Report: Watford 2-3 Bristol City
Tuesday, August 22nd 2017
A stunning second-half fightback saw a much-changed City side inflict a Carabao Cup upset at the home of Premier League Watford.
Goalless at the interval, City fell behind to Etienne Capoue’s 47th-minute opener.
But the lead did not last long as Freddie Hinds scored from distance for the second cup tie in succession, before substitute Bobby Reid turned in Lloyd Kelly’s driven cross.
Niclas Eliasson made the game safe in stoppage time after Jose Holebas was dismissed for fouling the Swede, ensuring Adrian Mariappa’s consolation goal at the death counted for nothing.
Lee Johnson handed first City starts to 18-year-old left-back Kelly, who made his senior debut in the first round win over Plymouth Argyle, and winger Eliasson, who had not featured since coming on at Birmingham City ten days ago.
Elsewhere, Aden Flint made his first start of the season alongside Hordur Magnusson, with Jens Hegeler moving into midfield and Hinds partnering Famara Diédhiou up front.
There were nine alterations in all, with only Frank Fielding and Diédhiou surviving the cull for City’s sixth game in 18 days.
HINDS MAKES EARLY IMPRESSION
The much-changed team made a bright start. A couple of early set-pieces in promising positions were squandered, but Hinds gave the Watford defence something to worry about when he intercepted Sebastian Prodl’s square pass.
Running at Prodl’s centre-back partner Christian Kabasele, Hinds skipped past the Belgian international, whose mistimed slide just outside the penalty area somehow escaped a caution.
In stark contrast to most games involving City so far this season, this one took a long time to come to the boil.
Diédhiou twice ran at the Watford defence but wanted too long on the ball, while Kelly and Zak Vyner defended admirably against wingers Richarlison and Nordin Amrabat respectively.
A rare sight of goal came the way of Troy Deneey after 27 minutes, but the striker’s glancing header drifted beyond Fielding’s far post.
CHANCES AT A PREMIUM
Opportunities were few and far between, but Deeney would have fancied his chances again when Amrabat’s raking diagonal pass was perfectly weighted to sail over the head of Flint.
Watford skipper Deeney controlled it instantly to bear down on goal, but back came the big defender to snuff out the danger with a brilliant sliding tackle.
Meanwhile, Eliasson was struggling to affect the game. But it was his corner that was half-cleared to Callum O’Dowda, whose volley forced a first save of the day from Heurelho Gomes – the only shot on target of a forgettable first half.
Both sides made half-time substitutions, with Reid replacing Diédhiou while Amrabat made way for Isaac Success for the Hornets.
Fielding remained untested until the moment he picked the ball out of his net two minutes into the second half.
In truth the goal had a Premier League swagger about it. Will Hughes injected a sense of urgency with a sharp one-two on the edge of the City box before his first-time pass found Capoue, who shifted the ball on to his left foot and smashed a shot past Fielding’s left hand from 15 yards.
At the other end, young Kelly remained unfazed by the occasion and twice found crossing positions deep into Watford territory. From the second of those, Magnusson headed narrowly wide as City threatened a quick-fire leveller.
BRAVE CITY TURN THE TIDE
But the 600 or so travelling fans would not have much longer to wait, as Gary O’Neil won the ball on the halfway line and surged forward as the ball broke for Hinds.
With O’Neil ahead of him and Reid to his right, space opened up for the 18-year-old, who showed his scoring instinct to go for goal himself, planting a right-footed shot into the bottom corner from 25 yards to stun Vicarage Road.
Johnson immediately looked to his bench, introducing Korey Smith for Hegeler, and seven minutes later saw his young team turn the tie on its head.
The outstanding Kelly was the architect, again finding space on the left flank to deliver a fizzing cross that just hit Reid more than anything – though the Bristolian may argue he adjusted his body to force the ball home via his midriff with O’Dowda lurking behind him.
City were enjoying themselves now. Hinds was just unable to shift the ball out of his feet to find the unmarked Eliasson when City had a man over, before O’Dowda attacked the Watford defence with purpose only to shoot too close to Gomes.
CITY STAND FIRM
These chances were partly created by the Hornets’ desire to get back on level terms, as the yellow shirts swarmed forward.
Success crossed for Richarlison, whose header at the far post struck the base of the upright, before substitute Andre Gray – often the scourge of City in years gone by – was denied by the diving Fielding.
Matty Taylor came off the bench for the final 13 minutes to make his first appearance of the season following a groin injury, while Watford’s mission to force extra time was wrecked by Holebas’ second yellow card for tripping Eliasson when referee Tim Robinson really should have punished the left-back retrospectively, with City completely outnumbering their hosts on the counter before play was halted.
O’Dowda should have put the tie to bed in the 90th minute from Taylor’s low cross but somehow allowed Gomes to keep him at bay from point-blank range.
However, the Irishman made amends by setting up Eliasson for the clincher three minutes into added time.
The Swede had time on his side to compose himself, step inside the last defender and slot home in front of a buoyant away end to send City into round three for the third time in five seasons.