First Team 20/01/2019

Gracia: “There Are Positives But We Can Play Better”

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


By Kevin Affleck

Javi Gracia is a hugely positive individual, but he's also a realistic one and he was not going to pretend his side played anything like their best against Burnley.

He was therefore pleased to pick up a point, rather than bemoan a defeat, after they got sucked into a right old scrap with the Clarets.

“You always want more, but if you don't play your best game, maybe it happens,” he said. “It's positive to get a point on a special day for the club, for all of us. We wanted to get a victory. I'm a little bit disappointed as we wanted to get a win. When you can't win, it is good to get a point. I am happy with the result.”

Asked why his side were not at their best, like they were, say, against Crystal Palace in the second half, Gracia said: “You don't play alone, you play against another team. To play against Burnley you need to be constant, to be demanding in all the challenges, in all the second balls. I think that part we did well. But we didn't do the different ways to try and attack.

“It's true in the beginning we had a clear chance with Gerard and then with Sema and with Troy. We created two or three more chances, but it wasn't enough to score. It was an equal game, very close. We got a point and we continue."

The one for Deulofeu was a golden one, just like the strikingly similar opportunities he had against Newcastle home and away and against Palace.

“I don't remember the others,” said Gracia, “but with this one, his last touch was a little bit long and in that moment the keeper is very close and it closes his chances. I think he is going to score other chances.”

Tom Heaton did well to save that one and he pulled off another stop from Troy Deeney just before half-time. Ben Foster was also in excellent form, denying Ashley Barnes and Jeff Hendrick.

“Both keepers had a very good performance,” said Gracia. “But I think we could play better in attack. because we usually do.”

Abdoulaye Doucouré missed out today with a knee problem and Gracia was asked if the team missed the Frenchman's drive from midfield.

“I don't like to speak about players I don't have in that moment,” said the Head Coach. “There are others like Tom, like Capoue in the middle, both have played very well. Maybe with other options, other qualities, the game could be different. All my players are important and I prefer to speak about the players who have played.”

Some incorrectly viewed the absence of Doucouré as a sign he would be sold this month, drawing the same conclusion as the one taken following the absence of Marko Arnautovic for West Ham United today. 

“I try to answer that question [about Doucouré] every day,” Gracia said. “I don't have any news about that. I think he is going to be my player until the end of the season. I don't know anything about that changing.”

Gracia revealed Doucouré and Craig Cathcart missed out with “minor problems”. 

“Maybe for today they weren't available,” he said. “For the next game I am sure they will be ready.”

The initial diagnosis did not look as promising for Kiko Femenía, who limped off clutching the back of his right leg. “Kiko felt something and I think he'll have to rest some days,” he said.

The injury to Femenía was a blow, but Gracia was very much taking a glass-half-full view of the rest of events on an emotional day at Vicarage Road. After all, the team have now lost only one of the last eight and are still in seventh place.

“There are many positives today,” he said. “The team defended very well, were very concentrated, they had to be very demanding and very disciplined. I remember last season when we were winning 1-0 at the end and then two long balls from free-kicks and we lose. We can play better collectively, I am sure of that.”

First Team 19/01/2019

Match Report: Watford 0-0 Burnley

By Kevin Affleck

They came to pay tribute to two of Watford's greats, but it was one of the club's most recent managers who will take most satisfaction from this one.

Sean Dyche loves nothing more than to put one over his former club and he did a job on the Hornets for the second season, spoiling the game and turning it into an arm wrestle, a test of wills and mental fortitude as much as footballing ability. The Clarets’ approach might not be pretty and to everyone’s taste, but it’s mightily effective.

The only positive to take was at least this time Dyche didn't leave celebrating a win, unlike last season when the Clarets plundered the points with two goals in three sickening minutes. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the collective growth of this Watford team that they managed to grind out a point this time and didn’t fold amid Burnley’s physical examination. They knew they were well and truly in a game and had to scrap, fight and battle for everything at Vicarage Road. There will be a few bumps and bruises after this one, and a damaged hamstring sustained by Kiko Femenía by the looks of it.

