London buses two Hitchin chances came in quick succession - but I'd suggest it was good defending rather than bad misses, a header over the bar and a completed missed header, in both cases our 'keeper was untroubled.
Half-time saw Elliott Godfrey replace Patterson, but Hitchin started the livelier, with two good chances going begging in the first five minutes. Macca, relatively subdued up to this point, started to combine well with Jack Smith to get some good crosses in, but again no-one was able to convert.
Then, on fifty-eight minutes came the second Watford goal. A free kick on the left hand edge of the D for a generous foul on Fitzgerald, was taken by Ashley Young. A presumably rehearsed routine had all of the Watford big men zeroing in on the near post, drawing Hitchin defenders, and their keeper, with them; all except Nathan Boothe that is, who had the simple task of heading into an unguarded net.
After that, the now familiar (from England friendlies) 'substitution every two minutes' routine took over and the game began to peter out. Hitchin created a few more chances but never really looked like scoring, their closest effort being a well taken free kick which just curled over. The game never flowed especially well throughout the ninety minutes, persistent offsides - mainly to our account although I don't think we were deliberately playing to an offside trap - and even more misplayed balls and hasty clearances for throw ins. But this got worse as the night went on. Fitzgerald and Godfrey had a number of late chances and Fitzgerald nearly set Jamie Collins up with a good dummy. A succession of corners led to half chances for both teams; a bit more passing around at the back for Watford went wrong leading to a foul and Hitchin free kick - with the shot going just wide. No-one seemed too disappointed when the final whistle went. The game was played in a good spirit, the only bad foul of the game was on Ashley Young, just after our second goal, and no-one appeared to be injured when going off.
So, what did I learn from the game? Firstly, Watford has a fine, young, set of reserves, some of which will no doubt be gracing the first team in a season or so. The team overall played very well and was only caught out of shape from counter-attacks following set plays, whereas at times it was hard to work out exactly what the Hitchin formation was. Substitutions replaced like with like and did not disrupt the pattern. Ashley Young looks to be a star for the future, Jerel Ifil and Sam Swonnell also caught the eye. The forwards played well without carving out any other chances, Fitgerald played better alongside Godfrey than with Patterson, who was employed, Gifton-like, as a target man. Chalmers, the trialist keeper, didn't have much chance to shine, but his communication with the back four was good, the one save he had to make was made, and he only had one muffed clearance - which he hit so hard it went out of play on the halfway line.
Secondly, watching the reserves play can be just as much fun as watching the first team - they played well and I was thoroughly entertained for my £7 entrance fee. Much better than a night out in Harlow any time!