First Team 16/03/2019

FA Cup Report: Watford 2-1 Crystal Palace

By Kevin Affleck

He’s only gone and done it again.

Not content with dramatic winners off the bench against Everton and Leicester City, Andre Gray stormed on to bag the most important one of the lot and send the Hornets through to an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. That’s why the club paid a club record fee for him, so he can decide big games like this. He’s turning into this team’s answer to David Fairclough or, for the younger readers, Ole Gunnar Solskjær. 

Gray had only been on the field for two minutes when he ghosted in between two Palace defenders to guide a cross from Roberto Pereyra past Vicente Guaita with 11 minutes left of a full-blooded cup tie. It was another instinctive finish from Gray who seems to be at his most dead-eyed when he has little time to think about it. 

Gray will probably still be on the bench for the semi at Wembley but that won’t bother him as he sees the bigger picture and his place in things right now. He gets to be part of a team that is only the seventh in the club’s long and storied history to play in the last four of the greatest cup competition in the world. 

The Golden Boys lost to Palace the last time they got there but there was just no way they were losing this one, even though they made hard work of it by gift-wrapping Michy Batshuayi an equaliser and almost messing up it in stoppage time. But this was Watford’s day, it was Gray’s day and no-one was spoiling it. 

The opening exchanges didn’t quite live up to the pre-match fanfare and cacophony of noise. There were streamers, giant flags and some old-school club anthems as Vicarage Road really bought into the significance of this one. It couldn’t have been more Watford unless you had Sir Elton John singing ‘I’m Still Standing’ in the middle of the pitch. 

Perhaps it was the absence of Wilfried Zaha, that pantomime villain, but this one took a little while to catch fire. Perhaps it was that Palace turned Watford round and had them unfamiliarly kicking towards the Rookery End in the first half. There were only two shots inside the first 20 minutes, one for each side and they were pretty comfortably dealt with by Heurelho Gomes and Vicente Guaita.

But the Hornets slowly released the handbrake and got stronger and stronger as the half wore on. There was a nice bit of link-up play down the right between Troy Deeney and Deulofeu, a cross from Roberto Pereyra that was just a bit undercooked after Guaita had sprinted out of his goal and then Will Hughes stood one up from the other side. Watford were knocking on the door louder and louder, trying to bash it down through Deeney and unpicking the lock through Hughes, Pereyra and Deulofeu. 

They forced four corners in five minutes, the last of which was won by Craig Cathcart, of all people, attempting to take on James Tomkins round the outside. That was the type of ambition the team were trying to play with. And it was from that set-piece won by the defender that led to Étienne Capoue side-footing high into the roof of the net. It was a goal wildly celebrated in front of the Rookery End as it was so important to draw first blood in games as big as these.

It almost got better in the remaining 15 minutes of the half. Deulofeu almost slammed one in the top corner from an angle and then tried his luck from distance. It was an afternoon when the Spaniard ran hot, when he showed he can do the hard yards too, not least when he raced half the length of the field to dispossess James McArthur. 

Palace had a couple of half chances, most notable through Max Meyer, but Watford went into the break in front and in charge.

The Eagles were sent back out much earlier than the Hornets, perhaps with a flea in their ear from Roy Hodgson, and they forced the first chance of the second half, Gomes having to move smartly to his right to keep out a header from Meyer. It was a sign that this tie was still very much in the balance and that there was much work to be done still, particularly after the injured José Holebas failed to appear after the break.

Adam Masina was booked soon after coming on in a sure sign Palace were upping the ante. Gomes had to push over a free-kick from Andros Townsend and then Batshuayi fried into the side-netting. You half suspected an equaliser was coming, but it was particularly tough to swallow when it was handed to Palace on 62 minutes by a mistake from Adrian Mariappa. Batshuayi still had plenty to do after he charged down Mariappa’s clearance and, to be fair to the Belgian, he did it well. It was now game on and anyone’s from here.

The Hornets tried, slowly but surely, to get back on the front foot and had a couple of cracks at goal through Pereyra and Doucouré after Guaita made a hash of a cross from Masina. Gracia did his best to ensure his team stayed there by bringing on Gray for Hughes in a positive attacking move. 

It worked a treat as two minutes later, Gray had Watford in front with another deadly piece of finishing. It was classic Gray and knocked the stuffing out of Palace.

Watford were not about to give the lead up again, not for a second time, and there they stayed. Gracia locked things down by bringing on Tom Cleverley and barring the odd scare right at the end, the Hornets hauled themselves over the finishing line and the chants of “que sera, sera” started. This thrilling journey under Gracia continues. Next stop Wembley.


HORNETS: Gomes (GK), Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas (Masina h-t); Hughes (Gray 77), Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu (Cleverley 87), Deeney. 

