First Team 31/01/2019

Gracia: “A Big Chance Missed”

Watch Javi Gracia's post-match interview above, or read on below for more from his press conference.

By Kevin Affleck

It seems forewarned was not forearmed for this Watford team.

Javi Gracia had briefed his players on Monday and Tuesday about the aerial threat of Fernando Llorente, told them of his experience of seeing the man from his hometown of Pamplona head them in from every angle for Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla and the national team, but it could not prevent the Tottenham Hotspur striker from nodding in the winner at Wembley. 

In fairness there is not much you can do when the cross is as inviting as the one Danny Rose slung over and when the 6ft 4in Llorente has such a height advantage at the far post. Gracia wasn’t throwing anybody under the bus as it is not his style, but the manner of the goal still jarred with the Head Coach as he’s seen Llorente do it so many times before.

“They knew it,“ said Gracia. “I didn’t need to tell them that Llorente is a good player, a good header [of the ball] but you know when there is a lateral cross it is difficult to defend Fernando as is he is very good. I know it today and I know he is going to score more goals.”

The threat of Llorente as Tottenham went increasingly long was the reason why Gracia was so keen to get Miguel Britos on the field. He had the Uruguayan ready just before Heung-Min Son equalised and again just before the winner.

“We had Roberto Pereyra with some problems, we are waiting to see if he is able to continue or if we needed to make the change,” said Gracia. “They then changed their shape and defending with our line of four we thought it was enough. In the moment, we wanted to be stronger in the defensive moments, with defending better the lateral cross for Fernando.”

Gracia made one defensive move earlier by bringing on Ben Wilmot to shore up the midfield.

“Ben always plays well in my opinion,” Gracia said. “He is like a mature player. He is only 19 years old and he can play in different positions. Tom Cleverley was a little bit tired as the first half was very demanding. We wanted to be stronger in the middle, after the lateral crosses and defending set pieces. He was a good option in that moment when the game was very demanding. He is a very good player.”

Spurs had some exceptional players missing in Dele Alli and Harry Kane so this felt like a good chance to plunder some points, especially after getting their noses in front and staying there for 42 minutes.

“My feeling is that we've missed a very good chance to get points against a very good team like Tottenham,” said Gracia. “It's true they dominated the game with more possession, with some chances. After scoring first we have worked a lot, defending well. In the last ten minutes we have conceded two goals and it’s tough, difficult to accept. It’s a good sign for us that the team is very, very disappointed. The team is very ambitious, very demanding and we are disappointed.”

Watford enjoyed less than a third of the possession and had to have their wits about them defensively for large parts, but they still threw a few punches, mustering nine attempts on goal. 

“We have created chances as well,” said Gracia. “I know Tottenham dominated the second half, but we had chances with Troy, with Gerard, with Isaac and, in this game, you need to score these chances. If you don't do it, in the last minutes they put more offensive players on, change the shape and scored goals. It’s a shame as the team played well, a good game.”

First Team 30/01/2019

Match Report: Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Watford

By Kevin Affleck

Watford have had some pretty haunting experiences at Wembley, but this one took the biscuit.

The Hornets were very much and genuinely eyeing the league double over Tottenham Hotspur with ten minutes remaining only for Heung-Min Son to force them to recalibrate that expectation, At least they would hang on for a point, you thought, another handy one to keep the points tally ticking over and keep the little unbeaten run going. But Fernando Llorente put paid to that idea, heading in an equaliser with three minutes to go.

Spurs had scored two goals in seven minutes to turn the match on its head, just like the Hornets did in the same timeframe in the fixture at Vicarage Road. The game, they say, has a habit of evening itself out and here was graphic evidence of it. Watford were as crestfallen here as they were ecstatic at Vicarage Road.

Étienne Capoue sunk to his knees at full-time, Adrian Mariappa was on his haunches while José Holebas walked straight off. We all know how they felt as we’ve been here before at this famous old ground against Everton and twice against Palace. That sinking feeling never gets any easier, the pain never dulls.

You’d be stretching it to say Watford had three points snatched away from them late on, but what will frustrate Javi Gracia and the fans is the fact if you get your noses in front against opposition of this calibre and at a venue like this, then you need to at least ensure you don’t get beat. You need to come away from something. It comes down to a bit of game management and a bit of nous at the business end of games and against opposition if this quality. It will come as this team grows and matures, but right now it’s a painful one to digest.

It’s a kind of quirk how football works sometimes that the Hornets managed to find themselves in front at the break despite being at nothing close to their best. They were not as good as they were here last season and not a patch on how well they played down the road at the Emirates earlier in the season.

They allowed Spurs too much room in the space in between the Hornets’ midfield and defence, were nowhere near tight enough on Son and it was a struggle to remember them stringing three or four passes together. Nobody was really more than a six out of ten and yet they had their noses in front when Craig Cathcart bundled one in from a corner  - with yet another assist for Holebas. The scrappy nature of the goal summed up the disjointed play of the first 45 minutes. It was certainly not a move off the training ground, but they can’t all be picture perfect and, after all, they all count.

Before that, Son curled one at goal that the stationary Ben Foster could only stand and watch drift just wide and then the Watford No. 1 did well to readjust his feet and keep out an effort from Christian Eriksen that deflected off Adrian Mariappa. 

At the other end, Toby Alderweireld flicked a Daryl Janmaat cross off the head of Troy Deeney who was craning his neck and primed to head one in while Gerard Deulofeu flashed one just wide.

Mauricio Pochettino was ruffled at the break and responded by throwing on Lucas Moura for Serge Aurier, but the Brazilian was given a tough baptism, with the visitors seemingly remembering the threat he posed at Vicarage Road in August. Mariappa scythed into him and earned a booking, Holebas then got a piece of him on the other side before Tom Cleverley slammed a clearance into his face. The intent was clear.

You are always going to need a slice or two of luck against Spurs, particularly away from home, and Watford certainly enjoyed theirs. Foster prevented Mariappa from putting through his own net and then watched Llorente somehow knee the loose ball over the bar. The good fortune didn’t end there. Foster stuck out an instinctive right foot to stop a low free-kick from Eriksen sneaking into the bottom corner and then Ben Wilmot, who had only just come on as a sub, showed extraordinary perceptiveness to get in behind Foster and clear one from Danny Rose off the line. Just before that, Janmaat would have heart in his mouth as he looked to have knocked over Moura following a ball into the box.

Watford could have done with the security of a second, that goal to give them a bit of breathing space and they almost got it on 78 minutes. Deeney knocked a lovely header into the path of the on-rushing Isaac Success only to see the Nigerian plant it wide with his left foot. Granted it was with his weaker foot, but it's the sort of chance you kind of have to take if you are to knock Spurs over on their own patch.

It came back to haunt the team as a minute later, Son was ramming the ball past Foster for the equaliser. The relief was written all over Pochettino’s double-fisted celebration while Gracia couldn’t believe it as he was just about to bring on Miguel Britos to close the back door.

It got worse seven minutes later when Llorente nodded in the winner at the far post from a Rose cross. Gracia knows all about the threat posed by Llorente from his time in Spain, so it would have been galling to see him do what he had probably warned his players about pre-match. But forewarned is not always forearmed and now the focus switches to Brighton as the players seek to get this one out of their system.

HORNETS | Foster (GK); Janmaat, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Cleverley (Wilmot 66), Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu (Success 61), Deeney (c). Subs not used | Gomes (GK), Britos, Masina, Sema, Quina.