5 Stars

FA Youth Cup, 3rd Round
Crawley Town FC v Watford FC
Saturday, 10th January 2014, 7pm
Broadifeld Stadium
Entrance Free (with Watford Season Ticket), Programme £1
Distance 32 miles, Attendance 230
In cup football, a win is enough… right?
Being through to the next round demonstrates a team’s progress but, surely the answer lies more in what we are trying to achieve longterm, than in the pursuit of individual silverware. Whilst for clubs I’d guess it is less so, for these young players there is rightfully some kudos in lifting this national prize. Ultimately however, the focus of academies is more about the improving the fortunes of first teams than awarding a shiny cup to some physically adept sixth formers (however amiable they might be).
Given successful the long history of Dario’s methods, the omission of Crewe Alexandra is fairly notable however, looking through the list of finalists makes for fairly unsurprising reading. West Ham were doing well in the late 50s early 60s, Ipswich ruled the early 70s, United and Palace were big in the 90s, and Arsenal clearly won more than just the double under Bertie Mee. Without any claim to statistical brilliance, when any club has done well in the FA Youth Cup, it impacts the first team in the subsequent years.
Inevitably not all the boys even in these successful sides, went on to great footballing careers; removing all emotion from the equation, some those on show last night will also fail to make the grade at either Broadfield or Vicarage Road. Whilst a few will become our/my heroes of tomorrow, others will just finance the club’s future; some will look to find their fortunes away from the pitch.
For those that went last night, at least one day we’ll be able to share a cuppa and chat to our window cleaner of his Youth Cup endeavours. Recounting the action of this competitive game – on a heavy pitch, in very amicable atmosphere – whilst I’ll only be able to speak of gaining access pitch side before fans arrived, he’ll educate me on the preparation involved and the cramp in his legs as the pitch took its toll. Regardless of the physical strain, many of us would’ve given our hind teeth for such a chance to play at this level…
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The national media (if they could actually be bothered with such paltry competitions prior to the semi finals) might have the unsuspecting believe that the reward is big glamour tie, at home to Norwich – they are the current holders and do play in the self proclaimed “best league in the world” – but last night, the young Hornets went away, battled with the elements and, fought off some considerable pressure late in the game to win the game with a lovely clean sheet. The true success is in this is the manner of both individual and team performances, on both sides.
I’d seen many of David Hughes side in the Herts Senior Cup last month; tonight they impressed me again. Disciplined and clearly focussed on their goal, they exhibited some fine skill in the first half and when the pitch deteriorated, grit in the second. Again Mahlondo Martin looked sharp down the left and Josh Doherty put in a steady shift behind him however tonight, these five, offered the promise that Watford yet again have a promising future ahead.
1 Daniel Wilkes – I’d half expected to see Arie Ammann between the sticks (I’ve no idea why) but Daniel performance was faultless. When Crawley had opportunities, he was equal to them. He communicated well with the defence, pulled off fine saves when needed, distributed the ball well to the outfield and, was more secure in the air than one of his predecessors at this age. Above all, when his teammates were tiring he stood like a rock behind them.
2 Jazzi Barnum-Bubb – All action and fast pace the length of the right wing, Jazzi’s interplay with Hope and Jakubiak was fantastic throughout the night. His speed on the wing was a constant threat, yet it also helped as he backtracked superbly to assist in defensive duties. Reminiscent of win at Old Trafford in ’79, Jazzi’s inch perfect cross was pivotal in the second goal.
5 Harry Kyprianou – It is said that Vinnie Jones tackle on Steve McMahon at the start of the 1988 FA Cup Final set the tone for Wimbledon’s victory; last night, after some even early exchanges, Malachi Robinson sprinted unmarked after a long ball down the Crawley left. Leaving his marker in the centre, Harry went for the ball like an excercept. Lunging in early he’d have missed the ball allowing Robinson a free run towards goal; a second late he’d have been sent off. Putting the ball into the East Stand, the connection had been both impeccable and totally committed. He still needs to improve his long range passing to be the full Ian Bolton but from that moment on, Harry had the entire Crawley front line in his pocket. A great defensive display.
8 Ryan Hope – Captain on the night, Ryan strode around maturely in the middle of the park. He seemed to link the play with aplomb but, it was the attacking side of his game that took my eye. A cross between both Jackett and Taylor – whilst the first had been the product a calamitous Crawley defending – the second goal was as much his as it was scorers. Unpretentiously collecting the ball in midfield, Ryan deftly fed Jazzi, advancing down the right. The pass was perfect, leaving the winger needing just one touch to tee up the ball and curl it over.
9 Alex Jakubiak – Luther he isn’t but, rising for Jazzi’s cross at the far post he could so easily have been; like the other four he has massive potential. Though far less influential when playing deeper in the second half, Alex tormented the Crawley defence for much of the game. Latching on to a stray ball, he fired in Watford’s first goal at the second attempt and, if Luke Colquoun hadn’t saved so well in second period, Alex would have had a hat-trick. Affording those near the press area a fine view, his shot curled low towards the far corner – dragging me out of my seat to celebrate prematurely – only to be denied by Colquoun’s fingertip stop.
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While I personally need to offer thanks to Crawley Supervisor, Terry, for arranging my early access to the stadium, a few WMLers for the fine company, and Jon Marks for the team sheet; ultimately David Hughes, his staff and all the boys in the squad deserve the most applause. Last night’s was a free match for any season ticket holders, and worth every moment. When the “big boys” turn up at Vicarage Road in a few weeks I’d recommend a few more supporters turn out to see who their heroes of tomorrow might be.

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