The progression of Nathan Gartside
The job of a No.3 goalkeeper on a matchday is even less glamourous than that of a No.2: you travel to games knowing that unless the No.1 or No.2 has eaten something dodgy the night before or pulls something in the warm-up, you are going to be sitting in the stands. Gartside, the teenager from Northern Ireland, has probably loved every minute of shadowing Heurelho Gomes and Giedrius Arlauskis since the away game at Leicester City. The only downside is that it has meant Gartside has not played a competitive game in nearly two months, the need for a third keeper on a matchday meant Quique Sanchez Flores could not risk another keeper going down in an U21 game. Gartside wiped the sleep out of his eyes and warmed up following the late return from the freezing night spent watching the first team roll over at Southampton to pull on his gloves yesterday afternoon for the game against Brentford. He looked rusty on his first appearance since the 1-0 win over Colchester United, fly-hacking a back pass from Joel Ekstrand, but from then on he was brilliant, almost Gomes esque in the way he repelled a series of attempts from the Bees. He made a double save on 17 minutes, a one-handed effort three minutes later before going two better in the second half, tipping over a rising effort from Bradley Clayton and then denying Jan Holldack from point-blank range. Watching former Watford keepers Alec Chamberlain and Jonathan North were appreciative of just how well the teenager played.
The Glasgow Rangers fan would love, one day we are told, to play for the Gers. His grandfather worked at the club and his father, Alan, is a massive fan. George displayed all the qualities needed for a Old Firm derby when captaining Watford’s U21 side yesterday and if Mark Warburton, the Rangers manager, was looking to be reunited with yet another of his former charges (Rob Kiernan, Harry Forrester and Dom Ball are all with him at Ibrox), Byers wouldn’t be a bad bet. We particularly loved the way he shoved Reece Cole out of the way at Clarence Park so he could take a quick free-kick and then, minutes later, showed the other side of his game to almost curl one into the far corner. His delivery from set-pieces was first-class, as was the ball he fizzed through two defenders and to within a whisker of Alex Jakubiak late on. Byers is a slip of a lad but there was no way he was pulling out of a full-blooded challenge with Tom Field at the death. The bigger and stronger Field actually came off worse and limped off. Byers left his mark in more ways than one.
The days of A Trialist are over… for a while
How nice it was to see a Watford teamsheet without ‘A Trialist’ listed. It has been a painful game of cat and mouse trying to bring you the identity of a face sitting on the bench or understanding the logic behind continually naming someone as ‘A Trialist’ when the player has been around for weeks. It is all, apparently, to do with not alerting the availability of a young target to watching scouts. Nonsense. If a player was any good, they wouldn’t be a trialist at Watford and most scouts worth their salt will know just about every player on the circuit. If they don’t, they soon will do. Watford have tried to keep the identity of, among others, Jerry Amo, Laste Dombaxe, Germaine Ofori, Ellis Brown and Ronaldo Deaconu under wraps this season. None of them have lasted five minutes. In fact, lying about in the press box at Clarence Park on Thursday was a teamsheet from the last game at the ground, Tuesday night’s Herts Senior Challenge Cup tie between St Albans and Hadley. Lining up at No.8 for Hadley, the Spartan South Midlands League outfit? Laste Dombaxe.
The U21s have real fire in their belly
This group have been given a bit of stick this season, mainly from people who haven’t been too many U21 games. As the academy coaches will tell you, it’s all about development. This lot may be lacking in experience – some of the players Harry Kewell has fielded this season are barely out of school – but they’ve never thrown the towel in. Not once. They’ve actually stood up for themselves and been prepared to mix it. Bernard Mensah went mad at Leeds United’s Lewie Coyle for the reckless challenge on Ashley Charles; Connor Smith has not been afraid to put his foot in; Byers punches above his weight; Charlie Rowan cleaned someone out against Brentford before Christmas; Mensah and Alex Jakubiak were sent off against Charlton Athletic; Alfie Young got stuck in after coming off the bench and even the slight Michael Folivi was mixing it against Brentford yesterday. This side may lose more often than they win but they won’t be walked over.
Games against Brentford U21s are guaranteed goals
What is it about games between these two? Watford were 3-1 up in the corresponding fixture at the Brentford training ground in November before conceding goals in the 92nd, 95th and 97th minute to lose, quite astonishingly, 4-3. They were at it again at St Albans on a bitterly cold afternoon, sharing six goals, with Brentford levelling the first half with a penalty with the final kick of the first and Jakubiak levelling the match with the final kick of the game. Interestingly, only four players of the Watford 18 were not involved last time out while the Bees only fielded six players who made the teamsheet for the corresponding fixture at their training ground.