First Team 24/04/2019

Gracia: “My Players Show A Lot Of Heart”

By Kevin Affleck

Javi Gracia felt his side’s never-say-die attitude came to the fore against Southampton and meant they were able to salvage a point from a game that looked to have got away from them.

The Saints were on course to severely dent the Hornets’ seventh-place aspirations on the back of the fastest-ever Premier League goal from Shane Long, but Gracia’s side conjured up yet another late goal here and again it was Andre Gray doing the business.

He came off the bench to score winners against Everton, Leicester and Crystal Palace and also turn the game with Fulham on its head. On from the start this time, he popped up in the 90th minute to scoop one into the roof of the net with his left foot. It nudged the Hornets up into seventh spot, one point ahead of Everton with three games left and created a bit of momentum going into the game with Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday.

“My team, my players are showing in all the games a lot of heart,” said Gracia. “Playing this way we are getting goals at the end and they don’t want to lose. They are really giving their best and this is the only way we know how to compete.”

Gray must have thought his big chance had passed him by when he missed two in quick succession shortly after Long scored, but he stuck at it and was Johnny-on-the-spot once again at the death. He now has eight for the season.

“Andre is always there, ready to score in the last minutes,” said the Head Coach. “He has scored important goals in some games at home and today he did it again. It is not a surprise for me. He is a good player, a good striker.”

Gracia was not about to throw Craig Cathcart under the bus for his mistake in the Saints’ record-breaking opener. The Northern Ireland international has been one of the performers of the season and everyone is allowed to make a mistake now and then, just like Ben Foster did in the last home game.

“If we speak about Ben Foster or Craig Cathcart, they are players who very concentrated,” said Gracia. “It’s something that happens sometimes. You ever know exactly why. I’m sure in the next games these players and the rest of team will be very focussed. We try to avoid mistakes in the next game.”

The freakishly early goal was a real kick in the solar plexus and led to a real disjointed first-half performance from the Hornets, as disjointed as they have been all season.

“The first goal was very strange,” said Gracia. “We conceded an early goal and then Southampton played better. They could have killed the game. In the second we tried to change something and find a better balance playing that way. From this new position we found a better balance and we played better, creating some chances to score and take an important point. I like to give value the point. It’s an important point.”

Everyone would have liked three points from the game and to give the team clear daylight between themselves and Everton, but a point is not to be sniffed at and it means the Hornets’ fate is in their own hands. 

“To be honest, I’m thinking about the next game, the next three points,” said Gracia. “I want to get the next three points. I’m not sure we if we achieve seventh, eighth or ninth. To know our position doesn’t help us to play better, to do our job. It is only a position. There are a few games left and we have to be ready for the next one.”

First Team 23/04/2019

Match Report: Watford 1-1 Southampton

By Kevin Affleck

So it looks like the race for seventh spot is going right down to the wire after Andre Gray conjured up yet another crucial late goal at Vicarage Road.

For so long it looked like the Golden Boys were going to completely blow the chance to steal a march on Everton and lose some momentum in the run-in, but Gray rescued them yet again with a 90th-minute goal, adding to the decisive ones he got against Everton, Leicester, Crystal Palace and Fulham. The point wasn’t ideal and not what anybody connected with the club was after pre-match, but this one was hard earned and, you never know, might prove crucial in the final analysis.

The Hornets didn’t play well by any stretch of the imagination and this was a tough watch at times, but it’s a sign of a good side when you can dig out a point when you are nowhere near your best. Other Watford sides would have lost this one in recent seasons.  

You have to give the Saints credit. They were in no mood to play ball and they proved the most awkward of opponents, giving the Hornets as searching an examination as anyone outside of the top six has managed to do at this quaint old ground this season. There was no doubting the visitors deserved a point at the very least and if we are being honest, which we like to be on here, they should probably have won this one.

You kind of got the feeling it was going to be one of those nights for Hornets when Craig Cathcart, that most reliable of performers, made a mistake from kick-off to hand Shane Long the fastest goal in Premier League history. Nothing really went right for Gracia’s side thereafter and it looked like they were going to fire a blank at home for the first time since the middle of January until Gray managed to dig one out with his weaker left foot and beat Angus Gunn at the near post. It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, but who cares?

It was a very unusual performance from a Gracia side. There was no faulting the effort of the players but they just lacked anything resembling cohesion in the final third and were at six and sevens at the back, particularly in the first half. They needed a bit of magic from Gerard Deulofeu or Roberto Pereyra to get them out of jail but, for once, it never came. And, to be truthful, it never looked like happening either until Gray, out of nowhere really, forced one in late on. You cannot play well every week and the opposition are allowed to play well, which is what combined to happen here. 

Gracia expressed pre-match his wish for a clean sheet but that went out of the window after just seven seconds, 7.69 second if we are being precise. Étienne Capoue routinely played the ball back to Cathcart from kick-off. He took a touch and then slammed it straight into Long who caught him unaware with the speed and conviction of his charge down. The ball bounced kindly for the Republic of Ireland international who took one touch and then beat the on-rushing Ben Foster with his next. It was the sort of start nightmares are made of.

It could have been 1-1 after just two bonkers minutes, though, had Gray, with two bites of the cherry, not struck his first effort from a Will Hughes cross straight at Gunn and then headed the rebound over the bar. The first 120 seconds set the tone for a frenetic first half and it took some working out how there was only one goal in the game at the break.

Deulofeu curled one wide of the right-hand post and drilled one past the left-hand post in the best of the chances for the home side who were, if we are being kind, disjointed in the first half. Southampton really disrupted the Golden Boys’ rhythm and got under their skin, to such an extent that Deulofeu was picking a fight with Ryan Bertrand at half-time. Even Abdoulaye Doucouré was dragged into things and he was booked for an unusually cynical tackle on Stuart Armstrong on halfway.

Southampton were by far the calmer and more dead-eyed of the two sides. They probably went in at half-time wondering how they weren’t at least three up. Long headed one wide, Foster prevented Nathan Redmond from capitalising on another Cathcart mistake, Redmond had an even better chance soon after and then Bertrand hit the outside of the post just before half-time. It was the most open the Hornets had been all season – and that’s including the madcap first 45 minutes at the Vitality Stadium.

Gracia took decisive action at the break, removing Cathcart, bringing on Kiko Femenía and switching to three at the back. He had to, as things just didn’t click in the first half. There wasn’t an obvious change in things at the start of the second half. Deulofeu got down the right a couple of times but that was about it. Southampton were working their socks off, proving really difficult to break down, busy in midfield, while always a threat in behind with the pace and clever runs of Redmond and Long. 

The game was so open, so end to end, that in the space of ten minutes, Christian Kabasele shouted for a penalty at one end and then came within a whisker of giving one away at the other end, bringing down the free-running Long just outside the area.

Gracia opted for one final throw of the dice by sending for Isaac Success, but the Nigerian hadn’t even had time to jog into position when James Ward-Prowse forced Foster to beat away a goal-bound free-kick. A Southampton second always looked more likely than a Watford equaliser, but then came a late rally.

Pereyra went close with the sort of chance he would have buried earlier in the season and then one fell Gray’s way and he does what he does best, managing to find the back of the net by hook or by crook. The celebrations were one of relief more than joy. There are likely to be more twists and turns to come in this thrilling season so hold on tight.

HORNETS | Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart (Femenía h-t), Kabasele, Masina; Hughes (Success 77), Doucouré, Capoue (C), Pereyra; Deulofeu, Gray. 

Subs not used: Gomes, Britos, Mariappa, Sema, Chalobah.