First Team 10/08/2019

Gracia: “A Good Wake-Up Call”

By Kevin Affleck

Javi Gracia offered no excuses for the heavy defeat at home to Brighton and vowed to get to the root of what went wrong and put it right.

The Hornets suffered their first defeat in 13 opening day games and it was an afternoon when nothing really went right. The Head Coach was not about to slap polish on a bad performance.

"Many things [went wrong], not only one," said Gracia. "We need to improve and maybe this is a good wake-up call for the rest of the season. The best news is that it's the first game and we have a lot of time to improve. Today there were no excuses. They played better than us, they deserve the three points and they got the result they deserved."

Gracia batted away any suggestions that his players were under-cooked. He had them fully prepared, fully briefed and ready to go.

"All the players were training hard during the 40 days, 42 sessions and seven games," he said. "In the first game, I have no doubt about that [we were ready]. I think they always have the desire and the ambition to win and to do their best. We conceded the first goal, the second one the same and it was tough for us. We had some chances but we didn't deserve a better result.

"I think we can improve collectively. The first two goals came from two individual actions. We have to do better to improve these actions if we want to have options to improve our results. All of us are disappointed today but I prefer to wait, to trust we'll be able to do it better in the second game. I prefer to focus on that."

Brighton were excellent and executed the game-plan of their new coach Graham Potter to perfection. The last-ditch tackles of Lewis Dunk summed up their desire to leave Vicarage Road with all three points.

"They were playing well in pre-season," said Gracia. "We knew the shape they played today was three at the back. We knew it because the last game against Valencia they played the same way and they only changed one player. They played better than us and it was too late for us to improve. We we will be able to in the future."

Gracia was asked if it would be tempting to integrate new signings Ismaïla Sarr and Danny Welbeck quicker into his plans than he had anticipated after that shock result.

"I always like to speak about the players who have played in this game and not miss the players I don't have," he said.

"We didn't play well and we need to improve. The best way is to try and improve with what we have and I'll chose the best option we have in the next game. The solution for today is with the players I have ready for the next game."

First Team 10/08/2019

Match Report: Watford 0-3 Brighton & Hove Albion

By Kevin Affleck

Well, that didn’t really go to plan.

The parading of two high-profile signings – one a 16-goal England international, the other a club-record purchase – and the return of Z-Cars was supposed to be followed by a win of some sort against Brighton, but it didn’t quite work out. In fact, it didn’t work out like that at all.

There was a feeling it wasn’t quite going to go according to the script when Abdoulaye Doucouré put through his own net just before the half-hour mark. And that horrible sinking sensation (you know the one) was confirmed when one of Brighton’s own summer signings, Neal Maupay, combined well with Florin Andone within 12 minutes of the pair coming off the bench to firstly kill the game, and then put the Seagulls completely out of sight. The result brought to an end 12 seasons of opening day matches without a defeat for the Golden Boys. Talk about unlucky 13.

The Hornets initially surfed the wave created by the two sea-changing signings in the week. Troy Deeney thundered into Dan Burn; Gerard Deulofeu had an ambitious crack inside two minutes and Craig Cathcart won the first three duels with Glenn Murray, including a clattering first challenge. The portents were hugely encouraging.

Brighton would have been expecting a lightning fast start from the hosts and they came tooled up, weathered it and then crept into the game, slowly but surely. Jürgen Locadia had the first shot on target, Davy Pröpper forced Ben Foster into thinking twice about a rising drive the Watford goalkeeper eventually allowed to sail over and then more enterprising play down the right saw Doucouré put through his net. It would be a stretch to say the goal was coming but it certainly didn’t arrive out of the blue.

The home crowd were looking for a response, something to get them going and rally round. There was a well-drilled free-kick routine involving Kiko Femenía and Étienne Capoue that caused a bit of panic in the Brighton box while Matt Ryan played safe and tipped over a free-kick from José Holebas that was probably going over anyway. But that was about it and Gracia opted for a major change at half-time, bringing on Roberto Pereyra probably sooner than he anticipated.

Pereyra responded immediately with a piece of tracking back he often isn’t given credit for. It was a small thing, a footnote, but Gracia will have loved it. It seemed to spread as in the next breath Dawson was all over Locadia in front of the dugout and then Femenía was particularly persistent on the right byline, winning possession and then cutting it back for Gray. It looked a certain goal but Lewis Dunk, not for the first time, stuck out an outstretched leg and the ball was deflected over. Gray couldn’t believe it.

There were quite a few in disbelief at how Andone managed to ghost in at the near post less than 60 seconds after he strolled on to replace Locadia. Pröpper flashed one across from the right and there was Andone to nip in front of his man to tuck it first time past Foster. Dawson was furious at the nature of the goal.

The third, just over ten minutes later from Maupay, was just a kick in the teeth and was the sort of counterattack goal you’d expect with one team over-committing resources. It was all a bit too easy and you can bet Gracia will launch an inquest into just how that one came about.

Final confirmation that this was going to be an afternoon to forget came when Dawson smashed one at goal from less than 12 yards out but Dunk heroically stretched out yet another limb to prevent even the crumb of comfort that comes with a consolation. These kinds of results can happen, and indeed do happen, in a season and it’s probably just as well the Hornets got theirs out of the way in the very first game. Things can only get better.

HORNETS: Foster (GK), Femenía, Cathcart, Dawson, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Deulofeu (Pereyra h-t); Deeney (c), Gray (Success 75).

Subs not used: Gomes (GK), Janmaat, Cleverley, Sema and Kabasele.