First Team 03/08/2019

Gracia: “Good Results Are Important For Confidence”

By Kevin Affleck

Javi Gracia readily conceded his team were outmanoeuvred in the first half against Real Sociedad but was pleased with the way his side adapted in the second and now feels they are in decent shape ahead of the Premier League opener.

The Spanish outfit, coached by his friend and former teammate Imanol Alguacil, were the better of the two sides in the first and deservedly had their noses in front at the break thanks to a penalty from Mikel Oyarzabal.

But Gracia rallied his side at the break, reinforced a few things, tweaked a couple of others and the Hornets were then able to gain more of a foothold in the second period, drawing level through Andre Gray and then winning it with another from the striker three minutes from time, taking his tally to four in pre-season.

“Real Sociedad played better than us,” said Gracia. “In the first half they played much better. Maybe in the second we controlled the spaces better, we competed better but always it is good to compete against teams like Sociedad with a high level. It's important to get good results for the confidence of our players. The best thing is we have the possibility to improve many things. I am sure we will do it.”

The team certainly won't be undercooked against Brighton on Saturday. They've been doing double sessions most days and then were given a real test of their technical and physical ability against Ajax, Bayer Leverkusen, Queens Park Rangers and now Sociedad.

“We started on July 1 and I'm really pleased with all the different moments with games against teams with a high level,” said Gracia. “They were good for us, all tough games. I prefer to play against these teams and it was good for us to have these experiences. We are now ready to compete.

“The players are working really well. Real Sociedad had only 17 sessions before the game and maybe never had double sessions. Maybe now they are fresher than us but it's not important to just be fresh for the first game. I think we have a long season to play and we are in the right way.”

While Sociedad emptied their bench in the second half, Gracia opted to make just two changes, bringing on Tom Cleverley for Ken Sema and then Daryl Janmaat for José Holebas.

“We trained yesterday and played a game at the training ground,” he said. “Some players played 90 minutes and I prefer to give importance to the minutes than substitutions and the solution to play better. The main objective today was the amount of players playing 90 minutes.”

First Team 03/08/2019

Pre-Season Report: Watford 2-1 Real Sociedad

By Kevin Affleck

Real Sociedad coach Imanol Alguacil said before the game that he identified Javi Gracia’s ability to “find out the reasons behind things on the field” during their playing days together in San Sebastian in the mid-to-late nineties.

Watford’s Head Coach showed exactly what his friend meant in this final pre-season friendly by choreographing a second-half turnaround following a limp first 45 minutes to ensure his side at least go into the first game of the season with a bit of momentum and on the back of a come-from-behind win against a side who beat Real Madrid towards the back end of last season.

The Hornets were very much second best in the first half and really struggled to get a foothold in the game. It looked like being a tough afternoon had things continued in that vein. But whatever Gracia said at the break, and it’s likely to have been based around being more demanding and more compact, it did the trick as the home side looked a different proposition in the second period. 

Like a Graham Taylor side, they fought their way back into things on a matchday to honour the club’s greatest ever manager with a bit of roll-your-sleeves up type football and levelled the match with a goal from Andre Gray at the start of the second period and one at the end to post a victory that shouldn’t be sniffed at. That’s now three wins out of four this summer and four goals for Gray. He can’t have done anymore to convince Gracia that he should partner Troy Deeney against the Seagulls on Saturday.

It was tough going in the first half against the very neat and nimble side from Spain. With Martin Ødegaard pulling the strings in the No. 10 role, Sociedad were easily the more progressive of the two sides and it took them just two minutes to force Ben Foster into making a save, the goalkeeper reacting at his instinctive best to keep out a header from Willian José.

Deeney did his best to spark his team into life and get something going. He thundered into Igor Zubeldia and Robin Le Normand to let the centre-half pairing know he was about and then crashed into left-back Aihen Muñoz in front of the dugout. This was no friendly for the captain, likewise for José Holebas who had a word with Portu after feeling the winger left a bit on him in one exchange.

The battle between the pair was a nice subplot of the first 45 minutes. The Watford left-back may be eight years old than the Spaniard but he showed his remarkable levels of fitness by catching up with his man after Ødegaard played him through. Portu was flagged offside but that didn’t matter to Holebas who didn’t want to rely on the flag of the assistant referee. 

By that time, Sociedad were already a goal to the good after Mikel Oyarzabal put the visitors in front from the spot, sending Foster the wrong way after Ken Sema had fouled Joseba Zaldúa. Either side of that, there was a long-range shot from Mikel Merino, and one from close range from Ødegaard as Sociedad continued to prompt and probe.

It took the Hornets 18 minutes to force their first corner and the only thing that even resembled an attempt on goal was a cross-shot from Will Hughes that he hoped might sneak in the far corner. 

Hughes often performs his best work when he cuts inside and he was on the ball early in the second half, releasing Gray with a slide-rule pass that enabled the striker to get a shot away and squeeze it past Alex Remiro at the near post. It was the sort of scruffy goal Gray gets regularly because he isn’t afraid to have a crack.

Gray just beat the despairing tackle of Le Normand on that occasion but the French defender managed to get a full block on an effort from Abdoulaye Doucouré minutes later – and it was just as well as the midfielder looked well placed to score from just inside the box.

It looked like the Hornets might kick on from there and take the game by the scruff of the neck, but Sociedad regrouped and forced Holebas to clear one off the line from Alexander Isak, Foster to make a save from José and then Craig Dawson to scoop one over his own bar. It was all hands to the pump for a brief period.

They proved to be very handy interventions indeed from the backline as it laid the platform for Gray, as he so often has at this place in the last eight months, to net yet another Rookery End winner. 

HORNETS: Foster (GK); Femenía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas (Janmaat 84); Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Sema (Cleverley 76); Deeney (c), Gray.

Subs not used: Gomes (GK), Mariappa, Success, Kabasele.