Watford come from behind to defeat Gillingham in the last 32 of the U21 Premier League Cup at Vicarage RoadWatford came from 2-0 down to beat Gillingham 3-2 in the U21 Premier League Cup at Vicarage Road on Tuesday night.
Goals either side of half time from Luke Norris and Aidan Blanchard had put Gills in a commanding position, but two strikes from Alex Jakubiak and a terrific long range effort from half time sub Michael Folivi turned the game on its head and sent the Hornets through to the last 16.
Mark Patterson named a strong starting XI with Callum Davies, Amine Linganzi, Josh Pritchard and Norris all included.
Glen Morris started between the sticks with Josh Hare and Aidan Blanchard also featuring from the start.
Within Watford’s starting line-up was central midfielder Connor Smith who played 10 times for the Gills last season while on loan from the Hornets.
The hosts began slightly brighter with Ikpeazu nearly finding himself with a one on one chance in the first couple of minutes, only for Morris to spot the danger and sprint outside his 18-yard box to clear.
Gillingham won a corner on five minutes and took the lead as a result – Blanchard whipped the ball towards the far post, Davies headed it back across goal and Norris, courtesy of another light touch inside the area, took his time and found the net from close range.
The visitors produced the opening goal with the first meaningful attack, but within seven minutes were saved by an offside decision at the other end to prevent a level game.
A low shot into the box saw Morris and Ikpeazu both attempt to gain contact, the ball wriggled free and Tommie Hoban had the simple task of tapping home but was adjudged to be in an offside position.
Moments later and the Gills went close to grabbing a second, Davies was up again well at the far post to direct a header back across goal.
Norris got up well himself and looked to have found the far corner but Ammann pulled off a top save low to his right, before a cross from Blanchard shortly after was fired off target by the striker.
A 20-yard effort from Smith was gathered by Morris before Blanchard had a shot blocked at the other end.
On 27 minutes Ikpeazu found himself through on goal courtesy of a short through ball from the left by Alex Jakubiak – the striker went to pull the trigger but Romeo was sprinting across from his position and put in a brilliant block to prevent Morris making a save.
Charlie Webster had an effort thwarted by the Watford defence before Ikpeazu somehow put a header over the bar from close range.
Abdi whipped in a fine corner kick inside the six yard box, the striker had nobody around him and to everyone’s amazement missed the target completely.
With five minutes to go until the break the Watford striker was involved again when a low pass from midfield found him just outside the area, he made space for a shot and Morris did well to not only make contact but clear the ball to safety.
With half time approaching Morris was required once again; Smith had snuck in at the far post and was found well by Abdi.
His first touch was good and made space for a shot which was well blocked by the Gills keeper.
Gills doubled their advantage less than three minutes into the second half – Norris produced a brilliant cross to the far post, Blanchard was in space and watched it all the way before firing a brilliant effort on the volley beyond the reach of Arie Ammann.
The midfielder reeled away in celebration after a terrific strike which gave him his second goal in as many games in the competition.
Watford were far from out of the game though and pulled one back on 58 minutes. Gills lost possession within the final third of the field, a short pass from the right hand side made its way to Jakubiak and he drilled a low shot beyond the diving Morris.
And the winger levelled the scores just a couple of minutes later – Folivi, on at half time for Ikpeazu, found space for a cross on the right wing and the forward took the slightest of touches before firing a shot across Morris and into the left corner.
The hosts, now with the upper hand, remained intent on pushing forward and took the lead on 67 minutes. Folivi received the ball 30 yards from goal and tried his luck with a powerful right foot effort which flew past Morris and into the top corner.
The keeper was at full stretch but was unable to do anything about it.
Staunton fired a header off target on 76 minutes before Blanchard had a shot from range which was gathered by Ammann.
Watford: Ammann, Rowan, Hoban (c), Young, Doherty; Abdi (Stewart 59), Murray (Lewis 82), Byers; Smith, Jakubiak, Ikpeazu (Folivi HT)
Unused subs: Gartside (GK), Martin
Gills: G Morris. Hare, Romeo, Staunton, Davies (Dickenson 50), Linganzi (Cundle 83), Webster (Sellens 71), Blanchard, Norris, Pritchard, Freiter.
Unused subs: Hadler, Bent
Referee: Mr C O’Donnell