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Warding off Watford

4 August 2013

Bristol Rovers boss John Ward is aiming for a shock Capital One Cup victory over his former club Watford

John Ward has fond memories of his days at Watford, first as a player then as assistant manager to Graham Taylor as the Hornets rose from The Football League’s bottom division to the top flight in a 10-year spell up to the late 1980s.

Now in his second stint as manager of Bristol Rovers, Ward is hoping to put one over the Hornets as his Sky Bet League 2 team look to produce a Capital One Cup shock by knocking out Gianfranco Zola’s Championship side on Tuesday evening.

The experienced 62-year-old Memorial Stadium boss told “I had some great times at Watford and I still follow their fortunes, but the Watford of today doesn’t resemble the history of the club.

“It’s a brand new era, a new Watford, and Gianfranco’s team represent the club in a very elegant fashion. I admire the way they play and I’ve got big respect for the manager – and I know what a massive task we’ve got against them.”

Zola’s team, who last term finished third in the Championship but lost out to Crystal Palace in the Play-Off Final, travel to the Memorial Stadium after kicking off their League campaign with a 1-0 away win against Birmingham City.

Meanwhile, the Pirates, who Ward led to safety last season after being appointed in late December with the club in deep relegation trouble, lost 2-1 with a severely weakened team at Exeter City in their opening day League 1 outing.

With nine senior team players injured, Ward’s squad was down to its bare bones. The substitutes’ bench was a player short because of the crisis and all six of the subs were under 20 – and all three of those used were 18-year-olds.

“The three lads who went on were all first-year professionals,” said Ward, “but I’m not using injuries as an excuse for anything. The players missing would all be in or around the squad if fit, but it’s something we just have to get on with.

“It’s a steep learning curve for the youngsters, but it’s great experience for them and having the chance to play against a top team like Watford can only be of benefit to them in terms of learning the game and how to cope with situations.

“It’s a good game for our young players and for the club and the supporters. In pre-season we did okay against Derby and Reading, now we’ve got a chance to play another Championship club but in a meaningful competition.”

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