Watford 2 Chievo Verona 1
With six days to go until Premiership life begins, Watford completed their preparations with a confident win over Champions League qualifiers Chievo Verona at Vicarage Road. In an ill-tempered yet entertaining affair, goals from Ashley Young and Matthew Spring were enough to secure a morale-boosting result.
Manager Aidy Boothroyd began the game with a full strength side in a dress rehearsal for the visit to Goodison Park on Saturday. The notable exception was the inclusion of Adrian Mariappa in defence instead of Jay Demerit, who was rested as a precaution.
As the game kicked-off, it became immediately apparent that Boothroyd has continued to instill his brand of fast, pressing football. Though in the early period, Watford`s passing and attacking lacked fluency, Chievo players were hounded and harried all over the pitch. Yet once more, the defending of set-pieces was poor, as Chievo fashioned three good chances in the opening twenty minutes.
The set-piece problems were surprising for a side containing Danny Shittu, Damien Francis and Darius Henderson, and even more so given that in the Chievo penalty area Shittu, a man-mountain whose sheer physical presence has to be seen to be believed, was causing havoc from corners and free kicks. By the midpoint of the first half, Chievo keeper Vincenzo Sicignano had been forced to make several smart saves from set piece efforts.
As was seen so many times last season, Boothroyd has created a sense of confidence and a swagger amongst his charges, and playing against classy opposition, Watford did not look out of depth. Marlon King looked hungry and dangerous, with Matteo Brighi able to testify the latter after King`s powerfully struck snapshot was blocked painfully by Brighi`s mid-drift; much to the amusement of the Vicarage Road crowd.
Watford`s pressure finally resulted in a goal on 28 minutes. A well worked short corner, with the Chievo defence no doubt distracted by Watford`s aerial prowess, saw the ball break to Ashley Young, whose superbly struck left-footed curling effort nestled in the bottom corner.
Going a goal down certainly seemed to reinvigorate the Italian outfit, and two minutes after Young`s goal, they should have drawn level. Franco Semioli, who had been hugging the right touchline and causing Chris Powell problems all half, got in behind the Watford left back and crossed for Amauri. Where it was significantly more difficult to miss than score, the Brazilian somehow managed and his downward header bounced over a furious Ben Foster`s goal. Fans will be hard pressed to witness a worse miss this season.
With five minutes to go until half-time, Foster encountered a rather different Amauri. After more good work by Semioli, his half cleared cross broke just outside the penalty area to Amauri, who executed a superb acrobatic volley that looped over the hapless Foster. In the season to come, with technically gifted players throughout the league, Watford will have to legislate for moments of individual brilliance such as this.
For the second half, Boothroyd rang the changes with all bar Shittu, the impressive Mariappa, Foster and Young, coming off. Fans were given a glimpse of new Hungarian signing Tamas Priskin, while triallist Albert Jarrett was given the chance to earn a permanent move.
As thunder and lightning struck to signal the start of the second half, the match began to develop into a stormy affair. Throughout the opening period both sets of players had become increasingly frustrated at Uriah Rennie`s pedantic and poor refereeing, and with a wet surface contributing to some wayward tackles, the temperature of the match was turned up.
Jarrett`s pace and trickery down the right was causing Chievo problems, and after the ball broke to the Brighton youngster in the area, his quick feet saw a clumsy challenge resulting in a penalty. Though Ashley Young`s weakly struck effort was pushed away by Sicignano, substitute Matthew Spring was on hand to slam the rebound home.
Once more Chievo raised the tempo, but Watford managed to hold firm. Priskin showed some neat touches, and Spring was impressive in central midfield, while a typically strong and bullish Malky Mackay was refusing to let his obvious lack of pace cause too many problems.
With fifteen minutes to go, Chievo`s frustration erupted. Salvatore Lanna scythed down Jarrett and in the midst of the ensuing melee, Lanna was given his marching orders for an apparent stamp on Jarrett. If common sense had prevailed, Chievo would have been allowed to replace Lanna, but it seems for Rennie common sense is in rather short supply.
The final minutes of the match resembled an old fashioned Sunday league match. Rain poured down onto the pitch with no sign of any floodlights, the tackles were flying in, Danny Shittu marshalled the defence with a pair of ripped shorts, and a referee of Sunday league quality officiated the match. More cards followed as Priskin was booked for his part in some handbags late on.
There was much for Watford to take from the game when the final whistle sounded. There were no injuries to report and there had been encouraging performances in both halves. While Jarrett`s defensive qualities are non-existent, if he has the ability to trick and frustrate experienced Italian defenders he must be considered as an option.
A draw and a victory over top Serie A opposition is an achievement, but will count for nothing when Saturday comes.