After ending the first match in a tough 3-3 draw, Watford’s third-round replay match against the Tranmere Rovers ended in a disappointing 2-1 draw. The team has forced the game to extra time after finishing the first 90 minutes in a deadlock.
Watford boss Nigel Pearson once again opted to rest his first-team players in the game. He came up with a stretched lineup of young players instead. That nearly paid off as they forced extra time, but that proved to be futile as the team then dropped the game.
Pearson’s 4-4-2 lineup may seem to be a little bit stretched in the game, but that allowed them to penetrate well into Tranmere’s tight defence.
Callum Whelan had his first start for the team at Prenton Park. He was thankful that he had the chance to play with more experienced players.
‘I’ve been working hard in training and waiting patiently for my chance. I’m obviously gutted about the result, I’m disappointed because we want to win every game that we play, but it’s nice to play 120 minutes and I think it’s a valuable lesson as well’, said the 21-year-old. ‘The pitch, the crowd, it’s something I haven’t really experienced before, so despite the result I do think it’s a very good lesson that I’ll learn from going forwards’.
It was indeed one of those big games that one of the U-23 players get to shine in the FA Cup. Whelan himself was nervous in starting for the team.
‘I think I started a bit slowly, but I think I was getting used to the atmosphere and the pitch. When I went inside (from right midfield to central midfield) in the second half, I thought I did okay’, said Whelan. ‘It was a disciplined performance, but we didn’t create a lot as a team and a couple of sloppy goals cost us’.
Whelan has been training with the first team since November. His experience with the squad was clearly different from the experience that he gets in playing with the U-23 squad. Other players made their debuts at Prenton Park, and Kaylen Hinds, the only player to score for the team, was one of those young players.
‘Kaylen is a great guy, he’s powerful, strong and quick. I think he works hard day in, day out. He doesn’t have many days where he doesn’t go 100 per cent. He deserved his chance and I think he did really well when he came on’, said the midfielder. ‘I’ve played in a lot of Under-23 games this year and I think everyone who got on the pitch deserved it, and even the ones who travelled but didn’t get on the pitch deserved it. The Under-23s have been fantastic this year so it’s nice to see people rewarded with debuts and game time’.
That big loss to Tranmere may have been tough for the Hornets, but it gave the team’s young players a chance to show what they are made of. They shined on the floor, taking the fight to Tranmere and forcing them to play on extra time.
The playing alongside the likes of Andre Gray, Christian Kabasele, and Jose Holebas was the youngsters’ motivation in the game. Whelan knows how special it was for them to play in the FA Cup despite losing the game in the final moments.
‘The senior boys were a massive credit and it was so helpful for us younger boys to have top Premier League players, coming to a pitch like this’, he said. ‘It was good for us to have the three senior boys helping and I thought they were all outstanding’.