Unbeaten in six, four wins, 11 goals scored and just four conceded, this has been a good start. Whether it can be sustained is a discussion for another day, at present, this game looks to have a good opportunity to take a swing at a Premier League side, in Watford, that is yet to win this season.
Although a run in the League Cup is unlikely to be what this season is judged on, as we saw two seasons ago in the FA Cup, beating teams from a higher level helps crystallise that belief that a team has the ability to succeed at their own level. This is a chance for this team and the individuals who make it up to demonstrate what they are capable of against a higher-quality of opposition, it might be a third Tuesday night game in a row, but it’s an exciting change of pace from the rhythm of league football we have settled into.
While some may be wondering whether Mark Robins will use his strongest line-up, with the manager having already stated that a cup run is important in generating funds, the strength of the opposition only furthers his imperative to name his best XI.
Despite back-up goalkeeper Ben Wilson having been handed a chance in the First Round against Exeter City, Marko Marosi seems likely to be handed the start in this game. Whether it would have made a difference had Wilson not made such a notable error in conceding a consolation goal against Exeter is probably an academic debate considering that Robins is likely to want to play his strongest team against a Premier League side, including his first-choice keeper.
Although Sam McCallum put in a strong showing against Gillingham at right-back, the more natural option of the returning Fankaty Dabo seems certain to come back into the side. Dabo’s fellow suspendee, Gervane Kastaneer, seems likely to face a tougher time winning back the trust of Mark Robins after such a brazen show of recklessness against Portsmouth, it may be worth paying attention to whether he is even given a place on the bench or is handed an extended spell on the naughty step.
Last Time We Met
It was at the point of our relegation season from the Championship where there was still some hope of survival when we lost took on Watford. With Andy Thorn needing wins at this point, his team were reliant on a goalkeeping masterclass from Joe Murphy to keep out a Watford side, then managed by Sean Dyche, that had little to play for and earn a 0-0 draw that served us little good.
Manager – Javi Gracia
Having looked like the one manager Watford wouldn’t sack, a poor start to the season – in the wake of a poor end to the last one – seems to have put Javi Gracia’s position in jeopardy. Having built a solid side that was elevated by the creative talents of Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra, the loss of focus that reaching the FA Cup Final engendered had bled into the new campaign.
Victory in the Second Round of the League Cup against a third-tier side is likely to have little bearing on Javi Gracia keeping his job, however, defeat in this game could well lose Gracia his job. The Spaniard’s thinking with regards to giving himself the best possible chance of staying in his post could well be what decides the nature of this game.
Who To Look Out For?
Whether Gracia knows his strongest XI at the moment is debatable, at the very least, this looks to be a game where some of Watford’s more exciting summer signings will be given a first start. Chiefly, Senegalese winger Ismaila Sarr, who terrorised Arsenal last season in the Europa League for Rennes, seems likely to be given the opportunity to demonstrate he is ready to start Saturday’s more important Premier League game against Newcastle United. Former Arsenal and England striker Danny Welbeck looks another set to be given the chance to break into the side.
With Watford having an aggressive global recruitment policy based around signing players with re-sale value, there are a number of exciting young talents in their squad who are also likely to be keen to use this game as a platform to show what they can do. Players such as Tom Dele-Bashiru and Domingos Quina have been snatched away from other Premier League youth sides for the greater opportunity of playing first-team football with Watford. Young Swedish goalkeeper Pontus Dahlberg has been tipped for a bright future, and is likely to get the nod in cup competitions this season ahead of the veteran Heurelho Gomes.
Areas To Exploit
Even a second-string Watford side going through the motions should have the latent ability to cut through our defence and win this game with just one or two moments of quality. The magic of cup competitions is that what should happen doesn’t always happen, having that greater fluency and motivation as a side could well prove to be a huge advantage for us.
Although we’ll need to make sure we’re not too open defensively, there is no worse way to exit a competition than to play defensively and get beaten anyway. Having employed such a strategy the last time we played a Premier League side, Brighton in the FA Cup, Mark Robins may want to stick to be more ambitious this time around. At least if we have a go, there will be fewer regrets about not trying if we do lose.