A spirited Stevenage fell to a narrow 1-0 defeat to Championship side Watford this evening in the first round of the Capital One Cup.
A lively game saw chances aplenty and both sides hit the woodwork, but Lloyd Dyer’s close-range finish in the second half saw the Hornets progress into Round 2.
Graham Westley made just the single change from the side which began the season with a win over Hartlepool, with Jerome Okimo coming in for Jon Ashton.
A bright start to the game saw chances for both teams in the opening minutes, Fernando Forestieri curling over when well placed and both Andy Bond and Keith Andrews trading efforts which cleared the stands.
Just past the 10 minute mark and Stevenage came inches away from breaking the deadlock. Fresh from an excellent weekend performance, Charlie Lee ran onto a Charles pass and hit a screamer of a shot which evaded the despairing dive of Bond but rebounded off the far post and behind.
Watford went close themselves minutes later when a piece of smart thinking saw Dyer found with a quick free-kick – his outstretched boot diverted the ball away from Beasant but, fortunately for Boro, also the far post.
The Hornets began to assert their superiority in midfield as the half continued with Forestieri and Fabbrini spraying passes around at will and Boro resorting to keeping their shape and closing down where possible. However other than a Doyley cross which he had to turn over the bar, Beasant remained relatively untroubled with only regular clearances to deal with.
Boro stuck with it and turned the pressure on their opponents by winning a number of corners. Lee saw another shot fly over before Darius showed neat footwork 10 minutes before the break to evade two players before playing the ball through to the former Gillingham man. The ball had just too much pace though and Bond was able to gather.
Daniel Pudil entered the book on 38 minutes for a foul on Pett, handing Boro a free-kick just past the half-way line. A good ball into the box found Whelpdale who cleverly diverted the ball into the path of Wells, but the ball bounced off his chest and fell kindly for Bond.
Graham Westley’s men continued to push forward with Lee again going close before the break when he blasted straight at the visiting ‘keeper. That followed some excellent control and a good lay-off from Pett to Whelpdale, whose initial cross had been just too high for Charles.
Into three minutes of injury time and the home faithful were treated to a trademark Darius burst down the left. He powered his way past his man but failed to spot Pett all alone on the right; his cross instead proving wayward as it went harmlessly behind.
Stevenage began the second half as they’d finished the first, pushing forward and creating chances. On 47 minutes Marriott cleverly twisted and turned his way past two defenders and cut the ball back for Lee, who himself turned and tried to find the far corner but saw his finish bounce wide.
However six minutes into the half the visitors took the lead. A ball forward dissected Boro’s defence and in-raced Fabbrini to beat the final defender and set up Dyer to coolly slot home past Whelpdale’s despairing last-gasp tackle.
With the goal advantage the Hornets smelt blood and pushed for a second. A combination of Beasant and then Pett denied Fabbrini on the hour with Bond then tracking back well to deny Ighalo moments later.
The hosts rallied and thought they had an equaliser on 64 minutes only to be denied by an early contender for save of the season, when Bond somehow denied Charles by saving low and tipping the ball up and over the bar. Disbelief at The Lamex.
As much as Graham Westley’s men pushed on, Watford were always looking threatening on the counter. Beasant denied Fabbrini from close range and then Dyer rattled the bar after another impressive break saw the former Leicester man superbly control a Forestieri pass and race into the box.
The visitors showed their experience to frustrate Boro in the final 10 minutes however the hosts were handed a late chance to force extra time when Charles won a corner. Up came Beasant to leap well and get his head to the ball but it flew over and the game was gone for Boro.
Watford advance to Round 2, leaving Stevenage to concentrate on league action with Saturday’s trip to Southend United.
Stevenage: Beasant, Worley, Wells, Dembele, Pett (Ashton 79), Bond, Lee, Whelpdale, Okimo (Deacon 55), Charles, Marriott (Calcutt 79)
Subs not used: Day, Johnson
Watford: Bond, Munari, Andrews, Forestieri, Doyley (Ekstrand 27), Tamas, Pudel, Fabbrini (Murray 80), Dyer, Ighalo (Vydra 83), Hoban
Subs not used: Gomes, Doherty, Smith, Johnson
Attendance: 3,969 (1,818 away)