Subs not used: Dahlberg (GK), Janmaat, Success, Kabasele.

Ladies 16/03/2019

Ladies U23s: County Cup Final Preview

Watford FC Ladies Under-23s are in the county cup final on Sunday where they will be facing current holders, Stevenage Ladies.

The Under-23s have impressed in reaching the final of the Hertfordshire FA Women’s Challenge Cup. The young Golden Girls will take on Stevenage Ladies in an 11am kick-off at the County Ground in Letchworth.

It’s a cup that Watford have previously won five times; in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010. Furthermore, between 2005 and 2013 the Hornets only failed to reach the final once.

After not entering in recent years, the Under-23s are now continuing to build on the proud tradition that the Hornets have in the competition.

Ahead of Sunday’s cup final, we caught up with the Head Coach, Laura Dyer, to discuss the upcoming game, performances in previous rounds and how things have gone for the team this season.

You've had to win in three rounds to get here, scoring 25 goals in the process. How pleased were you with what you saw from your side in each game?

We're very proud of what the girls have achieved so far in the competition. Each game has given us a different challenge, which the girls have overcome well.

It’s not always easy to come up against a well-established team, especially as most of the sides we have played have been together for a few seasons and know how each individual in their team plays.

We have rotated quite a bit in the rounds leading to the final and every player that has featured so far has represented the club well, making the final 16 selection for the final very hard for myself and Amy [Shepherd – Assistant Coach].

Of those 25, the scoring was spread around with 15 different goal scorers. Firstly, that must please you as a coach? Secondly, does it make it problematic in terms of selection?

It’s always good to get as many different players on the score sheet as possible! Some of the goals we have scored in the cup run have been fantastic, from team goals to individual efforts. It gives the players a boost when they score a goal too.

In terms of selection, it doesn’t give us too many problems as we know most of the squad can grab us a goal when needed.

Since November, you've won seven and drew one of the last 11 games. What's the reason behind the good run of form?

The run of games before Christmas definitely helped in terms of our momentum going into each game. We have done a lot of work with both units and really utilised the training time we have each week to isolate the units to work on different things, which I feel has really shown in our performances.

As we have a big squad this year, we have had a lot of player rotation in different positions, so I think working with the individual units has helped in this transition, with players understanding their roles and responsibilities more. This has meant we have looked stronger in both aspects over the past couple of games.

A key part of the team is about development, with several players having already featured for the first team. Happy with what you've seen this campaign from a progression standpoint?

Most definitely. At the start of the season I sat down with Armand to discuss the Under-23s' targets and player progression was at the top of the list, so to have players featuring for the first team squad has been fantastic.

Not only that, we’ve also had quite a few girls be rewarded for their good performances in recent games by having them train with the first team.

The County Cup is a competition that Watford have historically done well in, how pleased are you to continue this by reaching the final with the Under-23s?

Very pleased to have come this far with such a young squad, I’m proud of every single player who’s helped achieved this. I just hope now that we can go on to put a good performance and bring the cup home!

Will you be doing anything different preparation wise for the final or will it be business as usual?

We won’t look to change much in terms of routine in training as we believe that the girls can definitely get the job done. There will be a bit more focus on the opposition and informing the squad of how Stevenage play.

We’ll also mention what we are expecting from our girls to help them be prepped and ready for the game, which are hoping will help settle any nerves as well.

Your side and Stevenage have both impressed in the previous rounds to reach the final, expecting a good game?

We know that we are going to be in for a tough game against Stevenage. We’ve been keeping up to date with their progress in the County Cup, as they've had similar results to us in terms of number of goals scored.

They’ve got some experienced players within their squad, which we know will be one of their advantages. However, we are ready for the test and know that if we perform to our strengths, then we will be in with a great chance of bringing the trophy home!

Finally, how big would it be for your side if they can come out on top in the final?

It will be massive for us. Both Amy and I are extremely proud of our team so far this season, so this would be a great reward for all their efforts.

The Opposition

Stevenage Ladies play in the Women’s Premier League South East Division. In the club's relatively short history, they have achieved success, winning titles and gaining promotion as well as lifting the League and County Cup last year.

Stevenage have had a good cup run with some high scoring results. They beat Hitchin Belles Ladies 16-0 in the second round. This was then followed by a 7-2 win over Royston Town Ladies. To meet Watford FC Ladies Under-23s in the final they had a huge 7-0 win over Hoddesdon town in the semis.

Information

Stevenage Ladies vs Watford FC Ladies U23
Hertfordshire Women’s Challenge Cup Final
Sunday 17th March 2019
11:00 KO

The County Ground,
Letchworth Garden City
SG62EN

Adults £5, Children £3