Gillingham 0-3 Watford
Unable to/not desperately inclined to travel to Kent on a Tuesday evening, we deployed another one of our minions to the Priestfield to take in the final pre-season clash of the summer for Vital Watford..
Alex Prentice (APrentice88) of WFCforums takes in the 'delights of Gillingham' for us...
On a miserable looking afternoon I made my way down to the Medway fairly early (and quickly!) due to who I was going with, arriving plenty of time allowed me to look around and enjoy the delights of Gillingham. This involved a kebab shop, and parking on what I can only assume is Gillingham's version of Cassiobury, i.e. a road with no permit parking where lots of old people live.
I arrived at the ground and finally found the visitors turnstiles after being asked to walk around from the ground, around in a circle and then through an alley (I did doubt, but it was true) and then had to wait quite a short while for the gates to open, this short while involved me being the only Watford fan standing waiting, which could have been a bit embarrassing, thankfully more turned up.
Upon entry the Hornets were already warming up on the far side, i.e. on our side so I sat right in front and watched, paying close attention to Matej Vydra and Ikechi Anya who were looking good in the warm up, no obvious signs of lack of fitness, that's a start. I was warned on my journey down that it could be another youth team playing but there was a nice mix of youth, developmental players and first teamers, with a pinch of new signings sprinkled in. Immediately I could see that there was no Taylor, Eustace, Dickinson, Garner, Yeates and no Priestfield return for Nosworthy, so with Chris Iwelumo captaining the side and leading the line, it was a youthful XI starting the game.
After enjoying the pre-kick off tunes and attempting to tweet along with the lyrics, only to publish obscenities in error, the game was underway with Mingoia racing clear down the wing, cutting back onto his right into a deeper position and whipping a dangerous ball across the box, but Gills keeper Tommy Forecast got to the ball first and scrambled it away. It seemed Forsyth and Hodson were out wide, Jenkins holding with Smith sitting centre and Mingoia and Vydra roaming around rather than sticking out wide, and Forsyth, Mingoia and Tumwa combined well on the left flank but on numerous occasions on being sent through Forsyth didn't seem to fancy the 50/50 with his marker and let the tackle in. Evidence of Vydra being given a licence to roam rather than sit on the last man's shoulder was on display during the first half, the Czech striker constantly dropping deep to receive the ball and flick on, or turn his marker and thread through for the strikers.
Watford settled into a nice retention of possession, keeping the ball moving and playing in triangles, Connor Smith was the centre of most things and impressed in midfield, getting stuck in, showing for the ball and passing well, his touch was good too. The away side broke the deadlock first, Mingoia picking up the ball from the back and threaded through for Forsyth, who's first time cross was powerful across goal and Vydra did well to get down to head it through the keepers legs and into the net for 1-0. Zola would have been proud of that one.
Captain for the day Iwelumo was very vocal, even attempting to talk the defence through their game and keep them in shape, he was constantly offering support for his midfield and strikers, and it paid off when the teams pressing and movement forced Gills back towards their own area, and a loose pass from the full back to the centre back was met by a lunging tackle by Vydra, which flew up and looped over the keeper into the net from outside the box, not the most conventional of goals but deserved in a different respect nonetheless.
After the young striker's two goals, Vydra's confidence grew and grew and he came in for the ball more and more, rarely losing possession and unlocking the defence every time with through ball after through ball, on one particular occasion sending Forsyth down the left flank again, his cross was deep and good and Hodson met it well but unfortunately put it against the post. The home side did have their share of possession but failed to threaten and were mainly reduced to shooting from distance, the young back three defended valiantly and one led to a Hornets counter where Mingoia drove through the centre and sent Connor Smith in on goal, the midfielder had 3 others with him but didn't need them as he slotted it past the keeper for 3-0 towards the end of the first half.
At the break Smith made way for Stephen Hamilton-Forbes in a like for like replacement, and shortly afterwards the two so instrumental in all of Watford's first half goals, Vydra and Mingoia came off for Anya and Whichelow. Hamilton-Forbes' game looked like it could be short lived when he fell to the ground badly after a challenge for a header and was down for a few minutes, the stretcher coming on but the young Harefield graduate thankfully got up and walked off the pitch by his own admission, and subsequently waved back on shortly afterwards.
Anya made a bright start on his first appearance for the Golden Boys, looking lively in the final third with his immense burst of pace and acceleration, forcing the defenders on to the back foot and getting to the line well, the Scot had claims for a penalty around the hour mark as his defender felled him but the referee adjudged that he won the ball fairly. As the more successful creative players of the first half had been withdrawn, the second half simmered down to a slightly more scrappy affair in the centre of the park. Jenkins in particular doing his job well and keeping it ticking over where needed, but the hosts were having notable success in getting down the wings, what with the lack of full backs and Hodson/Forsyth further up the pitch.
As the game drew to a conclusion Iwelumo made way for Massey (which saw no one take the armband, very confusing), which almost entirely reduced any physical threat upfront, the ball not particularly sticking in the final third. The home side had a chance to get back into the game with Forsyth's poor clearance cannoning off of a midfielder straight into the path of striker Danny Kedwell, with all the time in the world one on one with Bond he put it against the far post and spurned the opportunity. Wingers Anya and Whichelow combining well on occasion, sending the latter through on goal in the dying moments but the winger's shot was just tipped wide by the Gills' substitute keeper.
So that was it, a complete contrast in the two halves with beautiful creative play in the first half not quite matched in the second. Other notable things from tonight are that we still don't have an away shirt, like against St Albans City FC, forcing the home side to play in their away kit. We also don't have the sponsors on our shirts yet, presumably that'll be rolled out on Saturday against Wycombe Wanderers. That was it, a quick drive back to central Watford on the empty M25 and now time for bed, on to Saturday...
Watford starting XI: Bond; Bennett, Thompson, Tumwa; Hodson, Jenkins, Smith, Forsyth; Vydra, Iwelumo (c) & Mingoia.
Subs: Stack (GK); Doyley, Buaben, Anya, Hamilton-Forbes, Murray, Massey, Whichelow