To the undoubted relief of the Football League’s top brass Watford last night failed to join fellow Championship clubs Derby and Burnley in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup. Much as the League likes its clubs to prosper in its own competition, it needs high-profile finals to maintain the cup’s attraction to sponsors and television companies. Tottenham v Manchester United would fit the bill nicely.
For 35 minutes it did seem that the struggling Hornets, who languish in 20th place in the Championship, would provide their new manager, Brendan Rodgers, with a memorable first victory – and a congratulatory text from his mentor Jose Mourinho. But Thomas Priskin’s 12th-minute goal was cancelled out in first-half injury time by a Roman Pavyluchenko penalty. Darren Bent then came off the bench to ensure the holders progressed to the last four with a 76th- minute winner.
“I thought we showed terrific character,” said the Spurs manager, Harry Redknapp. “We battered them in the first half [after going behind] and it was a case of sticking our chances away.” Of his match-winner he said: “Darren’s not done so well in the last few weeks as he did at the start when he was scoring goals. I think he took his foot off the pedal a bit. So I told him to get back to how he was two or three weeks ago.”
Rodgers said: “I’m proud of the performance. I thought we were very good for the first 25 minutes. We made a great start, created a wonderful goal, then we stopped passing the ball and that wee bit of |quality that Spurs have came through.”
For his second match in charge Rodgers made one change from the XI which drew at home to Doncaster Rovers. That was the return, following injury, of defender Leigh Bromby. Redknapp made four changes to the team which lost at home to Everton. The team was only marginally weakened but the absence of the rested Ledley King was quickly felt as Watford took the lead with both centre-halves at fault. Jon Harley robbed Aaron Lennon to instigate an attack which flowed to the left wing, where Tommy Smith beat Michael Dawson to cross. Priskin, having drifted off Jonathan Woodgate, dummied both him and Jermaine Jenas before drilling a low shot on the turn inside Heurelho Gomes’ right-hand post.
Tottenham’s lift in form following Redknapp’s arrival has dissipated recently but with Watford apparently content to sit on their lead the holders settled and began to create chances. Twice Lennon cut in dangerously from the right. Scott Loach turned his first shot acrobatically over the bar but the second he could only parry and the goalkeeper needed Bromby’s intervention to prevent Campbell forcing the ball in. In between Pavyluchenko had a shot deflected over by Bromby and Jenas, having pounced on a sloppy pass, drove powerfully but too close to Loach.
When, with half-time approaching, Pavyluchenko clipped the ball from 10 yards it seemed Spurs would go in to the break trailing. But in injury time Ross Jenkins brought down Jenas in the box. Pavylucheko rolled in the penalty for his seventh goal of the season, four of them in this competition.
Tottenham remained in command but their final ball was so poor that extra time loomed. It needed a stroke of fortune, and an error, to break the deadlock. Lennon fed Pavyluchenko who was challenged by Liam Bridcutt as he sought to turn with the ball. It ran to Bent who, to Loach’s embarrassment, shot sharply inside the goalkeeper’s near post. “He’ll be disappointed but he’s only 20 years old, with fantastic potential,” said Rodgers of his goalkeeper. Watford pressed for an equaliser but Gomes was barely |troubled.
Redknapp insisted Premier League survival remained his priority but admitted, “once you get this close [to winning a cup] it is important to try and go all the way.” He added he would “like to avoid Man United” in Saturday’s draw. The League’s high command will concur.
Watford (4-4-1-1): Loach; Mariappa, DeMerit (Doyley, 59), Bromby, Harley; Williamson, Jenkins (O’Toole, 78), Bridcutt, McAnuff (Hoskins, 83); Smith, Priskin. Substitutes not used: Lee (gk), Robinson, Bangura, Henderson.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Gomes; Corluka, Woodgate, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Zokora, Jenas, O’Hara; Pavlyuchenko, Campbell (Bent, 64). Substitutes not used: Cesar (gk), Bale, Gunter, Boateng, Bentley, Huddlestone.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).