Herts Cup Report & Reaction: Hornets Lose On Pens
By Kevin Affleck
Watford’s thrilling run in the Herts Senior Challenge Cup ended in heartbreak after they were cruelly knocked out on penalties by St Albans at Clarence Park.
The largely Under-18 side again demonstrated their character by recovering from conceding the opener on 22 minutes to battle their way back into a scrappy game on a filthy night. They equalised through Ryan Cassidy on 62 minutes, went toe-to-toe with the vastly more experienced sights in some lively exchanges, forced extra time and then did well to somehow ensure the spot-kicks went to the wire after missing their first three.
“We don’t like losing and we are not going to encourage them that it’s OK to lose, but when they give their all and get through to extra time and lose on penalties against players who have recently played in the Football League, it’s a lot easier to accept,” said Assistant Under-18 Coach Tom Hart.
“Playing in a game like that is worth more to us in experience than four or five Under-18 games. We are really proud of how far we have come in the competition. It would have been amazing to get into the final, but we’re so pleased with how they have done.”
The Hornets knocked out Potters Bar Town, Leverstock Green and Bishop’s Stortford in their run to the last four and you fancied them when it came to penalties as they had taken five immaculate ones in the last round. But Jayden Bennetts and Cassidy saw their penalties saved and then Dan Phillips put his over the bar. St Albans missed two of their first four while Joy Mukena and a nerveless trialist scored theirs for the Hornets to keep the shoot-out alive, but former Leyton Orient defender Michael Clarke clinched it for Ian Allinson’s side by converting the Saints’ fifth.
“They all came running over putting their hand up wanting to take one,” said Hart. “We had five in mind, all those five took one and they picked their favourite corner like they do in training, but it was a little bit different as they had fans shouting at them from behind the goal for the first time, trying to put them off. It’s great. That’s why these games are so important for their development as they have no-one watching them take pens when we are at London Colney.”
Hart had to change nearly half the team from the side who won at Potters Bar in the fourth round because of injuries and was not able to call on too many Under-23 players as they have been sent out on loan for valuable experience in men’s football. But he was delighted with how this agile group of players responded to what he had asked from them. They never know when they are beaten this lot, especially in cup football.
“The boys who came in did really well,” he said. “We changed it at half-time. We have played a certain way this season as we have got a lot of good players in the middle of the pitch. We felt we needed to change it at half-time and play with a front three and isolate them in wide areas. It really worked as we got the goal from getting some joy down the left side. We didn’t really have an outstanding player but collectively we’re good.”
HORNETS | Hoskins (GK); Maclean (Matthews 105), Tricker (Trialist 90), Mukena, Leighton; Sankoh (McKiernan 97), Phillips, Bennetts; Adebiyi, Cassidy, Trialist.
Subs not used | Baptiste (GK), Suckling.