Gracia: “To Win Is A Very Good Reward”
By Kevin Affleck
Javi Gracia boarded the plane home from Austria with the feeling his team are heading in the right direction after they rounded off their overseas training camp with a none-too-shabby win over Bayer Leverkusen.
Leverkusen will play in the Champions League this season and fielded one of the most coveted players in Europe in Kai Havertz, but the Hornets rolled up their sleeves on an uncomfortably hot afternoon and dug out a 2-1 win, thanks to goals from Will Hughes and Andre Gray, that will reaffirm to everyone that this lot are on the right lines again under the Spanish alchemist.
“To win against this team is a very good reward for us,” said Gracia. “The result is not always important but to finish this way is something to be proud of.
“We are playing against Leverkusen and you can see the quality of their players. They are going to play in Europe and they have an amazing squad. To compete against them is good news and is a reward for the hard work we have done this week. It’s something good for us.”
Leverkusen were easily the more progressive of the two sides, but what was so pleasing here was the clinical nature of Golden Boys’ finishing and the way they dug in at the end to hold on for the win. It was an encouraging portent for the Premier League season when you are given a real searching examination of your collective spirit and will to win. Christian Kabasele and Craig Dawson made three blocks in the first half, Heurelho Gomes made four saves in the second while Ken Sema, who came off and then back on again, kind of summed up the attitude by making a terrific recovery tackle deep in his own half at the death.
“We started well,” said Gracia. “We scored and were winning like we did in the first game [against Ajax], but now we kept our level during the whole game, defending more than attacking. We have to improve our offensive game. We know it, but to play two close games against these teams has been the best thing for us.”
Asked if he felt this represented a step up in performance and intensity levels, the Head Coach replied: “I could say yes because the result is better, but, to be honest, both are different games. In both games we tried to do good things.
“Against Ajax we conceded the second goal in the last part of the game but today we showed resilience and it’s something good for us, the behaviour of all the players, like Harry [Forster], like Ben Wilmot. They all had minutes, all showed what they can do and how they can help the team.”