Aside from brief spells at the beginning and end of the first half and another around the hour mark after Isaac Success charged on, the Hornets didn’t really get going and a point was the most they deserved. Burnley created the better chances, posed the greater threat and Ben Foster was easily the busier of the two keepers. Once the disappointment of not winning subsides – you always expect your team to win at home – the fact the Hornets have taken four points off the Clarets this season should be celebrated. Let’s also not forget it is also only one defeat in eight for Hornets and that’s never a bad place to be.

Inspired by the moving pre kick-off tributes to late Watford greats Graham Taylor and Duncan Welbourne, the Hornets made a storming start. Gerard Deulofeu had his customary golden chance early on, and then Ken Sema thrashed a leg at another presentable chance. Troy Deeney fashioned both openings and was at the heart of everything the home side did well early on.

But Burnley then started to take a vice-like grip on proceedings and turned it into the sort of scrappy and unstructured game that Dyche likes so much. The Hornets could just not get any rhythm, they couldn’t pass their way through the thirds and James Tarkowski was gobbling up everything that went long to Deeney. It was a tough watch at times.

Burnley started getting the ball wide and into the box and it took a last-ditch tackle from Adrian Mariappa to deny Ashley Barnes as he was about to pull the trigger, and then Foster made a reactionary save to deny the striker’s header from an Ashley Westwood cross. It was nearly all Burnley from an attacking sense and Barnes will wonder how he didn't find the target let alone score after being gift-wrapped a golden chance by a mis-directed header from Mariappa on 39 minutes.

The Hornets did manage to finish the half as they began it with a couple of chances. Deulofeu tried his luck from distance and then Deeney forced the save of the match from Tom Heaton after connecting sweetly with a cross from Femenía. But, in-between Watford’s chances, Burnley had been the more likely side to score and Gracia will have needed to plug a few gaps at the break.

The interval did little to stop Burnley’s momentum, though. Phil Bardsley flashed one dangerously across the face of goal after just a couple of minutes, and then Foster had to claw one away to deny Hendrick at the far post. Burnley were really turning the screw and Dwight McNeil probably caught a chance too sweetly after smashing it into the Rookery End instead of into the back of the net on 55 minutes.

Gracia had to change something and almost immediately after Deeney had one kicked off the line by Heaton, he sent on Success for Sema and pushed Deulofeu to the right. The Hornets needed more muscle up-top, as it was tough for Deeney against both the commanding Tarkowski and Ben Mee, while the plan was for Deulofeu to provide more incision down the right.

Success’ first real contribution was to lay the ball off to the otherwise subdued Roberto Pereyra and watch the Argentine try to bend yet another effort into the far corner. The ball dropped the wrong side of the post, but the signs were encouraging, especially when Success drew an unconventional challenge from Charlie Taylor. The strapping Nigerian was beginning to make his presence felt.

Tom Cleverley then let fly from distance, forcing a comfortable save from Heaton. This was more like it. There was more of a purpose about the Hornets’ play. But the game petered out thereafter and drifted, with both teams content with a point. 

There was the sight of Miguel Britos making his first Premier League appearance since the mauling at Anfield in March and this was his sort of up-and-at-them game, just the sort of physical battle he loves. He made one fine clearance to prevent Chris Wood getting on the end of a cross at the far post and then another towering header soon after.

There was a late scare when Wood had a goal ruled out for offside, but all in all this wasn’t one that will live long in the memory. The final whistle couldn’t come soon enough and you just had to see the speed with which the players left the field to know what they thought of it all.

HORNETS | Foster (GK); Femenía (Britos 77), Kabasele, Mariappa, Holebas; Sema (Success 56), Cleverley, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney (C).

Subs not used: Gomes (GK), Gray, Masina, Quina, Wilmot.