First Team 18/03/2019

Gracia On Gray: “I Am Happy For Him”

Andre Gray came off the bench for the third successive home game to score the winner and add to Javi Gracia’s growing reputation as a master tactician.

After netting off the bench in the Hornets’ 1-0 win over Everton in early February, the frontman repeated the feat against Leicester City, finishing low past Kasper Schmeichel in added time to snatch all three points against ex-Watford boss Brendan Rodgers’ Foxes.

With the likes of Tom Cleverley, a former finalist in 2015 with Aston Villa, and Isaac Success among his options on the bench, Gracia went for broke and threw on Gray on 77 minutes, with Will Hughes making way.

The impressive Gerard Deulofeu, who thrived in behind Troy Deeney, switched to the right and Gray was sent up top to partner Watford’s skipper in a bold attacking move.

It worked a treat as two minutes after coming on, Gray poked home a wonderful cross from Roberto Pereyra.

“It is not a surprise as he’s been doing it in the last games,” said Gracia. “He always has chances to score and he is finishing them very well.

“He is scoring important goals for the team. He deserves it and I am happy for him.”

Gray will quite rightly get all the plaudits, but Pereyra deserves a huge pat on the back for the way he surged across the Palace backline and then clipped the ball in between two defenders for the club-record signing to put past Vincente Guaita.

The Argentina international, called up for his country’s friendlies with Venezuela and Morocco this month, has seven goals in 31 appearances, his best return since his 2016 move from Juventus.

“It is not a surprise to see Pereyra make these kinds of passes,” added Gracia. “He’s a different player with high quality and in that moment, with that pass, he made the difference. The touch was amazing for us.”

Ladies 18/03/2019

Ladies Report: Watford 2 - 4 Oxford United

By Chris Smith

While there was success at Letchworth for the U23s in the County Cup final, Watford couldn’t make it a Sunday double as the Golden Girls fell to a 4-2 defeat at home to Oxford United Women.

The visitors took a two-goal lead into the break. Both goals came from set-pieces - Emily Allen with the first, and Gemma Sims with the second.

Watford got back into it when Kat Huggins pulled one back early in the second half, but the visitors responded well, as Lauren Haynes ensured they were two goals to the good once more.

An unfortunate own goal then made it four and while Danielle Scanlon gave the Hornets a glimmer of hope late on, the U’s deservedly took the three points.

Armand Kavaja made four changes to the side that beat Loughborough Foxes three weeks previously.

With Weronika Baranowska unavailable, Robyn Levett was handed her debut in goal. Also coming into the side were Huggins, Leanne Bell and Andrea Carid.

With hail coming down, the conditions were far from perfect in the opening stages. Despite this, there was some good play from both sides.

Watford had the first shot of the game in the second minute, as Helen Ward forced Lucy Thomas to make a save early on.

Oxford’s opening attempt saw Allen let fly with a powerful strike that went just off target. The next effort just after the quarter of an hour mark was on target, her clever finish from close range beating Levett.

The Golden Girls’ keeper was called upon to make a decent save at her near post shortly after to keep it at one. At the other end some good defending from Stephanie Mobbs and Sims prevented Watford from finishing a quick counter attack.

While there wasn’t a glut of clear-cut opportunities, there were slight openings for both sides. Alysha Stojko-Down couldn’t keep her shot down after some good work in the build-up, while Haynes headed wide for the visitors.

In a similar vein to Stojko-Down, Ward also showed some lovely footwork to get away from the opposition defender but couldn’t trouble Thomas in the U’s goal.

Oxford were causing problems with their deliveries into the box and were rewarded with a second goal just before the break, as Sims doubled the advantage. It could have been even more but for another good save from Levett to deny Haynes in the final minute of the half.

With 50 minutes on the clock, Watford pulled a goal back. There was maybe a little bit of fortune to it as Huggins’ effort from near the touchline managed to find a way in.

This could have changed the momentum of the game, but to their credit, Oxford responded. It was their captain who got the third, Haynes beating Levett with a fine effort from distance.

The Hornets could have also then responded immediately. Ward was picked out in the box, but her header was deflected just wide.

With the game entering the final 20 minutes, Watford were starting to exert a bit more pressure on the opposition goal. Katie O’Leary’s strike was well saved by Thomas and when the opposition keeper was out of position, Bell couldn’t get a difficult chance on target.

Oxford helped settle any nerves with a fourth in the 78th minute. A ball played across goal wasn’t cleared and Richards, who wasn’t expecting it to reach her at the far post, accidentally put it in her own net.

Only two minutes after coming on as a substitute, Scanlon gave Watford hope of a dramatic comeback as her ball in managed to find the bottom corner.

It wasn’t to be though, as Watford’s recent run was ended by an Oxford outfit that won for a sixth consecutive time. Kavaja’s side will have a chance to respond on March 24, as league leaders Coventry United visit Kings Langley.

GOLDEN GIRLS | Levett, Hallsworth (O’Leary, HT), Edwards, Kettle, Huggins (Richards, 74), Kikomeko, Stojko-Down (Scanlon, 82), Fatuga-Dada, Carid, Bell, Ward ©

Goals | Huggins (50), Scanlon (84)

U’S | Thomas, Baker, Mobbs, Sims, Gane, Fyfe (Bent), Haynes © (Lancaster), Beaver, Allen, Noble, Timms (Williams)

Goals | Allen (16), Sims (43), Haynes (57), Richards OG (78)

Attendance | 70