Helguson double helps tame hapless Portsmouth

Watford 3 - Portsmouth 0
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The Independent Online

The football landscape has changed immensely since 1979 when Watford last reached the semi-finals of the League Cup, but certainly not in favour of such sides as the one from Hertfordshire.

The football landscape has changed immensely since 1979 when Watford last reached the semi-finals of the League Cup, and not in favour of such sides as the one from Hertfordshire. Yet Ray Lewington's side will now believe that, after this second consecutive and deserved victory against Premiership opposition, they can actually outdo their antecedents and reach the final in February.

With the semi-final draw to come tonight, the Watford manager said: "It's a great privilege to be there. Whoever we play it will be a frightening tie but we'll enjoy it. I'm so proud of the players."

The Hornets are playing a type of football in this competition that is unrecognisable from their league form, which has seen them fail to win any of their last four games. Yet, take them out of their championship clothes and Cinderella-like, they transform into a disciplined, almost error-free side that plays with confidence and a ruthlessness in front of goal.

Heidar Helguson grabbed two here on a chilly night at Vicarage Road and Bruce Dyer snapped up the third, but the truth was that the visitors were hanging on to avoid humiliation. Neal Ardley's shot against the angle of crossbar and post, and Scott Fitzgerald's late saved shot, could have seen them score five.

Pompey's arrival seemed to stir something in the home side, who got into their stride after a nervous start. Perhaps that was due to the south-coast connection. After all, Watford's last win of any sort had come in the previous round of this competition, against Southampton, with a 5-2 scoreline that flattered the Saints somewhat.

Lewington's men first had to be grateful to Linvoy Primus for a bad early miss. With 12 evenly balanced minutes gone, Patrik Berger curled in a free-kick which the unmarked full-back somehow volleyed wide from five yards.

Lewington highlighted how important the first goal was, and it was another error by a Portsmouth player that led to Watford taking the lead eight minutes later. Neil Cox launched a speculative free-kick from the half-way line that should never have caused a problem, but when goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown missed his punch, Helguson's header found the empty net.

Pompey's response, just before the break, was a powerful drive from Berger that Richard Lee fisted wide, with the promise of more to come.

More did come, but it was from the inspired home side. The visitors were missing their first-choice strikers Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Lomano LuaLua while Lewington had to suffer the loss of his tireless midfielder Brynjar Gunnarsson at half-time.

But Watford proved they were the ones who could cope when they doubled their lead after 58 minutes. Jermain Darlington this time turned provider from the left and from his cross, Helguson ran past a hesitant Primus for his second of the night.

Three minutes later Watford were threatening a repeat of the Southampton rout when they had their third. This time Ashdown could only push James Chambers' shot into the path of Dyer, who had a simple task of finding the empty net.

Watford (4-4-2): Lee; Doyley, Cox, Dyche, Darlington; Chambers, Gunnarsson (Blizzard, 45), Mahon, Ardley; Helguson (Fitzgerald, 88), Dyer (Devlin, 79). Substitutes not used: Chamberlain (gk), Young.

Portsmouth (3-5-1-1): Ashdown; Primus, De Zeeuw, Unsworth (Griffin, 46); Stone, O'Neil (Cisse, 90), Quashie, Berger, Taylor; Berkovic (Harper, 46); Fuller. Substitutes not used: Hislop (gk), Faye.

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).

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