First Team 3 weeks ago

Pre-Season Report: QPR 0-1 Watford

By Kevin Affleck

Different season but it was the same old story for Étienne Capoue at Loftus Road today. 

The Frenchman broke The Rs hearts with an FA Cup winner here in February and he was at it again this afternoon at the same end. Obviously, a goal in a friendly here is loose change compared to a strike that sends you into the quarter-final of the most famous cup competition in the world, but what it does show is the laconic midfielder is not picking and choosing.

He tried to caress the ball into the far corner after half-an-hour of this lively friendly, like he did in the cup tie, but it took a wicked deflection off Ryan Manning and gave Joe Lumley no chance in the QPR goal, completely wrong-footing the goalkeeper. Capoue didn’t celebrate, as he knew it was only a friendly and that it was more than a touch fortuitous, but he will be quietly pleased that he was in the position to have a strike at goal and that he is sort of off the mark this season.

It was a strange old start for the team and Capoue, who unusually gave the ball carelessly away in the middle of the park within five minutes. You thought for a minute, ‘Oh, it’s going to be one of those friendlies,’  - and it could well have been as QPR had a right good go early on. 

Bright Osayi-Samuel hit the inside of the post; Ben Foster made a hash of a cross from the same player; there was indecision between Foster and Sebastian Prödl that almost let in the forward again; it took a brilliant tackle from the returning Prödl to thwart Manning and Ebere Eze while Foster rushed off his line to make a flying header on the edge of the box. It wasn’t quite the onslaught we faced in the cup game but it wasn’t far off.

The Hornets’ best moment of the first half came when Troy Deeney saw a header cleared off the line by Manning after Craig Dawson had flicked on a corner from Adam Masina. That was really about it. It therefore came a bit against the run of play when Capoue put the visitors in front after a third of the game. The 1,017 Watford fans accepted it gratefully nonetheless. 

Javi Gracia made eight pre-planned changes after an hour but before then, his side could have extended their lead at the start of the second half as they threatened to move through the gears. Kiko Femenía had a cross-shot tipped over; Lumley made a smart save from a Dawson header; Isaac Success had one blocked from close range by Dominic Ball and then Deeney did everything to lay one on a plate for Will Hughes, like he did against Leverkusen, only for the midfield schemer to be off target with his effort. 

Either side of the raft of replacements, Luke Amos flashed one dangerously across the face and then Foster, like he did at Brighton, needed his feet to prevent one from the lively Osayi-Samuel creeping into the corner. 

Stefano Okaka almost managed to sneak one inside the upright himself towards the end for the Hornets but replacement Liam Kelly scrambled it behind for a corner and 1-0 it stayed, just like it was five months ago. The result was the most important thing that night but here there was the bigger picture of building towards the Brighton game.


HORNETS: Foster (GK): Dawson (Cathart 60), Prödl (Mariappa 60), Kabasele (Foulquier 60); Femenía (Janmaat 60), Capoue (Cleverley 60), Hughes, Quina, Masina (Sema 60); Deeney (c) (Okaka 60), Success (Gray 60).

Subs not used: Bachmann, Gomes. 

First Team 3 weeks ago

Okaka: “I’m Happy To See Pereyra Again, He’s Like My Brother”

By Kevin Affleck

Stefano Okaka is looking forward to being reunited with his big pal Roberto Pereyra when the Argentina international returns to the club this weekend.

Pereyra’s extended season, lasting nearly 11 months and 43 games, only ended earlier this month as he was part of the La Albiceleste side that reached the semi-final of the Copa America. Head Coach Javi Gracia gave his chief playmaker three weeks off to recharge his batteries before summoning him back to the training base in London Colney on Saturday.

Okaka and Pereyra have struck up a real bond since they joined the club in the summer of 2016 and are regularly seen sitting around the canteen at the training ground long after everyone has gone.

“I am happy to see him again as he’s like my brother,” said Okaka who left in January to join Udinese on loan. “I saw him doing good in the Copa America and I will be waiting for him at the training ground. We are like brothers as he knows how hard it was for me one years ago with injury and a few things. And when he was injured, I did the same for him. We are close and we spend a lot of time together. He’s a funny guy and we take care of each other.”

It speaks volumes for where the club finds itself at right now that they have a player who has spent the summer training with Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero, Angel Di Maria in their ranks. He played 37 times last season, scored eight goals and was involved in his own goal-of-the-season competition at one point.

“He’s a fantastic player,” said Okaka. “He’s a quality player and he was born to play football. Watford is lucky to have him at the club.”