Watch Javi Gracia's post-match interview above, or read on below for his thoughts from his press conference.
By Kevin Affleck
Javi Gracia said he agonised over the decision to substitute a substitute in Ken Sema, but was glad he did after seeing Tom Cleverley score a spectacular winner just four minutes after coming on.
Gracia turned to Sema when it was decided Will Hughes could no longer continue on 19 minutes after being struck in the chops early on by a fierce shot, but the Head Coach felt compelled to withdraw the Swedish winger just three minutes after he was booked, fearing he ran the risk of being reduced to ten men, especially with Palace starting to get a bit of joy down the left-hand side.
Gracia made the move initially to shore things up and add a bit of bite and energy, but it ended up being an attacking masterstroke as Cleverley found himself in the box on 72 minutes and showed exemplary technique to crash in a spectacular winner.
“It wasn't an easy decision but in that moment I thought I had to do it,” said Gracia. “I am very sorry as I don't like to do it, but I had to do it. It was tough. In that moment I looked for the way to balance the midfield. With Gerard playing on the right, we needed to be more aggressive in that moment.”
Craig Cathcart was certainly aggressive in the way he attacked José Holebas' deep corner, arching his neck to get above James Tomkins and head the ball into the far corner.
“Cathcart is one of the players with the most minutes in the league,” said Gracia. “I trust him. He always shows a very good level, a good commitment and is a very important player for me. I know he scored an own goal, but after that he was able to score from a corner kick.”
The goal was Cathcart's second of the season, following on from the thumping header he got against Spurs, but this was Cleverley's first since October 2017.
“He is playing the last games against Bournemouth and in the FA Cup and he is improving,” said Gracia. “He needs time to improve and get in the best condition, but today he scored an amazing goal.”
The result meant the Hornets have now picked up more points on the road than they did in the whole of last season, leading to the suggestion that this team is better away from Vicarage Road than it is at home.
“Before the game some of you asked me if I am happier with our performance away than home, but I don't see the difference,” he said. “In all of them, we prepare the same as possible. It's true in the last games we got good results [away], but our idea is to always do our best and I am very happy with the level of all our players, in the Premier League and in the FA Cup. We are always keeping a good level.”
Gracia would have been forgiven for thinking this game might have followed a similar script to the ones against Newcastle when Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra both hit the post from the same move, but the team showed it's got something about it by recovering from that, and the concession of a goal soon after, to win a game away from home after going behind for the first time this season.
“In the beginning we started very well with this chance,” said Gracia. “I was sure we would create more chances during the game. After the own goal, it was more difficult for us, but I think in that moment the team showed more character, more ambition and they were able to turn the result around.
“I am proud. I am proud of all my players – not only today. I think in other games we were playing well, competing well, with good results and with bad results, but always keeping a very good level and this is our mentality to try to keep our level.”