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EFL Cup report: Watford 1 Gillingham 2 (AET)

Well, that’s one way to get the players fitter.

Watford clearly needed to improve their fitness levels on the evidence of the first two matches but this wasn’t quite how Walter Mazzarri would have imagined, or even wanted, Watford doing it. They were taken to extra-time by League One Gillingham before being knocked out, in dramatic and dismal fashion, by a side thumped 5-0 by Scunthorpe on Saturday.

Watford are so far doing things the hard way under Mazzarri, holding on by the skin of their teeth for a point at Southampton and then handing Chelsea an equaliser and then a winner on Saturday. They made a mess of what should have been a routine tie here, forfeiting a lead given to them by Odion Ighalo, surviving a missed penalty before conceding either side of full-time to exit the competition at the first hurdle for the second successive season. The team were booed off at half-time of extra-time and at the final whistle. Let’s just hope Sofian Boufal and Daryl Janmaat weren’t present tonight.

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This result will largely be forgotten – like the Preston one was – if Watford again stay up with ease and enjoy an FA Cup run but there were some worrying signs here. Mazzarri was criticised for making his changes too late on Saturday and he got his subs wrong again here, taking off Matej Vydra when Watford had the momentum and the game by the scruff of the neck. It was also odd to see Younes Kaboul and Jerome Sinclair sit unused on the bench.

The vast majority of the crowd came to see Vydra get his long-awaited chance and although he and Troy Deeney were playing together for the first time since Sheffield Wednesday on the final day of the promotion-winning season, they showed their telepathy is as strong as ever in the opening 45. Indeed it was a lovely backheel from Vydra that set up the first chance of the match for Anya. He should really have scored but saw his effort parried by Stuart Nelson, who was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers.

Mazzarri implored his players during a break in play to continue to attack down the left-wing as Anya was getting plenty of joy. He got the better of Emmanuel Osadebe every time with his pace but his delivery was, more often than not, found wanting. He wasn’t the only one as Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan Nyom both failed to pick out a man when well placed, this time down the right.

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Watford enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but Gillingham largely kept them at arm’s length, so much so that it took Watford until 41 minutes to force their first corner. Nelson was forced into another smart save, denying Anya get after he was teed up by Deeney while, at the other end, the most work Costel Pantilimon had to do was come out of his box and act as an auxiliary sweeper when cushioning a header.

The second half was a much livelier affair and the goal was coming from the moment Deji Oshilaja somehow stopped Deeney connecting with another centre from Anya. It took the introduction of Ighalo, as he so often does, to add the cutting edge. His scrappy goal won’t feature in any goal of the season competition but they rarely do. He just has this uncanny knack of, by hook or by crook, finding the back of the net. He looked poised to add another soon after when Vydra and Deeney combined to tee him up but the ball deflected out for a corner.

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That was to be Vydra’s last involvement as he was, somewhat surprisingly, substituted shortly after for Etienne Capoue. He left the field to a rousing reception and he was either being enthusiastic in reciprocating or he was waving goodbye. The departure of Vydra saw no let-up in the chances being fashioned by the home side, Tommie Hoban seeing a header saved on the line and deflected onto the bar before bouncing out.

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Gillingham, to their credit, never threw the towel in, like they did in the 5-0 hammering at Scunthorpe on Saturday, and they should really have been level on 70 minutes when they were awarded a penalty following a carbon copy of a penalty Allan Nyom conceded against Crystal Palace at home last season. Nyom was again the culprit but this time Bradley Dack let him off the hook, blasting his spot-kick so far over it hit the exit sign two-thirds of the way up the Vicarage Road end.

Watford didn’t heed the warning and were guilty of standing off the Gills this time, allowing Byrne to curl in an effort that left Pantilimon rooted to the spot seven minutes from time. “Premier League, you’re having a laugh,” chorused the away fans.

There was nothing funny, however, when Gillingham took the lead in the first period of extra-time with a brilliantly worked goal, converted at the near post by Dack but created by a purposeful run and cross down the right from Osadebe. Gillingham probably deserved it in the end. Arsenal will hardly be quaking in their boots.

Watford: Pantilimon; Nyom, Kabasele, Hoban; Paredes, Watson, Doucoure, Guedioura (Ighalo 56), Anya (Zuniga 93); Deeney, Vydra (Capoue 65). Subs not used: Gomes, Kaboul, Sinclair, Holebas
Gillingham: Nelson; Osadebe, Oshilaja, Ehmer, Pask, Knochesky (List 66); Byrne, Knott, Wright (Oldaker.74), Emmnauel-Thomas (Dack 55); McDonald. Subs not used: Hadley, Hessenthaler, Donnelly, Dickenson.

Referee: James Linington

Attendance: 7,004