Watford’s Under-18 coach David Horseman said “the ref got it wrong” with the regards to the key decisions in Watford’s Professional Development League 2 playoff semi-final against Sheffield United at Vicarage Road this morning.
After a quiet first half, in which the only noteworthy moment was an Ogo Obi penalty miss just before half-time, things livened up after the break. On the hour mark Obi was booked for diving after rounding the keeper who brought him down. Sheffield United went straight down the other end and were awarded a penalty when substitute Brandon Mason made a two-footed challenge inside the box. The defender won the ball but in a reckless manner and was shown a straight red card. Watford equalised within minutes through Michael Folivi, but the red card took its toll. The away side scored two in quick succession to kill off the Hornets. The Blades will meet Nottingham Forest or Charlton in the final.
“Yeah, [the key decisions] went against us, but I don’t want to use that as an excuse,” said Horseman. “I think we needed to be a bit more clinical because we still had chances, even after we had one sent off we had two or three chances. Look, the ref got it wrong and he’s still not admitting it. But in football that’s still part of your development and you have to handle controversy and I think the boys behaved in a very professional manner after that. It’s disappointing our season’s ended outside of our influence, however that’s the way football goes sometimes.”
Horseman’s side played at Vicarage Road in December, losing on penalties to AFC Wimbledon to surprisingly exit the FA Youth Cup. He said they “bottled it” on that occasion but that was not the case today.
“Even up to the sending off I thought we were getting better and better and better,” said the coach. “I think that shows development and improvement. I think if you compare this performance to the AFC Wimbledon performance – well you can’t compare the two. I thought we were miles better today and against a better team too, if you want me to be honest.
“Up to that [the sending off] I thought we were getting better and better, creating more and more chances and we just needed to take one. I think we’d have gone on to win the game 3-1 in our favour. But that’s football, and I think I’m just pleased with them, I’m proud of them. They’ve been a brilliant group throughout the whole season and I’ve got nothing but good things to say about them all.”
The extra player paid dividends for the Blades but credit should be given to Watford, who refused to berate the referee, kept their shape and continued to create chances when every decision seemed to be going against them.
“Yeah [I take note of players’ reactions to incidents] and they’ve definitely started to handle things like that better,” said Horseman. “It shows maturity. Even in the Youth Cup, we had 20 seconds to go and we all pile in and add extra time on which they equalise in. That never happened today. So look, it’s really disappointing and we like winning and we like playing well, but that didn’t happen today. I think we played well and the boys will learn a lot from the experience and have shown huge improvement.”
Harry Kewell said it would speak volumes about this group of players, who had been unbeaten in 15 matches and had gone nearly 1,000 hours without conceding a goal, if they skipped his under-21 side and made the jump to the first team.
“I think they need to go, work with Harry, work with the older boys, get a taste of that,” Horseman said. “I think it’s a very dangerous game in youth development to name names. I think anybody here today would pick one or two out who they like and football’s a game of opinions. But we’ve got a few and if they keep improving the way they have this year, you never know. And I then wouldn’t like to predict which one, because I think there’s a couple with some potential.”
Watford: Thomas, Eleftheriou, Rogers (Mason 55), Ovenden, Rowan, Stevens, Adedeji (Ryan 77), Cook (Makaka 85), Obi, Folivi, Pereira. Not used: Lacy, Johnson
Sheffield United: Ramsdale, Charlesworth, Brown, Cummings, Semple, Smith, Gordon, Hall, Hallam, Crofts, Gilmour