First Team 26/01/2019

Gracia: “I Believe In All My Players”

By Kevin Affleck

Javi Gracia was pleased his squad managed to showcase its depth and his unrelenting faith in them by knocking Newcastle United out of the FA Cup on their own turf.

The Head Coach had no hesitation in making 11 changes to his starting-XI as he feels they are all capable of competing at this exalted level and continuing the club’s push for their best ever Premier League finish and plotting a deep run in the FA Cup. His faith was rewarded as his rotated side made it through to the fifth round with plenty still left in the tank.

“I’m very pleased for all of them,” said Gracia. “Sometimes it is not easy to explain how important all my players are. When I say I believe in all my squad, I believe in all my squad. Games like today are important to show all of them are working really well.”

If pushed to explain the wisdom of making so many changes, Gracia could easily point to the fact that his perceived strongest team came a cropper at St James’ Park in November. The supposed weaker team has drawn a league game with the Magpies and now won a cup tie.

“We've played twice against Newcastle and we didn’t win,” said Gracia. “In one game we deserved more, but today I think it was more close. We had the control, but you never know what will happen. We worked well and dominated a part of the game. In that moment we scored the goals. I think it was a good performance from us.”

Gracia never likes to talk about individuals, preferring instead to focus on the collective so he clearly agreed than Miguel Britos had a fine game. The Uruguayan has only featured three times since March, but he showed all his years of experience here and read the game superbly from the left-hand side of the defence. 

“Miguel is an example in everything he does,” said Gracia. “He is very important player for us. It's true last year he didn't play a lot, but he is always a guarantee for us because of his experience and his quality of character.”

The integration of Adalberto Peñaranda was also a major plus. He looked bright when he came on, displaying some nice touches and he had a hand in the killer second goal. 

“He has a long time out of the play, but now he is enjoying playing with the rest of the steam,” said Gracia. “I am very happy for all of them.”

Peñaranda spent his first season in Spain playing alongside Isaac Success, so it would have been a reassuring sight for the Venezuelan that Success was still on the field when he came sprinting on as a second-half sub. Success has led the line in all four cup games this season and he now has three goals in the knockout format of the game.

“He scored at the end of the game, but he worked a lot during the game, fighting with all the defenders and trying to give different attacking options. I think the goal was the reward he deserved.”

The cup win leaves the Hornets in a healthy position as we head into the business end of the season. They’ve got a fifth-round tie to look forward to next month and the pursuit of a top-ten finish to be cracking on with.

“We are in a good position in the league,” said Gracia. “We go forward in the FA Cup, but we are in January and we have lots of games left in both competitions. Now is the moment we have to show our level, now is the moment we have to be demanding. We want to progress in this competition.”

First Team 26/01/2019

FA Cup Report: Newcastle United 0-2 Watford

By Kevin Affleck

“We’re the famous Watford FC and we're going to Wembley,” chorused those unwavering loyal fans who made the long trek up to Newcastle for this fourth-round tie.

With his one game at a time mentality, Javi Gracia won't be dreaming of playing under the famous arch just yet, but this Watford side ensured they will be one of 16 teams still in the hunt of lifting the famous old trophy with the sort of win away from home you always need in a cup run. Remember the 1-0 win we got away at Nottingham Forest in the run to the semi-final in 2016?

The previous two instalments of this fixture this season suggested this was never going to be one for the ages and it so proved. Watford never played well by any stretch of the imagination, although they did get better as the game worse on, but they did just enough and won it with a fine goal from Andre Gray just past the hour mark and then the clincher from Isaac Success late on.

Gracia will not give two hoots really about the imperfect nature of this one. He got the opportunity to give some minutes to some of the fringe players of his squad, managed to give some kingpins the afternoon off and yet managed to ease through to the next round with plenty to spare. Job done, boxes ticked, let's all settle down for the draw on Monday night.

Watford made most of the running in what was, if we are honest, rather pedestrian fare served up in the first half. The two sides played like exactly what they were: two XIs put together this week who were very much looking to find some cohesion and combination play on the hoof. They only managed four shots on goal between them, one of which fell into the on-target category. And that came from Domingos Quina after five minutes.

The Newcastle defenders clearly hadn't been briefed about his penchant for shooting from long-range, not been made away of his his beauties against Reading and Cardiff, because they stood off him and allowed him to unleash one that dipped, swerved and forced Freddie Woodman into acrobatic action.

And that really was about it. There was a free-kick that went close from Nathaniel Chalobah after a driving run from Daryl Janmaat and then Isaac Success shinned one wide after a cross from Janmaat. The pickings were extremely slim.

The good thing was that Newcastle barely threatened and the biggest cheer from the home fans was when Adam Masina unceremoniously launched a clearance against the roof of the stand. There was a nice tackle from the excellent Miguel Britos to stop Jacob Murphy getting a cross in from the right, but it said much about the first half that it ended up being among the talking points.

Gray was peripheral in the first half, very much finding his feet after an injury layoff but he got into his stride at the start of the second half and fired off a shot on the run. It was off target, but the connection was sweet and hinted at brighter things to come.

Not long after, on 61 minutes, Gray was dead-eyed with the sort of chance he thrives on. Will Hughes played him down the inside right with a lovely reverse pass and Gray raced onto it and lashed it first time, low past Freddie Woodman. The Newcastle 'keeper was simply beaten by the pace and quick-fire nature of it. It was classic Gray.

The Hornets never really looked liked doing anything other than progressing safely into the next round thereafter. Rafa Benítez threw on Ayoze Pérez and Christian Atsu in a bid to liven his side up, but the only time they really threatened was when Ben Wilmot had to clear one off the line from Javier Manquillo, after Gomes had been chipped by the wing-back.

Gracia had no thought about shoring things up and holding on, opting instead to sling on Adalberto Peñaranda for his first taste of action against a Premier League club. And the Venezuelan finished the match with his first contribution to a goal in a Watford shirt. He got hold of a counter-attack, played in Quina down the left and watched the midfielder lay the ball on a plate for Success to bundle in. 

The Watford bench erupted as they knew that was it. Gracia punched the air and someone slammed their hand on the roof of the dugout. There was no way back for Newcastle from there and there would be no dreaded replay. Everyone connected with Watford left feeling a lot happier than they did the last time we were up here. 

HORNETS | Gomes (GK); Janmaat, Cathcart, Britos, Masina; Wilmot, Chalobah (Capoue 81), Quina; Hughes, Success, Gray (Peñaranda 68).

Subs not used | Dahlberg (GK), Mariappa, Deulofeu, Deeney, Navarro.