Hunt shines as City draw
Pre-season Friendly St Albans City 1 Watford XI 1 MIDFIELD star Jonathan Hunt showed his credentials ahead of the new campaign with a sparkling display to inspire Saints against a Watford XI containing seven players with first-team experience at Clarence
St Albans City 1
Watford XI 1
MIDFIELD star Jonathan Hunt showed his credentials ahead of the new campaign with a sparkling display to inspire Saints against a Watford XI containing seven players with first-team experience at Clarence Park on Tuesday.
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Hunt, aged 36, was a class above all else on show in the final first-team friendly for City before the Blue Square South campaign kicks off at home against highly fancied outfit Havant & Waterlooville on Saturday.
A powerful and probing display from Hunt bemused the young Watford side and if City's frontmen had been a little sharper the match would have been over by half time.
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Boss Steve Castle has outlined Hunt as his main weapon for next season and the former Premier League player showed he will pose plenty of problems for opposition defences. Castle said: "He is quality. I have been telling people that for quite a while. Nobody has worked harder in pre-season and he is as fit as I have ever known him to be. He can play anywhere in midfield and if we had had the players that could play a 4-3-3 he would be ideal behind the front three."
Hunt lined up on the left of a midfield four on Tuesday with newcomers Sean Ridgway and Ben Bowditch in the middle and Hassan Sulaiman on the right. Strikers Simon Martin and Paul Hakim were paired together with Lee Clarke out with a back problem. Paul Bastock played in goal behind a back four of Scott Cousins, James Quilter, Ben Martin and James Fisher.
Watford included former Spurs youngster Chris Day in goal with Jordan Parkes captaining the side and Al Bangura in midfield. Lewis Young, the younger brother of England international Ashley, led the attack with Theo Robinson.
Watford boss Aidy Boothroyd watched on from the stands as his young side were outplayed in the first period. Striker Martin spurned the first opportunity for City on four minutes when Sulaiman got away from some hesitant defending, cut into the box and delivered a precise pass which Martin bundled against a defender on the line.
Watford were kept at bay by the towering presence of Ben Martin at the back for Saints while in midfield Hunt soon began to exert his dominance. On 29 minutes the Watford defence was split wide open by a sensational low pass from Hunt which sent Simon Martin away. The striker looked certain to score but could only slide his side-foot shot across the goal and the wrong side of Day's left post.
City threatened again from a superb Hunt cross, only for Hakim and then Ridgway to see their attempted strikes blocked away. Ridgway then forced Day into a rare save on 38 minutes with a low shot from 20 yards.
Defender Adrian Mariappa saved Watford just before half time when he cut out a cross from Hakim with Bowditch waiting to pounce. From the resulting corner kick Hunt delivered another exquisite ball and Hakim knocked it back across goal, only for it to elude striker Martin as he lunged in with the goal gaping.
Inevitably Hunt was involved as City finally took an overdue lead just four minutes into the second half. Sulaiman battled down the right flank and found Hunt who whipped in a fine cross which the unmarked Simon Martin headed powerfully into the back of the net.
Watford upped their game in response to conceding and Bastock had to charge out and block well to deny substitute Liam Henderson. Right winger Lionel Ainsworth lobbed the rebound over the crossbar.
Substitutions disrupted the flow of the game but on 62 minutes a driving run from winger Hamza Twomey sent Hakim clear and with a fine touch the City striker got into the box. His driven cross-shot flashed wide of the far post with Simon Martin unable to make up the ground in the middle.
Watford equalised on 64 minutes when a precise ball from midfield released the impressive substitute Billy Gibson and his excellent cross was swept high into the net by striker Young.
The Hornets could have snatched victory in the closing stages with Henderson bobbling a shot just wide after more good work from Gibson. At the other end Sulaiman burst away from three challenges with a driving forward run but could only scuff his shot wide of the near post.
The contest was a good workout for City ahead of the new campaign and after the match Castle outlined his confidence that preparations were spot on. He said: "I am pleased. We went in to the match in season mode. We shut the ball down very well and had arguably more chances than they did. It would have been nice to have had a little scalp to go into the season with but we scored a good goal."
St Albans City: P .Bastock (C. Adams 71), J. Fisher (H. Twomey 58), S. Cousins (A. Olcot 58), B. Bowditch (J. Archer 46), B. Martin (T. Jinadu 58), J. Quilter, H. Sulaiman, S. Ridgway, P. Hakim (J. Eames 71), S. Martin, J. Hunt (R. Hicks 71). Sub not used; A. Grinham.
Watford XI: C. Day, L. Hodson, J. Parkes, A. Bangura, C. Avinel, A. Mariappa, L. Ainsworth (B. Gibson 61), R. Jenkins, T. Robinson (L. Henderson 46), L. Young, G. Montgomery (L. Hunter 75). Subs not used: J. North, D. Bennett, L. Lavers, E. Clarke, M. Bryan.
Referee: Graham Horwood (Luton).