Under-23's 02/03/2020

Under-23: Cardiff City 3-1 Watford

By Kevin Affleck

Academy Manager Richard Thomas has challenged his players to respond to the disappointing defeat at Cardiff City by turning up and producing a vastly-improved performance against Crystal Palace at Vicarage Road on Friday.

The Under-23 side host the Eagles in a 1pm kick-off and Thomas will demand an improvement on what he saw in the 3-1 defeat to the Bluebirds at the Cardiff Athletic Stadium.

“We won't bounce back if we repeat that,” said Thomas. “We need to be a completely different side, different athletically, different in our decision-making and just different in everything we do. Perhaps the environment and playing at Vicarage Road will make a difference but we need to be much better to get anywhere near Crystal Palace. There will need to be changes. I'd imagine a few first-teamers might play and that will be good. Perhaps their inclusion, and playing at the stadium, might raise the performance level.”

Isaak Davies scored twice for the hosts in the space of nine first-half minutes and then Mark Harris killed the game stone dead in the 88th minute after Sam Dalby had pulled one back with his 15th of the season. In front of first-team manager Neil Harris, Cardiff fielded Neil Etheridge and Sol Bamba – two players who featured in the Cardiff team that faced the Hornets in the Premier League clash in February – in their team, but Thomas felt that did not explain the result.

“It wasn't anything like our day,” he said. “Cardiff were just too strong, they were first to everything and had the level of intensity you need to win a game of football. We were nowhere near it and you've got to show you care. It's all very well saying it but talk is cheap – you've got to go out on the pitch and do it, which we didn't do.”

The defeat, coupled with victory for Coventry against Charlton, means the Hornets are now only joint top of the Professional Development League South Division on goal difference, but third-place Millwall are only one point behind with two games in hand.

“Of course we want to win the league,” said Thomas. “We want to develop and win games at the same time, that's the combination you are looking for. I'm not looking to sacrifice one – you should be able to do both at the same time. We just need to be better across the pitch, from front to back – and I include everybody in that. You can't give a team a two-goal start and expect to win a game. It just wasn't good enough.”

HORNETS: Parkes (GK), Barrett, Perkins, Green (Spencer-Adams 70); Whelan (C), Dele-Bashiru (Bennetts 57), Wise; Hungbo (Crichlow 57), Dalby, Cassidy.

Subs not used: Hoskins (GK)

The Hornets host Crystal Palace on Friday at 1pm in the first of three matches at Vicarage Road. Tickets are priced at £3 for adults or £1 for supporters aged 18 and under. Entry is free for 2019/20 Season Ticket holders with a valid season card. Click HERE for more info.

First Team 02/03/2020

Reaction On Sarr: “It's A Coming-Of-Age Performance”

By Kevin Affleck

Ballon d'Or winner Michael Owen reckons Ismaïla Sarr announced himself to the football world with what he described as "a coming-of-age performance" on Saturday night.

Sarr, who only turned 22 last week, scored two and set up the other in a rampant home win over Liverpool in what was his first start since more than five weeks out with injury. It was the first time the Reds had conceded three goals in a Premier League game in more than 13 months. 

"It's a coming-of-age performance," Owen, the former Liverpool striker, told Premier League Productions. "He's come for big money, he's been well-touted and this was a big night for him. on the biggest stage against the champions elect. He showed all the attributes [with that second goal]. He's got the pace, he's got the composure to finish it. Not many people do that to Virgil van Dijk, run away from him. The finish was brilliant."

Owen Hargreaves, who played with plenty of top performers at Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Manchester City, feels Sarr has all the attributes you would want from a modern-day forward.

"The pace and athleticism, with that end product, is what every team needs," said the former England midfielder. "That was against the best team in Europe and he tore them to shreds."

Ben Foster is just relieved he only has to face Sarr in training and not have him running at him full pelt or trying to rip one across him from right to left.

"We've missed him," Foster said on Added Time. "His workrate is phenomenal – he never gives up. He's up the line, he's down the line back defending. He's playing against one of the best defenders in the world and he just showed great calmness to put that [second] one away."

The Senegal international, who arrived in the summer from Rennes for a club-record fee, is one of the quiestest members of the squad to the extent Foster said he's never had a conversation with him, but he's starting to come out of his shell, particularly as his English improves. 

"He never gets too excited, he always stays on the same plane," said the goalkeeper. "If you give him space and put the ball behind the left back, they are struggling. He's so willing to do the work, so the other parts of his game are just bonus parts." 

Goalkeeping coach Graham Stack, who trained alongside Thierry Henry, just marvelled at what he saw from the jet-heeled forward.

"He's just so calm and calculated in front of goal," said Stack. "He took his time [for the second goal], picked his spot and put it away beautifully. He doesn't really change much: he doesn't get too high or too low. For a player of his age to play on a a plaform like this, the way he does is a real credit to him."