First Team 10/02/2019

Gracia: “It’s Something Amazing For Us”

Watch Javi Gracia's post-match interview above, or read on below.

By Kevin Affleck

Javi Gracia had plenty to smile about after his side pulled off a victory that will be remembered in these parts for some time to come.

In beating the Toffees 1-0 at a bouncing Vicarage Road, Gracia saw his half-time substitution pay handsome dividends, as he witnessed Andre Gray score his first league goal since September, put clear daylight between his team and Everton in ninth and cemented his own position as the new darling of Vicarage Road.

“I am very happy to get three points today,” Gracia said. “After seeing all our supporters enjoy the game, with the result, it’s something amazing for us. After playing a lot of games away – we have played seven games and six have been away – to play at home is always something special for us. To get a victory today was something amazing.”

Gracia was serenaded throughout the game and he took real satisfaction in being able to deliver the victory everyone connected with Watford wanted.

“I am very grateful,” he said. “For me the most important thing was to see all the people around me happy. It’s enough for me.”

Gracia demonstrated his tactical acumen once again by making a bold change at half-time. Some would have waited to see how the second half would have unfolded for five or 10 minutes, but Gracia felt the decision to swap Ken Sema for Gray needed to be made without any further ado.

“In that moment we decided to change the shape because playing with Troy and Gerard we didn’t find the way to attack well,” he said. “I prefer in that moment to play with Troy and Andre, and with Gerard on the left because we weren’t precise. I think the way to attack was directly and be ready for the second balls.”

Gray has not really had too much of a look-in since Gracia changed things up away at Wolverhampton and introduced Deulofeu as an auxiliary striker. But he showed today he deserves to be seriously reconsidered as Deeney’s preferred partner.

“I was very pleased for him,” said Gracia. “He deserved his reward today. I think he helped the team a lot in the second half and when he scored, I was very, very happy for him.”

The Head Coach was just as thrilled for Craig Cathcart, who played an extraordinary pass over his shoulder to play in Will Hughes who then, in turn, fed the ball across the face of goal for Gray. 

“It was high quality, we prepared that,” joked Gracia. “It was a pass more of a striker than a centre-back. It was a very good moment for the team.”

Cathcart played an equally important role at the back, locking things down to help the Hornets keep a fourth clean sheet in five games.

“I think the team is defending a high level,” said Gracia. “Not only the defensive line and not only the keeper, but all of them have played really well, defending well as a team. It was very demanding, but they did it.”

The only downside on a near-perfect afternoon was the booking picked up by José Holebas, his 10th of the season. The left-back will now be suspended for two matches.

“Yes, [it’s a shame] but I prefer not to complain about the players I don’t have,” he said. “In this case, we have other players like Adam Masina who are ready. We will have to do something different, but we didn’t have Kiko [Femenía], Roberto Pereyra, Sebastian Prödl and Isaac Success and the team keeps going.”

Gracia had hoped to have Femenía available for today’s game, but the Spanish right-back was ruled out at the 11th hour, with the Head Coach not prepared to risk rushing him back from a hamstring injury.

“Yesterday before training, I thought Kiko was ready but after that, we decided it was better to wait,” said Gracia. “Pereyra is in his process, he’s improving. I’m not sure if he will be ready for the next game or whether we will wait.”

First Team 09/02/2019

Match Report: Watford 1-0 Everton

By Kevin Affleck

Victories do not come much sweeter than this. They’ll remember it for a few years to come, that's for sure. It was up there with the win over Tottenham Hotspur, albeit for very different reasons.

There was delight and joy to be had everywhere; Andre Gray scored his first league goal in nearly five months, Marco Silva lost on his return to these parts, and Richarlison was snuffed out to the extent he had to be subbed.

In getting the victory they should have got at Goodison Park, Watford were the big winners, moving up the table, warming them up nicely for the big FA Cup tie at Queens Park Rangers on Friday night and continuing to show this team has a real identity and spirit about it under Javi Gracia. The fans stayed right until the end, right until the four minutes of added time was up to celebrate this one, and too right. They had been waiting a long time for this fixture to come around. This meant more than just three points, much more. 

There was a fear the team might be over-hyped for this eagerly-anticipated fixture, that they might play with their hearts instead of their heads. And yet the opening exchanges were rather tepid. Troy Deeney thundered into a challenge with Michael Keane while José Holebas got stuck into Richarlison a couple of times, a clear sign that the Brazilian would not be having things his own way at his former stomping ground. But that was about it.

Richarlison was largely peripheral on the right, but Everton were still the more progressive side and created the clearer openings. Keane and Kurt Zouma saw tame headers saved by Ben Foster and the in-form Watford No. 1 had to then dive to his left to deny Cenk Tosun after a mix-up between Holebas and Abdoulaye Doucouré. Étienne Capoue and Adrian Mariappa also had to make key headed interceptions from dangerous crosses into the box.

And yet the best chance of the half fell to the Hornets – and this time it was not Gerard Deulofeu inside five minutes. Deeney knocked the ball down and into the path of Capoue, who wriggled free and looked set to lash the ball into the back of the net from six yards after just 10 minutes. But he caught it too sweetly and the rising shot flicked off Jordan Pickford and went flying over the bar. 

The Hornets fashioned the first chance of the half and also the last, Deulofeu seeing an effort blocked bravely by the sliding Lucas Digne, but neither team could really say they had done enough to be ahead at the break.

Gracia sought to take the game by the scruff of the neck and throw on Gray for Ken Sema at half-time. It was a sure sign from the Head Coach that his ambition extended beyond settling for a draw at home.

It was Everton, though, who threatened first at the start of the second half, Gylfi Sigurdsson poking one onto the bar after Foster had been rarely caught flat-footed. It was a lucky escape and the relief that the ball had hit the woodwork, and not dropped into the back of the net, was etched all over Foster's face.

Back came Watford with a right-footed effort from Holebas that flashed past the far post and then a corner from the pumped-up left-back that somehow didn't manage to go in off Gray, Deeney or an Everton defender. The game was now boiling up nicely.

It reached a crescendo just past the hour when Gray tapped in the opening goal, and what turned out to be the winning goal. The striker had the easy bit to do, but the spadework was done by a remarkable hooked, reverse pass by Craig Cathcart that fell beautifully into the path of Will Hughes. He delivered a wonderful ball across the face of goal and Gray couldn’t miss. It was brilliantly created and ruthlessly executed. Cue bedlam in the stands.

In desperation, Silva threw on Theo Walcott, Bernard and Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the space of nine minutes, but it didn’t really turn out the way he had planned and there was not the siege on Watford’s goal he had hoped for.

Digne hit the top of the bar with a fairly harmless free-kick and then Tosun missed from close range, but his blushes were spared by referee Lee Probert pointing out that it wouldn’t have counted as the Turkey international was offside. The incident just confirmed that this was going to be Watford's day, nothing was going to spoil it, and everybody celebrated at the end because they knew how much it meant. It was a good day to be a fan of this great club.

HORNETS | Foster; Janmaat, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes (Chalobah 89), Capoue, Doucouré, Sema (Gray HT); Deulofeu (Cleverley 81), Deeney.

Subs not used: Gomes, Masina, Kabasele, Peñaranda.