By Kevin Affleck
Hayden Mullins felt the team spirit binding this newly-assembled group of players came racing to the fore in the Premier League Cup tie with Fulham as they recovered from falling behind three times to win a thriller.
The Cottagers, who beat holders Everton in their opening match in this group, took the lead through Fabio Carvalho, Jayden Harris and then Tayo Edun, but on each occasion the Hornets came up with an answer. Joseph Hungbo got the first, Kaylen Hinds netted the second, Sonny Blu Lo-Everton got his first at this level for the third equaliser before Hungbo cracked in another fine goal for the winner 18 minutes from time.
Seven of the starting XI at Fulham's Motspur Park training ground were not even contracted to the club at the end of last season, but the integration process has been so smooth and the bond formed already so tight that they look like they have been playing together for a couple of seasons. They were even able to complete this rescue act without Sam Dalby, the striker who limped off before the hour, and captain Jamal Balogun, who was only fit enough to be among the subs.
“Fulham are a good side so this is a result the boys have got to be pleased with,” said Mullins. “To come here and score four goals and beat them is a very good testament to the lads. We are in a good run of form, but it all comes from working hard and trying to do the right things at the right time. It all stems from the hard work they put in during the week. Now they are getting the rewards.”
The side are eight points clear at the top of the South Division of the Professional Development League and now they are top of a Premier League Cup group that includes Fulham, Everton and Plymouth. The win over Fulham was notable as the hosts are a Category 1 Academy side and boasted Timmy Abraham, the brother of England striker Tammy, in attack.
“It was a good win as one of the things we try and instil in them is to keep going right until the end,” said Mullins. “We encourage them to stick to the game plan if they go behind and to keep playing the way we want, which is to attack and press from the front. I thought we did those two things really well.”
There is no chance of Mullins allowing this group of players to think they have cracked it before the Christmas decorations have even gone up. He will be poring over the footage to see how they managed to concede three goals despite playing really well defensively, with Bayli Spencer-Adams and Harry Hudson in particular doing well at the heart of the defence.
“I'm really disappointed with the goals we have given away,” he said. “All three goals are from us switching off and that's hurt us. We are really disappointed with that, especially when we've had to work hard to break them down to get our goals. The ones we have given them are a bit cheap.”
Fortunately, the Hornets had enough guile and firepower at the other end to make up for the three lapses. Hungbo got the first and fourth to take his tally to ten for the season.
“He's not the finished article by any stretch,” said Mullins. “He knows there is a lot more to come but he is having a fantastic time and is in a rich vein of form. Long may it continue. He took his goals really well and could have had a hat-trick.”
Hinds, who was a highly-rated youngster at Arsenal and who has Bundesliga experience, had his most effective game for the team and showed his versatility by playing both roles in attack. He got the second after a wonderful defence-splitting pass from Callum Whelan.
“Kaylen joined us this season and has showed good intelligence,” said Mullins. “He played in the ten role to start with then went up to play nine after Sam went off. He takes it all in his stride and plays both roles equally effective. He got on the scoresheet, which is always good, and I'm pleased for him as he's been brilliant for the group.”
Mullins has also been able to integrate Lo-Everton, the Scotland youth international, into a winning side in the last two matches. The playmaker, 17, linked the play nicely after coming on early in the second half and neatly put away the third goal.
“Sonny has been done really well,” said Mullins. “He's a player that we like as he's nice and bright in possession. We got him on early today early and it was a good opportunity to play behind Kaylen. He did it to really good effect.”
HORNETS: Parkes; Barrett, Spencer-Adams, Hudson, Gordon; Hungbo, Whelan (C), Wise (Adebiyi 72), Bennetts (Trialist 80); Hinds, Dalby (Lo-Everton 52). Subs not used: White and Balogun.