U23 Reaction | “Positives To Take”
By Kevin Affleck
Hayden Mullins is looking forward to watching his fast-learning Under-23 side mix it with another Cat 1 side on Thursday when Watford take on Southampton in the Premier League Cup at Vicarage Road.
The Hornets have already tasted victory over the Saints this season, winning 2-1 in the same competition in September, and following the 1-0 defeat to Blackburn on Monday night they now need to make it a home and away double over the side from the south coast if they are to stand a chance of reaching the last 16.
"We play Southampton at Vicarage Road and that's a good game for us," said Mullins. "They are a decent side. It's a great competition as it allows us to play against Cat 1 sides and sides we don't really get exposed to."
You couldn't tell the difference between Cat 1 Blackburn Rovers and Cat 2 Watford on Monday night. They more than held their own and deserved at least a point.
"The boys were excellent and there are a lot of positives to take tonight," said Mullins. "I told the boys I thought they were brilliant and they took on board all the messages we spoke about. We looked disciplined, the shape looked really good and we looked a threat at times with our pace. It's just disappointing not to get something from the game."
Lewis Mansell won it for Rovers on 73 minutes but there was so much to admire about this Watford performance, particularly the way they stood tall and stood firm in the first half.
"We expected them to be big, strong and physical and it's a testament to our boys that we did so well to stay in the game in the first half," said Mullins. "It was a physical test for us as they are a Cat 1 side. I think we deserved a lot more on the back of the second half. I think we looked very good from the off. We spoke at half-time and I think the boys came out and responded really well. We were excellent in the second half and unlucky to lose. We switched off for half a second and it was a clinical finish - that's the difference when you play Cat 1 sides."
The Hornets lost 6-1 to Rovers in November and there were seven changes to the side who were beaten heavily that night, so it says a lot about the players who came in and the coaching that has taken place since that Watford were able to bridge the gap so successfully.
"It was a tough game up there," said Mullins. "We were much improved tonight, right up until the last kick of the game when Ash Charles flashes one across the box and we've got no-one on the end to finish it, it was a great ball. Dion also got in down the side and hit his shot at the keeper rather than across him. The difference is they were that little bit more clinical."
Mullins has lost the services of Charlie Rowan, Alex Jakubiak, Connor Stevens, Randell Williams and Brandon Mason because they have gone out on loan but that has provided an opportunity for others, like Ryan Cassidy, to shine and other leaders to emerge, like Max Ryan who was excellent against Blackburn.
"Max was very good, again," said Mullins. "It's not the first time Max has played well — he's played consistently well this season. He and Joy [Mukena] did really well at the back. They had an experienced No. 9 up top and he was a handful. We spoke about him and how we were going to deal with him and I though Max and Joy dealt with him really well."
The Hornets' Under-23 Cup fixture against Southampton will now take place this Thursday (February 15) at Vicarage Road, with a 2pm KO. This match will take place behind closed doors.
The game originally scheduled for this date against Colchester United has been postponed. Check the Academy fixtures and results page for updates.