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Verdict on how Joel Ekstrand and Sean Murray fared for Watford Under-21s

There was no sign of Quique Sanchez Flores or his three assistants at the training ground in London Colney yesterday, so the head coach will rely on the feedback of Harry Kewell as to how Joel Ekstrand and Sean Murray, the two players in yesterday’s game who have the remotest possibility of ever playing for him, shaped up for the under-21s against Barnsley.

Since returning early from an inauspicious loan spell at Wigan Athletic, Murray has played the last four Professional Development League games, in addition to the Herts Senior Challenge Cup tie at Boreham Wood and the four games Watford played in the Nagjee Cup in India. He came off after 75 minutes yesterday, with the Hornets 2-0 down, and had the physio take a precautionary look at his right knee.

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Picture by Sean Hinks

“Sean has done excellent since he’s been with us,” said Kewell. “His work rate is phenomenal, he’s just been unlucky in front of goal. It’s just not falling for him but I just keep telling him to train the way you play. Score goals in training and it’s going to happen in a game.”

Murray did get one against QPR, at the second attempt, and will wonder how he didn’t grab a second on Friday afternoon: his long-range effort smacked the crossbar, came down, hit the goalkeeper on the back and rolled wide of the post for a corner. MK Dons sent Kevin Gallen to the game against Crystal Palace last Monday and we understand they have a long-standing interest in the midfielder. The emergency loan window closes on Thursday.

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There were scouts from Arsenal, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Luton Town at yesterday’s game against the Tykes. The representative from Wolves may, just may, have been watching Ekstrand, who is searching for his first senior competitive minutes since he seriously injured his knee against Ipswich Town a year ago. The 27-year-old has been the 20th man on the last two first-team matchdays.

“It’s great to see Joel get his confidence back,” said Kewell. “It’s great to see him get through another 75 minutes. That’s a positive for the team and it’s great for Watford.”

Talks to extend Ekstrand’s contract at Watford are still deadlocked and he could leave for free at the end of the season. He will have been pleased to edge ever closer to his first 90 minutes since he returned – he played 45 against Reading, Brentford, Boreham Wood and Crystal Palace – but he looked rusty in horribly mis-controlling a pass that almost allowed Barnsley’s Brad Ash to make it two. The excellent Jorell Johnson was Watford’s best defender.