If Quique Sanchez Flores does opt to prioritise Watford’s FA Cup semi-final and rest several players against West Ham United next Wednesday, then Alex Jakubiak may get a call-up to the first-team squad that he has more than earned.
The Hornets’ striker took his tally for the season to 19 by scoring in Watford Under-21s’ 1-1 draw against Bolton Wanderers last night. In the pre-Pozzo era, that would’ve been more than enough for the 19-year-old to have seen some first-team action. But times have changed. The fact that Jakubiak was lining up alongside Belgium Under-21 international Obbi Oulare at Clarence Park says everything you need to know about how difficult it is to break into Sanchez Flores’ squad.
And yet, if Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney are given the night off next Wednesday, and that’s a big if, then the Scotland youth international may just be given the opportunity he’s been waiting for. And Under-21s coach Harry Kewell certainly thinks he’s ready.
“I think there are a few boys who I’d love to see get a chance,” the former Leeds United winger said. “Tonight is the best I have seen Alex play. He has wonderful pace, great strength and he can finish. He ran the show tonight. Bolton were scared of him.”
Jakubiak has been the bright spot in a difficult first season for the Under-21s and was rattling along at more than a goal a game at one point. Has he outgrown youth football?
“That’s a good question,” said Kewell when asked by WD Sport if it’s now time for Jakubiak to play senior football. “When Alex gets into certain areas he’s deadly. You look at his goal, we’ve been working on holding the ball up, turning and shooting. That’s exactly what he did tonight. I am pleased for him. He’d been on a bit of a run where he was doing everything but scoring. Strikers need goals but now he’s got one, he needs two, three, four. It isn’t just about one game, you have to be at a consistent level all the time.”
Jakubiak is on Sanchez Flores’ radar. There was a possibility the striker would be included in the match-day squad for the FA Cup third round tie with Newcastle United in January but an illness ruled him out. However, Watford’s head coach is a fan and there a chance he could give him his second first-team appearance, at Upton Park next Wednesday, nearly two years after his only previous start, against Huddersfield at Vicarage Road.
“He is a mix of Deeney and Ighalo,” Sanchez Flores said earlier this season. “He is young and has good characteristics for our attack. He is able to play like a striker with good mobility, he can run to the sides, he can run vertically and out of the box. He has the characteristics I like.”
Jakubiak was in the purplest of patches either side of Christmas, scoring 14 in 12 games but yesterday’s was his first since one against Ipswich Town early last month.
“Before Christmas I was scoring almost every game, after that I had about three or four games where I didn’t score and everyone said I was having a goal drought,” Jakubiak told the club’s website. “It wasn’t a drought, it was a few games, but that’s the kind of expectation that I put on myself, scoring so many goals before that. It’s not a hard pressure, it’s a good one to have when you are a striker, so it was good to be back amongst the goals.”
The team we feel Sanchez Flores should pick on Wednesday night to play West Ham United – just four days before the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley – includes Jakubiak.