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Zola says he expects Udinese loanee Matej Vydra to be 'an important player for Watford' after his double against Gillingham
Gianfranco Zola said his young Watford side played beyond his "best expectations" during the first half of last night's 3-0 victory over Gillingham.
Sunday's game with Tottenham Hotspur meant Zola named an inexperienced team, with the average age of the starting XI being 20.1 if you take Chris Iwelumo out of the equation.
The Hornets first half performance was impressive as they passed the ball around with ease and created several good opportunities.
Matej Vydra scored a double - the second a fortuitous lob - and the impressive Connor Smith also netted to make it 3-0 before half time.
Zola said: "I was delighted [with the first half performance]. They played even beyond my best expectations. They were positive on the ball, and without the ball.
"We scored two high-quality goals and there could have been more."
Watford's performance level dropped in the second half, with the lively Piero Mingoia, Vydra and Smith all making way for replacements.
But Zola said he was not disappointed his side were unable to maintain the same level of performance and believes fitness may have been a factor.
He said: "It is understandable because it is the first time the majority of the players have played 90 minutes this pre-season so I knew we would drop off in the second half.
"Plus Gillingham put pressure on us and when you are fatigued and you are put under pressure, you have more problems.
"But our players fought until the end and I am very pleased with the performance."
Zola has used a 4-3-3- formation for most of pre-season but last night Watford played in a 3-4-1-2 system, with two wing backs and Mingoia finding space in the hole between midfield and attack.
The fluid formation worked to good effect in the first half and the players looked comfortable in the system - even though the majority of the players are unlikely to have played in such a formation on many occasions.
"It was a little bit different and a little surprise for you," Zola joked.
"It is important that the players continue to play football even if we change the system, and the principles were the same.
"The positions on the pitch were different but it was good. I really thought the way the players interpreted it was brilliant."
As mentioned above, the average age of the starting XI was just over 20, if you remove Chris Iwelumo, and there were eight academy graduates in the line-up.
Zola said: "I must say that the performance of the young players reinforced in me the conviction I had [previously] that whoever worked with these players before in the academy has done a very good job. They have to be proud of that."
One of Watford's star performers in the first half was new loanee Vydra, who netted twice in his first outing for the club.
Vydra has been with the Watford squad for the whole of pre-season but has not been training with the whole squad for much of that time due to, what Gianfranco Zola described as, a muscle imbalance.
Zola said: "I was very pleased with his performance. He has given us a good indication of his value and I am sure he will be an important player for us."
On the injury, Zola explained: "There was an imbalance in the muscle of his leg. The leg which he had an operation on a year ago was weaker and in those situations, you can have other bad injuries so we wanted to avoid that."
Former Arsenal and Hibernian goalkeeper Graham Stack is still training with Watford was on the bench last night.
Zola explained: "He is training with us because at the moment we do not have Jack Bonham and he is helping us. And we are also helping him stay in condition."
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