Harry Kewell picked a good one to miss last night.
The Under-21 academy coach is a on a pre-planned holiday to Australia, and not the sort of pre-planned holiday we were told Lee Bowyer is on and one that is yet to see him return to the club. Kewell told us when he first arrived that he was scheduled to go back to his homeland at this time of year to oversee a week-long series of his academy masterclasses in St Kilda.
In his absence, Watford were beaten 1-0 by Millwall in a Professional Development League Two South game that matched the weather in terms of miserableness. Mikael Ndjoli scored the only goal of the game on 50 minutes, adding to the four he got in the FA Youth Cup win last week.
Not afraid to promote U18 players to the U21s, Watford moved their coach, David Horseman, up to lead the side in Kewell’s absence and he, as you would expect, was encouraged by what he saw.
“I think this is a game a couple of months ago where they would have gone down two or three, so some positives,” he said. “We just lacked a little bit of a cutting edge and that something in the final third. But still, we were reasonably positive. Particularly in the first half the tempo was good, when we got it to Dennon [Lewis] and he was 1-v-1 we thought we might have a bit of a chance, so there’s definitely some progress there.”
One surprise was that Alex Jakubiak failed to score for a ninth consecutive game and add to his tally of 12 for the season. Perhaps he was rusty after a two-game suspension. Jakubiak was the most experienced member of the squad which contained three players who were part of the heartbreaking FA Youth Cup penalty shootout defeat to AFC Wimbledon on Friday night. Horseman was in charge that night and probably had a tough task in lifting the boys, particularly Charlie Rowan and Michael Folivi who both missed from 12 yards and were on the bench against Millwall.
“I think it’s about being honest, and I don’t think you can dress things up, because these boys are intelligent,” said Horseman. “So all we do is we treat it like any other game, and we reviewed it today and there were a couple of things we really liked. If I’m being straight there was more in that game that we need to work on than in previous weeks, but that’s the pressure and that’s what the young players need.”
Coping with the pressure of big occasions, under the lights at Vicarage Road, is something young players need to learn about as much as ball control and tactical awareness. And, according to Horseman, Watford’s youngsters have learned a lot over the past few days.
“Actually disappointment is good for development,” he said. “Because it will either kick you on to really want to progress, or you’ll go under.”
Kewell is Down Under right now but Horseman is looking forward to welcoming him back.
“I have to say I think he’s a great bloke,” said Horseman. “And when you sit around and have a bit of lunch and he starts talking football, he knows football inside out. So we’ve really enjoyed getting to know each other. I think he understands now more what Under-21 football is… and I think you can see from the boys that they are getting better, and getting regular football and that helps.”
Watford: Trialist (GK); Young, Hall (Folivi, 69min), Johnson, Doherty; Stewart(Eleftheriou 69min); Byers (c), Smith, Lewis, Martin (Mensah, 66min); Jakubiak.