First Team 14/03/2019

FA Cup Team News: Crystal Palace

Watch Javi Gracia's pre-match press conference above, or read on below.

By Kevin Affleck

Javi Gracia faces the biggest selection call of his reign as Head Coach when he has to choose the squad to take on Crystal Palace in the FA Cup quarter-final at Vicarage Road.

Gracia reports yet again he has a fully-fit squad to choose from, as Miguel Britos has recovered from the slight problem he picked up late on at the Etihad Stadium, and he now has to decide which eight players to leave out of the last-eight clash and then the XI to start the game. 

“It is difficult as I have all the squad ready and fit,” said Gracia. “I have to decide and suffer, and it is not easy to take these decisions. It’s my job. I always decide thinking what is the best for the team. We have lots of options and all of them are high-quality players.”

Gracia has used the full depth of his squad in this season’s competition. He made 11 changes against Woking and Newcastle and then five against Queens Park Rangers. The only players not to have played any part in this season’s FA Cup run are Gerard Deulofeu, Roberto Pereyra, Sebastian Prödl, Pontus Dahlberg and Ben Foster. 

Heurelho Gomes and Miguel Britos are the only two players to have played every minute so far and Gracia was not giving anything away as to whether their unbroken run would continue against the Eagles.

“You know I never say my first XI [before the game] and today is not an exception,” Gracia said. “It is something I'll decide before the game. Miguel felt some pain in his leg [at Manchester City] and next day he was well. He needed a couple of days to be ready. Everyone knows how important Heurelho Gomes is for me and the club. He is ready, like the rest of the players. He is a good option but I will decide.”

Who Gracia plays in goal will be his biggest decision. Foster has been arguably the Player of the Season and produced one of the displays of the campaign at Brighton, but Gomes has not conceded a goal in this season's competition and was superb amid an aerial assault against Queens Park Rangers in the last round. He missed out on the quarter-final tie in 2016 as Quique Sanchez Flores picked Costel Pantilimon against Arsenal. 

“I have three good goalkeepers,” said Gracia. “Ben Foster is very good, Heurelho is very good and Pontus Dahlberg is as well. In different moments they are all very, very good. Heurelho is a very good player, a very good person and I’m sure he will be important if he is playing or not.”

First Team 14/03/2019

Big Interview: Gomes On Retirement Plans, Cup Aspirations & More

Long-serving keeper Heurelho Gomes has spoken with emotion on retirement plans and wanting to finish on a high, in an exclusive interview to be printed in Saturday’s match programme.

Read on for some key lines, and be sure to pick up a programme ahead of the FA Cup quarter-final with Crystal Palace to read the full, in-depth feature.

Model professionals like Heurelho Gomes don’t come along too often. In five years at Vicarage Road he’s achieved it all – promotion from the Championship, survival in the Premier League and so much more. Then there are the personal accolades – one Player of the Season award, two Players’ Player of the Season trophies, two Individual Performance of the Season prizes and a Community Ambassador award.

Now 38, he’s spoken openly about his plans to retire this summer, winding up a career which has spanned nearly two decades in Brazil, Holland, Germany and England. Judging by the tears which filled his eyes whilst conducting this interview, he’ll miss Watford as much as we’ll miss him. But he’s not done yet, and with plenty to play for in both league and cup, Gomes is dreaming of the perfect end to his time as a Hornet. 

It’s been an unusual past 12 months as for the first time since coming here you’ve not played regular football. How have you found that?
At this club I’ve been lucky enough to have played a lot of matches so it has been different for me, but I needed to accept this for the good of the team, the club, the fans and for myself as well. I needed to take it as a positive thing. The club signed a player like Ben [Foster] who has helped us so much in and out of the pitch. I know that I’m sitting on the bench for a very, very good goalkeeper, so I cannot complain. 

You’re still one of the happiest people around the club, so how do you manage to keep your spirits so high day-in day-out when you’re not playing?
I always try to be as positive as I can, not because I’m forcing it but because it’s me. In football it’s not easy because everyone wants to play. The beauty of the game isn’t in training, it’s in playing games, but you have to be positive, you have to encourage people and help out around the place. The club didn’t sign me to play, they signed me to be their player. In my contract it doesn’t say that I have to play. When I am not playing they are still paying me, so I have to respect the club.

Are you definitely retiring in the summer or is there still a chance you could change your mind? 
I’m 99 per cent decided that this will be my last season. I’m still feeling like I can go on for a few more years but I’ve got some plans and I believe it’s time now to think about it. To be honest, physically I’m maybe better than two years ago and you never know. I had been thinking about finishing my career in Brazil or Holland but I believe this time has gone and if I’m going to finish it will probably be here. Maybe I will change my mind, but I’m 99 per cent sure. 

That said, there’s a chance Saturday’s cup tie – if selected – could be your last game at Vicarage Road. How does that make you feel?
We don’t know what’s going to happen for the Palace game or in the rest of the season, but yes it could be my last game at our stadium. It’s been an amazing five years, and when I say that I’m not even talking about the success we’ve had. I’m talking about the club, which is so special to me and the fans are too. When no-one else believed in me anymore, this club did. To see it building into what I believe is one of the best clubs in the league has been so amazing. The way that things have changed around the place – the stadium, the training ground – I remember when I first came here the facilities weren’t so good but the people worked so hard to do this off the pitch and we worked hard on the pitch too. I came here to try to build the club’s future. It was a different approach for me but I took that and put my heart into it because the club and the people believed in me, and that was very important for me. I have tried to give everything for this club.

Your time here is not over yet, so what would be the dream finish to your Watford career?
I just want to do the best that I can. I never set targets because that limits where you can go. If you put a target on something and then achieve it maybe you won’t want to do anything more because that is enough. But if you ask me what we can achieve, we are still in a cup competition and we have the chance to qualify for Europe, and I think that would be more than anybody thought possible at the beginning of the season. If we could finish in this way it would be very special.

Saturday's programme - which also includes Stephen Glass, Tommy Smith and Ray Lewington's memories of Watford's 2003 FA Cup quarter-final win over Burnley - will be on sale around the ground and at The Hornets Shop.