Troy Deeney is thrilled to see his fellow promotion winner Joel Ekstrand back in action, the Sweden international stepping up his comeback from a serious knee injury by playing an hour against Reading yesterday.
Ekstrand was given 45 minutes against Brentford Under-21s on Thursday and, in a pre-planned strategy with the medical staff, lasted a further 15 minutes against the Royals in a 3-2 friendly win in Berkshire before being replaced by fellow long-term injury victim Matthew Hall. Tommie Hoban also made his return from a longer than expected layoff from surgery to solve groin and hip problems, playing half an hour before being withdrawn in another scripted change. Steven Berghuis, Mahlondo Martin and a second-half forward trialist got the goals while Sean Murray played his first game since the loan agreement with Wigan Athletic finished on Saturday.
Ekstrand is working his way back from a double problem to his left knee that required restorative surgery by a top Spanish surgeon who operated on Xavi and Pep Guardiola.
“People don’t see how much he works behind the scenes,” said Troy Deeney, speaking to us on the sidelines of the game at Clarence Park last week. “He’s had a few setbacks as well, which don’t come out, so it’s nice he’s back. He’s look confident aswell. People coming back have that little bit of doubt in their mind, like ‘Should I go for this tackle or should I go for that one’. A few more of these games and hopefully he can start pushing and be involved in the first team again.”
It said a lot about Deeney that, hours after a late return from Southampton and when he was entitled to be in a foul mood, he headed straight to St Albans after training to give Ekstrand some morale support on a shivering afternoon. Almen Abdi was also in attendance, as were support staff Ben Dixon and Mike Spanou who have played such a vital role in Ekstrand’s rehab.
“He’s quite an upbeat character,” said Deeney. “Him and Almen are really big mates and if they ever give me a nudge that he’s a bit down then I’ll go and have a word with him but, generally, he’s in good spirits. It’s been a long time. Him and [former Watford forward] Britt [Assombalonga] were injured at the same time so him and Britt were competing to see who could get back first. At the minute Joel is winning.”
Academy chief Chris McGuane said Ekstrand played against Brentford like he had never been away while Quique Sanchez Flores has publicly stated his admiration for Ekstrand and would, if possible, like to name the defender in his revised 25-man Premier League squad. Talks are also underway to extend his stay beyond the end of the season.
“I wouldn’t like to be the gaffer [when choosing the Premier League squad],” said Deeney, the captain. “Joel hasn’t had a proper game in a year now so it will be tough to put him in. And you know how it is now, if you put him in and he doesn’t do well then he’s written off straight away. It’s a tough one but, hopefully, he can get fit and we all know there is quality there.”
Watford: Simpson (Trialist, h-t); Young (Eleftheriou 85), Ekstrand (Hall 60), Hoban (Johnson, 30), Mason; Berghuis (Carvalho, 76), Murray, Charles (Ovenden, 65), Smith, Mensah; Trialist (Martin, 57).
•Main image via @watfordfc