Knocked out after extra time and penalties last season, Watford were dead and buried by half time of this season’s FA Youth Cup, out-classed by a Norwich City side who are the only club apart from Chelsea to win the competition in the last five seasons.
Three goals in six first-half minutes knocked the stuffing out of David Horseman’s side and by the time a fourth and fifth were added in the final ten minutes, it was already the names of several impressive Norwich players who would have been written into the notebooks of the scouts in attendance, including David Pleat, here on behalf of Tottenham Hotspur.
Andrew Thomas, the England age-group wicketkeeper, had already made three saves in the Watford goal – in front of club No 3 Rene Gilmartin – before the opener, from a more dynamic and progressive Norwich side, came on 22 minutes from Owen Wallis. Marian Huja, Watford’s Portuguese centre-half, then dragged down Alan Fleming for a penalty, which Bernard Ashley-Seal converted, sending Thomas the wrong way.
Things were starting to get messy when the impressive Wallis, up from centre-half, scored the third after 28 minutes. It looked a question of how many Norwich would get and damage limitation for Watford at that stage.
Then either Norwich took their foot off the gas or Watford, fearing a rout, got sick of being given the runaround and raised their game. Either way, the upshot was a spirited response, helped by a tweak in formation that saw defender Max Ryan moved up top and the sprightly Reece Stray moved into a deeper role.
Ashley Charles, the ex-Watford Grammar School Boy handed a pro contract a year early in the summer, got on the ball more while Dion Pereira started to unfurl his neat box of tricks down the left-hand side. Sights of goal were in short supply but Charles and Josh Rose both had longer range efforts blocked while Treon Johnson, the striker, had the underused Norwich keeper scrambling at his near post.
Thomas, in the home side, still had to be at his smartest and sharpest on a freezing night, saving at least twice more to keep the scoreline respectable. Both teams emptied their bench after the hour mark but it was Norwich’s who had the greater impact: Anthony Spyrou and Devonte Aransibia beating the overworked Thomas from close range. It looked like it wasn’t going to be Watford’s night when their best attempt at goal, from Charles, cracked the top of the bar and then a corner was cleared off the line, but they at least had some consolation when Huja, up from centre-half, cracked in a deflected free-kick with the last kick of the game.
Watford: Thomas; Sesay, Rogers, Huja, Ryan; Pereira, Charles, Roe (Kaikay 59), Gordon, Johnson (Adedeji 59), Stray (Empson 71). Not used: Jones, Lacy
Norwich: Hale; Brown, Ellesley, Wallis (c), Syme; Fleming, Mututala-Sambu, Kamal, Middleton (Spyrou 52); McIntosh (Aransibia 59), Ashley-Seal (Higgs 63). Not used: Dickerson, Payne