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Under-23's 2 weeks ago

Under-23: Watford 3-3 Charlton Athletic

By Kevin Affleck

Academy Manager Richard Thomas was delighted with how the Under-23s responded to a few words at half-time, and the contributions of João Pedro and the returning Dan Phillips, in an absorbing six-goal draw with Charlton Athletic at Clarence Park.

The Professional Development League leaders took the lead through Sam Dalby but were then forced to come from behind twice, the first from Cameron Green and the second right at the death from Ryan Cassidy, to salvage a point from a game that yielded five goals in the first 42 minutes and only one in the remaining 48.

Thomas was not happy at the concession of three goals before half-time and did not mince his words in the home changing room at St Albans City during the break.

"It's fair to say that, but they responded – and that's what you do it for," he said. "We tried to change some things and get some messages across. We were casual and complacent and we needed an intensity about us. We have got some good players here and teams struggle to keep up with us when we move the ball cleanly and efficiently when we are switched on and focused. You are going to come second if you don't switch on and the first half proved that. The response was excellent."

The team has not kept a clean sheet since early November and Thomas hopes they can now build on the fact they kept the back door firmly locked during the second half of this afternoon's game.

"We've spoke a lot about clean sheets lately and the fact we can't keep any has been a part of our focus," he said. "Going 45 minutes without conceding a goal second half is something to cling to and take forward. We are conceding too many and we've got to do something about that. We've got to have better focus, better concentration, not being over eager to win things we can't win and not switching off at key moments. We need to defend with more patience and more maturity. I'm disappointed to concede three goals, but we've shown unbelievable character at the end."

The team were given added impetus in the second half by the substitutes. Kane Crichlow was a live wire down the right on his second appearance since a long-term ankle injury; Ryan Cassidy came off the bench to net his third in four games while Phillips, last season's Academy Player of the Year, looked a real powerhouse in the middle of the park in his first appearance since suffering a significant ankle injury in September. 

"Dan Phillips looked like he had never been away," said Thomas. "In fact, he looks like he has got stronger, faster and fitter. He was very good and slotted straight in. I've been working with him a lot recently on taking his physicality out of the game. He depends on it too soon and gets caught in body-to-body contact. He needs to play forward quickly off of one and two touch, but he wants to dance and pirouette with people first. We've worked hard on that and he's showing signs of being at the right angle to receive and playing forward quickly. He's still got lots to improve on, but what a starting position he has got. It's great to see him back out there."

There was also a first 90 minutes for the club for João Pedro, the 18-year-old Brazilian signed from Fluminense. The forward helped set up the first goal for Dalby, produced a couple of dazzling moments down the left in the first half and came within a whisker of his first goal for the club in the second.

"João did some great stuff and you see exactly what qualities he has. He turns people inside out and once he learns he just needs to beat someone once and put it on a plate for someone, he'll rack up his goals and his assists. But he showed moments where you go, 'That's why he's here'. He just needs to adjust to the level and the environment."

HORNETS: Parkes; Balogun, Perkins, Barrett, Green; Hungbo (Crichlow 52), Whelan (C), Dele-Bashiru, João Pedro; Hinds (Phillips 72), Dalby (Cassidy 72).

Subs not used: Roberts (GK) and Spencer-Adams.