Herts Senior Cup: Hornets Win On Penalties
By Kevin Affleck
Watford’s Academy side continue to show they have something about them after they rose to the challenge in yet another cup game, beating Bishop's Stortford 5-3 in a penalty shootout.
Head of Academy Darren Sarll took a callow side featuring some Under-16 players to face the Isthmian League Premier Division side in the quarter-final of the Herts Senior Challenge Cup and it would have been easy to roll over against a more physical, more experienced side on a capricious pitch and in filthy conditions.
But the team produced another mature performance, full of character, full of spirit and full of nerve to recover from seeing their 3-1 lead wiped out in five late second-half minutes to triumph on penalties. That’s now against-the-odds wins recorded by this amalgamated side against Potters Bar Town, Leverstock Green, Bishop’s Stortford, Birmingham and Southampton. The upshot is the team finds itself in the semi-final of the Herts Senior Challenge Cup and the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup.
“Under the lights, a little bit of a crowd, little bit of an atmosphere, a little bit of added competition and the boys seem to love it,” said Tom Hart, the Assistant Coach of the Under-18s side. “They love the challenge and they are thriving on it. We are finding out a lot about these boys in these competitions and they’re loving it. We are so pleased.”
Goals from Jayden Bennetts, JJ McKiernan and Kai Sanders put the Hornets in the driving seat at the break and they probably learned more in this 90 minutes than they have done in all of the Under-18 games this season. Some of their 16-year-old defenders will certainly have learned a thing or two from playing against 43-year-old Jamie Cureton.
“These games take care of the development side of things as it prepares them for men’s football, real football,” said Hart. “They were real tough conditions tonight with the snow, with the pitch and they’ve shown real character to get into a 3-1 lead. We looked steady at half-time and they came on and made it difficult for us.
“These games in the Herts Senior Cup have been brilliant for us. Sometimes Academy football gets a bit of a tough time, it gets accused of not being real and not being competitive, but we take games like this seriously and it’s great preparation for when they play men’s football.”
Bennetts scored the goal of the game, a beauty of a strike that arrowed into the bottom corner after a driving run. It followed on from the magnificent game the midfielder had against Southampton in the FA Youth Cup.
“Some players go about their business by talking, making big tackles, big clearances, big headers, but Jayden was just inspirational with his bravery to go and get on the ball when it wasn’t easy,” said Hart. “He went past people, he created chances and he sprinted back, made tackles, did the recovery runs. I was so pleased with him today.”
Hart was also pleased with Emmanuel Adebiyi, the versatile forward who created the third goal for Sanders.
“Emmanuel really built on his performance against Southampton,” said Hart. “He continues to play in a new role and gave us real energy. He supported the front players so well and showed good energy to work back defensively.”
There was a real rare sight when the referee blew the whistle for full-time and the Watford players gathered in a huddle: at least half a dozen put their hands up to take a penalty, a rare display of confidence when it comes to the nerve-wracking experience of scoring from 12 yards. The confidence was not mis-placed as Bennetts, Kieran Holsgrove, Alkeo Bani, Harry Hudson and Dan Phillips all converted immaculate penalties. Jamie Hoskins saved Stortford’s third penalty from Nathan Livings and that proved to be the difference.
“We practise quite a lot,” said Hart. “We had five we would like to take one, but we gave ownership to the boys and they stuck their hand up straight away. We told them to just stick to their spot, to back themselves and their penalties were brilliant. They’ve done it under pressure so we are delighted. We are really pleased for Jamie Hoskins as he’s come back in, played a few games and made that save to win it for us. We are so pleased for him.
“It was a real big lesson for us as the boys who came on in the second half didn’t play particularly well, but they were the first ones to grab the ball for a penalty and try to put it right.”
The Hornets will play St Albans City in the semi-final.
HORNETS | Hoskins (GK); Maclean, Bani, Tricker (Hudson HT), Matthews; Sankoh (Phillips HT), Bennetts, McKiernan, Adebiyi; Holsgrove, Sanders (Hutchinson 75).
Subs not used | Baptiste (GK), Langston.