THE GIANFRANCO ZOLA reign is up-and-running thanks to a Chris Iwelumo strike from close-range in extra time.
It certainly wasn’t a convincing sweep aside of the Chairboys who played their part in putting up a strong fight, but the Italian’s record reads played one, won one, and in the cups especially, that’s all that matters.
Watford were able to include three of their new signings in the starting XI with Manuel Almunia taking his place in goal, Almen Abdi returning to the centre of midfield and Matej Vydra making a surprise start on the left of the front three.
Wycombe included former Hornet’s trio Marvin McCoy at right-back, Matthew Spring in midfield and Joel Grant up front.
The Goldenboys should have been ahead after just two minutes when Jonathan Hogg inexplicably managed to power a bullet header wide of Nikki Bull’s right-hand post. The midfielder sprinted to meet a left-wing cross after good work by Matej Vydra but somehow powered wide of goal.
Former Watford trainee Grant was well denied by Almunia when his low right-footed effort was beaten away by the Spaniard before he recovered to block a second effort with his knee.
Skipper John Eustace was the next to come close as he looped a header back toward goal from a Mark Yeates corner, however Bull was just able to get up in time and punch it clear.
Joe Garner, chosen to spearhead the front three, had his first sight of goal just before the half hour mark when he flicked a tame header at goal from Eustace’s inch-perfect diagonal into the penalty area.
Just before half-time, Yeates tested Bull once more as he fizzed in a low left-footed drive from 25 yards to no avail.
Four minutes after the re-start Yeates sent a left-footed cross into the area expecting Garner to connect. The former Forest forward failed to do so however, leaving Hogg to slash at the the ball, barely making contact on the edge of the six yard box.
Yeates and Garner were the protagonists in another Hornet’s chance not long after, when the former lofted a clever ball into the latter before cracking a half-way into the arms of Bull in the Chairboy’s goal.
Wycombe had their best chance of the tie with 20 minutes left, former Exeter City striker Richard Logan set free before blasting wide of Almunia’s near-post, clipping the side netting on route to the Vicarage Road stand.
Abdi, who had looked off the pace for much of the game, missed a good headed opportunity when he nodded wide of the near-post from a Yeates corner.
From the resulting goal-kick, Wanderers’ midfielder Stuart Lewis hammered a right-footed effort just wide of Almunia’s right-hand post from in excess of 20 yards.
A mix-up at the back nearly cost the ‘Orns at the death when Spring inadvertently diverted an effort toward goal, Almunia leaping to push over.
In injury time of regular time, Yeates whipped a free-kick toward the top corner, a deflection from the visitor’s wall earning the hosts a corner.
Extra time substitute Iwelumo was unlucky to see his acrobatic effort drop wide after Vydra had seen his initial cross from an Abdi centre blocked by some dogged defending.
In the second half of extra time, the breakthrough finally arrived.
In the 109th minute Abdi released Vydra in behind Grant Basey, the Czech Republic youth international drawing the ‘keeper sufficiently before squaring to Iwelumo who broke the deadlock by bundling home on the line.
Wycombe Wanderers: Bull; McCoy (Johnson), Doherty (c), Stewart, Dunne (Basey); Lewis, Spring, Bloomfield (Angol), Wood; Logan & Grant.
Subs not used: Ingram (GK); Ainsworth, Kewley-Graham & Taylor.
Referee: Mr C Berry.
Manuel Almunia – 7
A solid debut. Good communication with his back four, a couple of good saves and apart from one skewed clearance, a very assured start to life between the sticks for the ‘Orns.
Lloyd Doyley – 6
Replaced by Lee Hodson in normal time – presumably a fitness issue for the long-serving defender who was also replaced during his testimonial match. Got forward to support the midfield well.
Nyron Nosworthy – 6
One or two slip ups but generally played it safe and kept the ball on the deck when possible. A couple of pieces of skill thrown in for good measure.
Martin Taylor – 5
Caught out on a couple of occasions with sloppy passes in admirable attempt to stick to the new ethos. In short, he’s had better days.
Carl Dickinson – 4
Didn’t get forward at all and generally looks exceedingly uncomfortable playing as part of a possession-heavy system. His days at Vicarage Road are numbered with Daniel Pudil the preferred left full back.
Jonathan Hogg – 5
Missed a couple of brilliant opportunities to open his Watford account and for long periods of the game failed to really stamp his usual authority on the match.
John Eustace (c) – 6
Even whilst those around him were flailing, the Hornet’s skipper kept his head and kept the ball moving as the metronome at heart of the side.
Almen Abdi – 5
Looks either unfit or short of a yard of pace. Would imagine (hopefully) that having played at the top level it’s the former. Failed to grab the game by the scruff of the neck but did play the killer ball to release club-mate Vydra for the all-important goal.
Mark Yeates – 5
Whilst it’s true to say the Dubliner was at the centre of a number of Hornet’s moves, it’s equally fair to say that the winger is still frustrating and wastes possession by running into a blind alley or giving it away all too often. His awareness and anticipation are dreadful.
Joe Garner – 5
Battled away and showed some neat touches without (as ever), looking like scoring. It’s a familiar story for the former Forest man who will surely find chances hard to come by when Alex Geijo and Steve Leo Beleck are fit.
Matej Vydra – 7
The stand-out performer in an otherwise uninspiring display. Intelligent, pacey and a good dribbler, Vydra could prove to be a very handy addition.
Lee Hodson – 6
A surprise replacement, the Northern Ireland international wasn’t stretched.
Craig Forsyth – 6
Another surprise substitute, the Scot bombed on to bring more width into midfield as well as making sure he attended to his defensive responsibilities.
Did more in his 23 minutes on the pitch than Garner did in his 97. A goal will have done his claims for a start at Palace on the opening day no harm at all.
Patience is a virtue
This was the first game of the season, and after the sheer volume of change this summer it was never going to be the glossiest, more comfortable performance ever.
Patience is key to this style of football and the comments in the part of the Upper Rous where I watched the game were particularly negative. At times you could have sworn that the worst offenders wanted Aidy Boothroyd’s long-ball back.
It’s one or the other, passing football or long football. Take your pick!