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Watford gear up for under-18 semi-final at Vicarage Road today

Harry Kewell feels the club will be in fine shape if some of their record-breaking under-18 players who will run out at Vicarage Road this morning for a playoff semi-final skip the under-21s and go straight into the first-team squad.

David Horseman’s side are 15 games unbeaten and went nearly 1,000 hours without conceding a goal on their way to winning the Under-18 Professional Development League 2 South title. The team face Sheffield United today as the top two from the south meet the top two from the north. Nottingham Forest meet Charlton Athletic in the other semi. The Blades’ academy chief is Nick Cox, the former head of Watford’s academy, adding a nice subplot to today’s game.

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Under-18 coach David Horseman. Picture by Len Kerswill

Kewell knows what it’s like to be part of a successful youth side. He helped Leeds United win the FA Youth Cup during his formative years and was part of a group who progressed through to the first team at Elland Road.

“It is a fantastic achievement,” the former Australia international said when asked about the under-18s’ title win. “I won my youth league when I started out at Leeds and you look at that Manchester United group [the class of ’92], I am sure they did as well. These achievements give players a sense of winning. They have a taste for it now and once you have that, you only want more. It will help their mentality and hopefully a few of them can bypass me completely and go straight into the first team.”

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Picture by Sean Hinks

Included in today’s under-18 team will be local lads Ashley Charles, Dion Pereira, Josh Roe and England Under-17 wicketkeeper Andrew Thomas.

“It’s something for everybody to look forward to,” Horseman told Watford’s official website. “It’s an unbelievable achievement for all the players, staff and everybody involved with the Academy. It’s not easy to win any league at any level, so I’m exceptionally proud of all of the players. We’ve also had a huge number of players playing under-21 football, so it really has been a fantastic season.”

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Picture by Len Kerswill

Horseman hopes his players don’t freeze at Vicarage Road, like they did before Christmas when they bowed out of the FA Youth Cup at the hands of AFC Wimbledon.

“This is a test of how far they’ve come, we played AFC Wimbledon at The Vic and they did bottle it, so let’s see if they have learnt anything from that game,” he said.  “I hope we show everything that you expect in a Watford team. They are organised, determined and they have a little bit of flair and skill to make sure we are competitive and show off the Watford Academy. That’s more important than the result, that will take care of itself regarding the performance. You can throw the good form we have out the window, whoever turns up on the day will win.”

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Why not pick up a copy of our new local sports paper on your way to the game. Packed with Watford FC content

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