Watford youth-team coach Dave Hughes says Hornets' relationship with Wealdstone is vital in developing Golden Boys' young players

Luke O'Nien spent time on loan at Wealdstone last season. Picture: Dave Hughes

Luke O'Nien spent time on loan at Wealdstone last season. Picture: Dave Hughes

First published in Sport by

Youth-team coach Dave Hughes says the relationship between the Hornets and Wealdstone is crucial in developing the Golden Boys’ young players.

Watford have a long-standing link with the Conference South club and several promising Hornets youngsters have spent time on loan at Grosvenor Vale.

Theo Robinson, Marvin Sordell, Britt Assombalonga, Tommie Hoban and Connor Smith are just five Watford Academy graduates to have briefly plied their trade for the Stones.

All have gone on to feature for the Hornets’ first team at some stage of their career and Hughes believes the link between the two clubs is vital.

Speaking after a Watford Under-21 side played out a 0-0 draw with Wealdstone on Wednesday, Hughes said: “It is a different challenge coming to Wealdstone, a club we have always had a great relationship with.

“That link between the clubs is crucial. Luke O’Nien came here last year and that relationship is vital in terms of continuing the development of players from a Watford perspective and getting players out to broaden their horizons.”

The Hornets side which travelled to Wealdstone was a mix of first-team squad members, first-year professionals and players from the Under-18s.

Watford named eight professionals in a 4-3-3 formation and also French midfielder and trialist Kevin Tapoko, who is a 20-year-old who plays for Belgian second division side Dessel Sport.

Jonathan Bond was in goal for the Golden Boys behind a back four, from right to left, of scholar Alfie Young, Jorell Johnson, Reece Brown and Josh Doherty.

O’Nien was in the holding role in a midfielder trio which included Smith and Tapoko. Alex Jakubiak was at the top of the attacking trio, with Diego Fabbrini and scholar Tom Rosenthal either side.

Whilst veteran striker Scott McGleish led the line for Wealdstone, who had former Hornets Jonathan North and Elliott Godfrey in their line-up.

The Stones were playing the better football early on and Johnson, who was captaining Watford, was caught out of position when McGleish was able to lift the ball narrowly over the bar.

The home side also created another couple of good opportunities following slick moves but on both occasions they failed to capitalise with mis-hit shots.

Watford struggled to create much of note in the first half but when they did it was Rosenthal who looked one of the most likely to set chances up.

He crossed for Smith, who was unable to direct goalwards when offside, forced ex-Watford goalkeeper North into a routine save and also struck a powerful effort just over the bar from around 20 yards out.

Both teams went close with free-kicks. The Stones’ Jack Mills tried to catch out Bond with a well-struck effort and O’Nien’s shot went over the wall but wide of the post, with North rooted to the spot.

McGleish also forced Bond to save from outside the area with a snap-shot but like the free-kick, it was relatively comfortable.

There were few chances early into the second period but then Wealdstone had a penalty appeal turned away following O’Nien’s tackle on Tom Collins, moments before Tom Hamblin had a header go over the bar from a corner.

The Golden Boys’ first opening came when the ball ran kindly for Jakubiak after Fabbrini’s dribble and whilst the ball went over North, it was cleared from close to the line.

The Hornets were controlling the possession much better in the second period but the Stones were defending well.

Jakubiak was Watford’s brightest spark in the second half. The striker did well to create space before smashing a powerful effort over and wide and the first-year professional also tested North with a low shot which was well held.

Watford substitute Mahlondo Martin had an excellent run and shot from distance and moments later Jakubiak fluffed the chance to score when the ball was laid back by Dennon Lewis.

The Hornets got progressively younger as the match went on with youth-team players replacing the likes of Fabbrini and Smith.

Hughes believes the experience of playing alongside members of the Hornets’ first-team squad will aid the development of the Golden Boys’ youngsters.

He added: “I thought Tom Rosenthal was outstanding and Alex Jakubiak was the same.

“Alfie Young did very well, as did Mahlondo Martin, Carl Stewart, Michael Folivi and Dennon Lewis.

“These guys are really good young players with what we hope will be a lot of development in front of them where they try to improve.

“They’ve come here tonight, playing against good players and that is a fantastic learning experience for them.”

The Hornets offered more of a goal threat as the game progressed which Hughes believes was down to the side becoming more familiar with each other after the substitutions were made.

He was pleased with how his youngsters passed the ball and says he was not surprised by how they performed against the Stones’ more senior players.

Hughes explained: “We’re patient when we’re working with them and nothing surprises me. They’re technically very good. Tactically there are things we want to improve and psychologically we want to challenge them and take their game to the next level. So I’m delighted with their performance.”

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