Watford’s EFL Cup campaign came to an end tonight as League One MK Dons were comfortable 2-0 winners at Vicarage Road.
Goals from Matthew Dennis and Darragh Burns consigned The Hornets to an early exit from the competition, whilst The Dons were excellent in their victory.
It was the first time that the two clubs had ever faced each other in a competitive fixture since the Dons were formed in 2004. Over 1,500 supporters made the short trip from Milton Keynes for their first ever outing at Vicarage Road and they were sent back to Buckinghamshire in fine spirits.
Rob Edwards made six changes from Saturday’s draw away at Preston, with goalkeeper Maduka Okoye and 20 year-old Mattie Pollock coming into the starting XI to make their Watford debuts.
As expected, neither João Pedro or Ismaïla Sarr were involved in the game as speculation persists surrounding the duo’s future at the club. Pedro has been the subject of formal negotiations with both Newcastle and Everton over a move, whilst Sarr’s move to Aston Villa looked all but complete, only for it to collapse on Monday.
Dons manager Liam Manning also shuffled the pack from their 1-1 draw against Accrington Stanley on Saturday making seven changes to his side.
And it was MK Dons who carved the first opportunity of the game, as Louie Barry, on loan from Aston Villa, drove at the Watford defence and forced debutant Okoye into a fairly routine save at his near post.
The Championship side were struggling to create any meaningful opportunities and were careless and sloppy on the ball. Hearts were in mouths when Will Grigg seemed to find himself one-on-one with Okoye but was unable to get a shot on goal before Craig Cathcart dealt with the danger.
Once again the visitors threatened, this time through Dawson Devoy who found himself in space in the Watford penalty area, but he couldn’t find his balance to beat Okoye.
The only real chance for Edward’s men in the first half fell at the feet of striker Vakoun Bayo. Hugely impressive eighteen year old Yáser Asprilla won the ball in the Dons penalty box and fed in Bayo, who’s shot on the turn couldn’t quite beat Jamie Cumming in goal.
The Vicarage Road crowd were growing frustrated with their side’s performance and it was no more than MK Dons deserved when they took the lead on the stroke of half-time.
Matthew Dennis had replaced Will Grigg midway through the first half and found himself on the break when Watford had gifted them the ball once more. After feeding in Darragh Burns on the left hand side, Burns returned the favour by putting the ball on a plate for Dennis at the back post to tap in.
They deserved their lead going into half-time, and despite Watford bringing on Hamza Choudhury at the break to try and inspire a comeback, it wasn’t long before The Dons had doubled their advantage.
Watford were made to pay for their carelessness when Dan Gosling gave away the ball in his own half. It fell to Burns on the edge of the area who fired past Okoye to send the travelling fans into bedlam.
Despite going two goals behind it failed to wake the home side up. Chances fell to Manning’s side to make it 3-0 when Daniel Oyegoke forced Okoye into a smart save to parry away his ball across the face of goal. This was before Devoy hammered over the bar from just outside the area.
There was some late pressure applied by The Hornets when striker Rey Manaj looked for a penalty under challenge from Dons defender Zak Jules and Joseph Hungbo, who was handed his first start of the season by Rob Edwards, also fired over from distance.
Watford have struggled to find many goals in their opening five games of the league campaign and it was no different tonight. The lack of creativity was clear to see, and MK Dons nearly sealed the game with a third goal when substitute Dan Kemp cut in from the right and forced a decent save from Okoye.
It was a lacklustre performance which would not have pleased Rob Edwards at all. The lack of goals is the most concerning aspect for The Hornets and the performance summed this up.