Late strike ensures Blues don't ruin Zola's big day
Watford 1, Wycombe Wanderers 0.
CHRIS Iwelumo broke Wycombe hearts with a late extra time winner as Blues weren’t able to spoil Gianfranco Zola’s first game in charge of Watford.
The Scotland international, on as a substitute, tapped home late on just as the Capital One Cup first round tie looked destined to end in a penalty shoot-out.
The highlights reel of this match won’t be the lengthiest piece of film ever made as a hard working Wanderers performance meant there was little evidence two divisions separated these two sides.
Wanderers pushed their Championship opponents all the way and had the better chances – not that there were many created in what was a times a tedious game – to win over the course of the 90 minutes.
At the back Gary Doherty and Anthony Stewart looked accomplished and calm under pressure, Richard Logan played the target man’s role well, Joel Grant showed plenty of running against his former side and Stuart Lewis and Matt Spring showed plenty of industry in midfield.
A fast and frenetic opening suggested we would be in for an entertaining encounter, although that never materialised. Watford had the chance to draw first blood when Jonathan Hogg threw himself between Doherty and Stewart to get on the end of Carl Dickinson’s cross, but his header went just wide.
Blues settled after that and had a golden opportunity to go in front when debutant goalkeeper Manuel Almunia unconvincingly shoved former Watford winger Grant’s shot into the path of Logan, but the ex Arsenal man recovered to make an excellent reaction save from the follow-up.
Logan then put the ball in the net from the corner that came in, but referee Carl Berry disallowed it for pushing.
Having settled well, Blues were dealt a blow when Marvin McCoy had to be stretchered off with an ankle problem after an innocuous incident. Leon Johnson replaced him, with Stewart moving to right back to cover for McCoy, one of three former Hornets in the Wanderers side.
It didn’t duly unsettle them however as they continued to keep their Championship opponents at arm’s length without breaking sweat despite temperatures pushing 25 degrees.
And they continued to have the better of the few chances created as Logan beat Lloyd Doyley to a lofted free-kick into the box but he guided it just the wrong side of the upright.
In the meantime Nikki Bull had nothing to do aside from gather in a tame Joe Garner header and punch clear a dangerous cross while under pressure from new boy Matej Vydra.
The home fans had to wait until the final minute of the half for their side to register a shot on target, but even then it resulted in a comfortable save for Bull as Mark Yeates, having done so well to lose his marker, hit his effort with all the power of an underhit backpass.
Wanderers could have taken the lead with the final action of the first half as Stewart headed wide from Spring’s free-kick when left unmarked.
Like in the opening half the first chance of the second half went the way of the home side as Yeates cut inside and curled a wicked shot just past the post from the corner of the box.
And just like in the first period the game died down after initial promise as neither keeper was seriously troubled, with Bull able to comfortably gather in Garner’s long range effort.
Blues were restricted to half chances as Spring had a shot deflected behind and Logan pulled one across the face of goal and out.
Then out of the gloom came a glorious chance for Blues to take the lead as Logan beat the offside trap from Spring’s incisive pass, but he shanked his effort into the side netting when he should have at least forced Almunia into action.
It was a rare second half chance as Logan became more and more isolated at the fulcrum of the Wanderers attack and Watford struggled to try to play the passing game Zola is trying to instil into them, having been more of a long ball side last term under Sean Dyche.
The home fans were almost woken from their slumber when Almen Abdi powered a header just wide from a corner before another chance for Blues as Stuart Lewis hammered inches wide from distance.
That was the last action of the regulation 90 minutes, with the final whistle being greeted with boos from a section of the home fans.
Frustration levels continued to increase as the first half of extra time came and went with only a sole half chance from Watford substitute Iwelumo, which was always going wide, to write home about.
But it was the big Scotsman who finally made the breakthrough, breaking Wycombe hearts in the process, as he scored ten minutes from the end. Vydra, who had looked the most likely of Watford’s frontmen to create something, managed to wriggle free down the right and into the area before his low cross evaded Bull and was bundled in by Iwelumo from a matter of feet.
Big Wanderers penalty shouts were waved away at the death as Blues players appealed in vain that Hogg handled Grant Basey’s cross, as Wycombe ran out of time to force the spot-kick shoot-out that for so long had looked an inevitability.
Wanderers: Bull, McCoy (sub Johnson), Doherty, Stewart, Dunne (sub Basey), Grant, Bloomfield (sub Angol), Lewis, Spring, Wood, Logan. Substitutes not used: Ingram, Ainsworth, Kewley-Graham, Taylor
Attendance: 5,343 (Wycombe 658)