Hornets sting plucky Pilgrims
By Alex Dunn. Last Updated: January 1, 1970 1:00am
A solitary moment of genuine Premiership quality was enough to silence an otherwise vociferous sell-out Home Park crowd, as Watford escaped from a trip to Plymouth with a 1-0 win and a place in the FA Cup semi-finals.
For much of the game Adrian Boothroyd's side struggled to contain their Championship hosts but it is they that can now dream of replicating, or perhaps even eclipsing, their 1984 escapades in reaching a major final.
The contest's defining moment came in the 21st minute when after taking possession from Steve Kabba's short corner, Hameur Bouazza produced a rasping, curled strike from the edge of the area that fizzed past Luke McCormick.
Prior to Bouazza's opener and the game had the look of a training ground exercise, as neither side showed either the hunger or quality befitting of a game of such magnitude.
Thereafter, though, and Plymouth demonstrated the type of strong running and verve in attack that has established them as a promising second tier side, as Watford were put firmly on the back-foot for the remainder of the contest.
Led by the vocal touchline tirades of Ian Holloway the home side surged forward in numbers, as the astute Kevin Gallen complemented his younger and willing team-mates. It was Gallen's awareness that played in the busy David Norris, but after rounding Ben Foster, the angle was too tight as his cutback was cleared for a corner.
As Watford retreated further back into their own territory, Danny Shittu and his goalkeeper Foster emerged as defensive stalwarts, as the giant centre-half produced a performance befitting of his physical stature, in bravely blocking Scott Sinclair's goal-bound strike after an untidy scramble.
Lilian Nalis was next to cause consternation as his stinging volley flashed over the top, before Gallen's fine free-kick looked to have restored parity, only for Foster to sprawl across his goal to produce a save of genuine quality.
Watford were reduced to the occasional counter-attack and as the first half drew to its close, Sylvain Ebanks-Blake will wonder how he failed to register, when from Gallen's cute lay-off he found only the feet of Foster and then failed to match Paul Connolly's pin-point delivery in firing wide from no more than six yards.
At the interval Barry Hayles was introduced from the bench and his combative qualities added a further dimension to Plymouth's attack, with the veteran's toil matched by the talent provided on the left flank by the precociously talented 17-year-old Sinclair, who began to revel in the limelight, before surprisingly being withdrawn.
While Plymouth were dominant in possession, and they could have got back level when Gallen's drive from the edge of the area was deflected just a yard wide, they perhaps lacked the guile needed to break down their visitors.
Norris' hurried shot flew wide of the near post when he was played in on Watford's left channel, before Damien Francis had his blushes spared, when Foster prevented him from putting through his own goal with a brilliant save at his near post.
Plymouth's attacking forays were incessant but while Watford's game plan in retreating and pumping the ball forward took dourness to a new level, Boothroyd and his players will care not a morsel, for it is they that are in the hat for Monday's draw.
Plymouth v Watford player ratings
|Plymouth Argyle||Team Statistics||Watford|
|0||1st Half Goals||1|
|4||Shots on Target||3|
|10||Shots off Target||2|