First Team 27/12/2018

Gracia: “You Need To Take The Chances You Have”

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

By Kevin Affleck

Javi Gracia felt Chelsea's second goal knocked the stuffing out of his side and came at a time when they were enjoying their best spell of the game. 

The Golden Boys produced the perfect response to going behind to Eden Hazard's first goal by levelling with a cracking volley from Roberto Pereyra. With the momentum and with Gracia having instructed his side to push higher at half-time, the Hornets had a real go at the Blues at the start of the second half and if there was going to be next goal, it looked likely to go their way.

But Hazard won and converted a penalty just before the hour mark following the Blues' first attack of the half and the Hornets never played with the same intensity and tempo thereafter.

“We know it's difficult against Chelsea because they are very good team with a very good squad,” said the Head Coach. “We knew it would be difficult to get a good result but we have tried. We were playing better in the second half, with more time in the opposition half and dominating when we conceded the second goal. It was a shame when we were playing well that we conceded the second goal.”

What was frustrating for Gracia was that his side were not carved apart and sunk by moments of brilliance. A sloppy pass in midfield led to the first and then the penalty was also avoidable.

“It's true, in the first half we conceded one clear chance after losing the ball,” said Gracia. “The first goal was after a mis-pass. I know it's not easy as were were defending and after running a lot, maybe you don't find the pass quickly. It's not easy. But we showed a good reaction after losing and we had a very good reaction, scoring our goal.”

The goal was a thing of beauty, Pereyra arrowing a volley into the bottom corner after yet another assist from José Holebas. Gracia high-fived a member of his coaching staff in the dugout as this was clearly something that had been conceived on the training round.

“We have done it in other games and we try to practise different set-pieces,” said Gracia. “It is good for us to take different chances from set pieces. We are scoring different goals. For example, in the last game, we scored from a penalty and another after some good passes and a good combination. It's good for the team [to score different goals].”

The Hornets got a penalty against West Ham last time out and you got the feeling Gracia felt they should have got another here when David Luiz shoved Gerard Deulofeu over in the box in the second half. “I prefer not to say anything about that,” he said while trying desperately to bite his tongue.

Gracia had to be at his sharpest tactically yesterday to deal with Chelsea's fluid and nimble attackers who pop up all over the front line and in pockets of space.

“Players like Hazard, Willian and Pedro have the quality in some moments to appear and do something different,” he said. “We try to be constant and try to defend well, sometimes pressing high. In the second half, we have recovered more balls and been compact all the time. But you need to take the chances you have if you are to have the option to take points against these teams.”

Hazard proved the difference between the two sides, bringing up his 100th and 101st goal for the club and becoming all only the tenth player to do so. He thought he rescued a point for his side here last season only to see the Hornets flatten the Blues with three goals in six minutes. He was not to be denied for a second time.

“If he's playing as a striker or a winger it is different when he is a No 9,” said Gracia. “Today he played as No 9, last season as well. He's a player with special qualities: speed, skill and it's difficult to stop him. We needed to work constantly and be very disciplined.”

The defeat meant the Hornets finish the first half of the season on 27 points and in ninth place. They are still firmly on course to achieve their best-ever Premier League finish.

“We are in a good moment,” said Gracia. “I have good feelings because we can win and we can lose, but when I see my players I know they give their best and compete in all the games. We've had options against all the teams we have played. I am happy with their behaviour and I'm sure we'll keep it in the future as well. I am proud of the effort of my players. We try to do better and get a better result next time.”

First Team 26/12/2018

Cathcart: “We Pushed Them All The Way”

Watch Craig Cathcart's post-match interview above, after the Hornets' narrow home loss to Chelsea.