Scott Parker and Matt Smith each got 90 minutes as Fulham were narrowly beaten by Watford in a behind-closed-doors friendly at Motspur Park on Thursday afternoon.
Alessandro Diamanti’s excellent free-kick in the first half was enough to earn the Hornets a 1-0 win in a match that allowed our non-international players to get some game time under their belts.
Great perseverance from Josh Smile – who was operating in the number 10 role behind Smith – almost created the opener with just three minutes played. The midfielder refused to give up on the ball as Watford played it around at the back, and he was almost rewarded when he blocked a clearance, only for the ricochet to fly over the bar.
Some neat link-up play five minutes later between left-back Luke Garbutt and left-winger James Husband resulted in the latter fizzing a low ball across the face that was just cut out before Smith could get a touch.
A dangerous diagonal pass to the back post at the other end almost presented Watford with an open goal opportunity, but good defending from Kay Voser saw him shepherd it out at the expense of a corner.
With 11 minutes played, a ball over the top found Steven Berghuis just outside the box and the former Netherlands Under-21 international demonstrated brilliant technique in executing an over-the-shoulder volley. Magnus Norman was able to parry the shot away and the follow up was then ballooned over the crossbar.
Husband was proving a threat in a more attacking role than he usually operates in, and after robbing possession on the quarter of an hour he then skipped beyond three defenders before trying to find Smith with a cross, but the striker couldn’t quite connect on the slide.
The only goal of the game arrived midway through the first half after Nikolay Bodurov was penalised for a foul on the edge of the box. Former Italy international Diamanti stepped up and found the corner of the net in some style, although Norman did manage to get a hand to it.
Diamanti then curled an effort wide of the post, before Fulham had a couple of shots on target as Parker’s 30-yard drive and Garbutt’s free-kick from even further out were comfortably saved.
Sakari Mattila was next to try his luck from distance and while his strike was well hit, the goalkeeper watched it all the way and was able to catch the shot.
The final opening of the half came on 37 minutes when Garbutt’s chipped ball into the box was well controlled by Smith, but as he spun and went to shoot, visiting captain Ben Watson made a good block.
Fulham went two up front for the second half as Josh Walker came on Mattila, with Smile dropping back into central midfield.
It was the Hertfordshire side who had the first chance, though, when Ikechi Anya pulled the ball back to Berghuis who was denied by Shaun Hutchinson’s brave block.
The Whites then had two chances in quick succession on 51 minutes as Ben Pringle’s strike was deflected over, before Garbutt’s excellent cross was scooped away before Smith could tap in.
Moments later Berghuis managed to get a shot in, but Norman was equal to it and pushed it over.
The second period lacked the goalmouth action of the first and we had to wait until the 80th minute for another decent chance when Diamanti bent one wide from long range, before substitute Troy Deeney nodded the ball into Berghuis’ path only to see his teammate sky the shot.
Stephen Humphrys replaced his Under-18 strike partner Walker and in the dying embers of the game he thought he had a case for a penalty when he was sandwiched between two defenders. His appeals fell on death ears, though, as Premier League side Watford claimed the victory.
Fulham: Norman; Voser, Hutchinson, Bodurov, Garbutt; Pringle, Parker, Mattila (Walker 45 (Humphrys 81)), Husband (Sheckleford 61); Smile; Smith
Watford: Arlauskis; Lewis (Young 45), Johnson, Belkalem, Anya; Capoue, Watson; Berghuis, Diamanti, Ibarbo; Oularé (Deeney 75)