Watford v Bristol City – 22 August 2017

 

The magic of the League Cup

The League Cup used to be my bread and butter. I played amateur football most Saturdays, so I snapped up as many cheap, available mid-week cup tickets as I could. In recent seasons, however, it seems the competition has become even less important to clubs. Even lower league sides are putting out fringe and youth players. A warm Tuesday night in Watford reminded me that ‘the second cup competition’ still has a lot to offer.

Both sides made changes and gave fringe players a chance to impress. Unfortunately, the first half was a very dull affair with a lack of fluency and urgency. At half time, however, it seemed to dawn on both managers that they should throw caution to the wind and try to avoid extra time.

The result was a very open, exciting second half, five goals and an upset. I did wonder why the two sides hadn’t gone with this approach from the outset. It proved, however, that the League Cup has plenty to offer, and for a much reduced entry price.

Score: 2-3
Competition: EFL Cup
Attendance: 9,003
Ticket: £10
Programme: £2
Refreshments: Coke and Twix (£4.40)
Star player: Bobby Reid

Getting to Vicarage Road

The journey out to Watford was very easy. I caught a train from Euston to Bushey that only took 20 minutes. I then jumped on the overground, for one stop, to Watford High Street. Vicarage Road is then a 10 minute walk from Watford High Street station. You can also walk from Watford Junction which apparently takes 20 minutes.

I noticed on my way out of the ground that quite a few people had driven to the game and parked in residential roads near the ground. There seemed to be plentiful parking opportunities for visitors without the luxury of using London’s public transport network.

Vicarage Road Watford
Vicarage Road from the outside

Vicarage Road

I approached the stadium past a row of betting shops, newsagents and fish and chip shops. I was struck by how distinctive the stadium was from the outside. Each stand has its own look and is heavily adorned with club branding. The stadium also looks smaller from the outside as it’s built into a slope.

There are four similarly sized stands and one, the Graham Taylor stand, has two tiers. The ends are slightly larger stands, and the away fans are located in the Vicarage Road end. The Gold, Red and Black branding is consistent throughout and some modern touches have been added in the corners. These give the stadium a tidy appearance as well as adding character.

I sat in the upper tier of the Graham Taylor stand with an elevated view but still felt close to the action. The stadium feels tight and enclosed and, a larger crowd could add a suitable buzz to befit the hornet moniker.  The atmosphere was fairly flat, despite the exciting second half, but the turnout was low.

Inside Vicarage Road
The concourse at Vicarage Road

The game

Extra time and penalties looked a real possibility as the first half was a non-event. Watford had a couple of headed opportunities, and the visitors barely threatened at all. Videos of Neymar’s goals at the weekend were being played on phones behind me as the game failed to hold anyone’s attention.

As mentioned previously, however, the second half was a complete contrast to the first. Both sides came out with positive intent. The home side opened the scoring with a nice finish from Capoue. Twelve minutes later Bristol City youngster, Hinds, scored an excellent equaliser. He created some space for himself and drilled the ball into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

For the second week in a row, just as he had at Brentford a week earlier, Bobby Reid scored the key goal. The game became even more open as Watford tried to get even and City looked to catch them on the break. Capoue was shown a second yellow card for a cynical challenge, which prevented a dangerous looking counter-attack from the visitors.

Eliasson made the game safe in stoppage time after another fast break from the City youngsters. Mariappa than bundled home the final goal of the game, as a consolation, two minutes later. The noisy City fans celebrated in the stand reserved exclusively for them.

The final, breathless, 45 minutes were a great advert for the League Cup despite both sides resting players. It was well worth the reduced admission price and came in at £2 per goal.

Away fans at Vicarage Road
The away end at Vicarage Road