First Team 29/04/2019

Gray: “It Feels Like The Fans Are Really Behind Me Now”

Andre Gray says the backing of Watford fans is behind his improved fortune in front of goal this season.

The former Brentford and Burnley forward was at his instinctive best to half-volley the ball into the back of the net in the 49th minute of Saturday’s frustrating defeat to Wolves, taking him to nine for the campaign.

That strike looked set to be yet another crucial goal at The Vic – following Gray’s run of three successive winners on home turf against Everton, Leicester City and Crystal Palace - before Diogo Jota broke Hornets hearts with a late winner.

But Gray is relishing the buzz of playing in front of the Hornets’ faithful home and away and says their backing has been pivotal in improving his form.

 “It definitely feels like they’re really behind me now, which helps me as a player quite a lot,” said Gray. “I’ve scored some important goals this season and that has really helped.

“Knowing the fans are on your side gives you that edge at times and it’s good to feel so much more welcome. You’re more relaxed about things, less anxious when you’re playing, and that obviously then gives you more confidence.

“I started the season well and scored three goals in something like the first six games, so it was a good start and I think that always helps any striker with confidence.

“I’ve just knuckled down and got on with things. I’ve been honest with myself every day.

“I know how far I’ve come – five years ago I was still coming through non-league – so I don’t like to moan about things.

“I try to put a lot of pressure on myself to keep improving so that I can contribute to the team, and thankfully I’ve been able to chip in with a few more goals this season.”

 

His outpouring of emotion when he scored against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday was more than just your regular goal celebration.

The forward, who was born in Wolverhampton and played for Wolves before being released by the club as a 13-year-old, has taken the long road to the top biut, now there, has no intention of resting on his laurels.

Gray has gone on to become a player closing in on 100 Premier League appearances under his belt. If he wasn’t ready then, he certainly is now, having worked his way back up the leagues.

“Being released and having to fight my way back through non-league taught me a lot – I don’t think I’d be the same person or player if it wasn’t for that,” explained the 27-year-old.

“I just think I wasn’t really ready at that time. There were players there who were better than me and that’s just how it was. I certainly don’t have any regrets about it.

“People like me have had to come out of Academy football and I might not have got to where I’ve got to without going through non-league.”


Andre Gray’s interview originally appeared in The Hornet – the Watford FC matchday programme.

Ladies 29/04/2019

Ladies Report: Watford 3-1 C&K Basildon

By Chris Smith

After going behind early on in the second half, the Golden Girls responded in fine fashion to come back and defeat C&K Basildon Ladies 3-1 at Kings Langley on Sunday.

The goal for the visitors came in the 52nd minute, Sophie Kelly’s free-kick beat Robyn Levett, putting the side bottom of the table into a surprise lead.

Watford were then presented with a tough defence to break down, but eventually they found a way through, as Alysha Stojko-Down got the equaliser with just over 20 to play.

There was only really one team in it from then. Leanne Bell put her side in front soon after and Adekite Fatuga-Dada completed the scoring, with a third goal inside ten minutes for the Hornets.

With the season approaching the final few games, Head Coach Armand Kavaja opted to make four changes to the side that had defeated Gillingham Ladies last time out.

Robyn Levett replaced Weronika Baranowska in goal, while Georgie Edwards, Hattie Kettle and Anaisa Harney all returned to the starting line-up.

Watford could have taken the lead early on, however Bell’s strike went narrowly over the bar, after her initial effort had been blocked.

The away side looked a threat in the opening stages. Kettle had to get across to block Katie Whitehead’s shot, and soon after Levett was called upon to make her first save of the game.

With the match just past the quarter of an hour mark, the Golden Girls put together a lovely team move. Afiya Johnson did well down the right to get past her marker, she found Fatuga-Dada, who then picked out Bell, however she agonisingly missed the target again with her shot.

Watford were coming closer to opening the scoring as the half progressed. Charlotte Bolland had to save Georgie Edwards’ shot from the edge of the area, then when the opposition keeper was beaten by Katie O’Leary’s attempt, it trickled just wide of the right-hand post.

In the closing stages of the half, both Harney and O’Leary couldn’t get lob attempts quite right, while Jodie Osborne’s attempt for C&K Basildon found the top of the net.

With only a few minutes remaining, Watford created one of the best opportunities of the first 45. Bell’s drilled ball in was parried into a dangerous area by Bolland, but Fatuga-Dada was unable to keep the shot down, her strike going narrowly over the bar.

Bolland had to make a fine save early on in the second half to prevent Harney from opening the scoring for Watford. It would prove to be a key stop as a few minutes later, C&K Basildon went in front.

Kelly’s effort from distance was well placed and put her side a goal to the good. They didn’t rest on their laurels, as Osborne then had a shot that went over the bar.

To their credit, Basildon were defending the lead well and were proving tough to find a way past. The situation of the game forced Kavaja to make two changes, as Akerman and Stojko-Down were introduced.

The substitutions made a difference. It would be the latter who grabbed the equalising goal, beating Bolland from inside the box to make it 1-1.

In a couple of minutes, the game had been completely turned around. Bell gambled at the far post and made no mistake, putting Watford in front for the first time.

Momentum had completely switched, and the Hornets were now well on top. Fatuga-Dada had a chance to get the third, however her shot went narrowly wide.

Not one to dwell, she made amends not long after. A period of play saw Andie Dickens denied by Bolland and then Jennifer Kikomeko have one cleared off the line, however eventually the third goal did come, as there was nothing the C&K Basildon rear-guard could do about Fatuga-Dada’s well-placed effort.

It could have been even more in the closing stages. Some brilliant work from Stojko-Down saw her set up Dickens, who was denied by a great block. Andie then had another opening in stoppage time, but her effort was saved by Bolland.

That’s how it stayed, as the Hornets secured a third win in four games and moved up to fifth in the table. Watford will have the chance to improve that to four from five in the final match of the season, as Plymouth Argyle Ladies make the trip to Hertfordshire.

GOLDEN GIRLS | Levett, Afiya Johnson, Edwards, Kettle, Richards, Kikomeko, Scanlon (Akerman, 58), Fatuga-Dada ©, Harney (Dickens, 73), Bell, O’Leary (Stojko-Down, 62).

Goals | Stojko-Down (69), Bell (71), Fatuga-Dada (78).

C&K | Bolland, Horn (Wilson, HT), Deacon, Sillitoe, Gillard ©, Moore (Bailess, 62), Abela, Kelly, Rhodes, Osborne (Johnson, 68), Whitehead.

Goal | Kelly (52).