First Team 02/04/2019

Match Report: Watford 4-1 Fulham

By Kevin Affleck

Start making your FA Cup out of tin foil, get to the club shop and purchase your hat and scarf and nail down what time you are going to get to the Green Man. The preparations for the big one at Wembley can now well and truly start after Will Hughes got the party started early with a goal that belonged on a stage as grand as the home of English football.

There have been an extraordinary amount of goal-of-the-season contenders this season, from Roberto Pereyra at home to Palace, Brighton and away at Wolves. To Troy Deeney’s at Cardiff and Domingos Quina’s efforts against Reading and Cardiff. But this effort from Hughes, smashed in on the volley from 18 yards with immaculate technique, surely tops the lot. “Hughesy for England,” chorused the home fans who will remember this howitzer for some time to come. 

Knowing Javi Gracia he’ll probably favour the third goal, created brilliantly by Andre Gray and converted by Troy Deeney to seal the game, as it reflects the team ethic and collegiate approach he is constantly preaching, but it says much about the progress of the team when we are debating the merits of goals five days ahead of an FA Cup semi-final.

Apart from the concession of a cheap goal in the first half, this represented just about the perfect night for Gracia. The team continued its daring pursuit of seventh place with a handsome win that did wonders for their goal difference, they racked up their biggest home win of the season, established some all-important momentum and, crucially, didn’t appear to pick up any injuries. 

The Head Coach relishes a selection headache and he will love the fact Gray has given him a major one ahead of Sunday. The club-record signing again did the business coming off the bench, this time setting up goals for Deeney and Kiko Femenía. In fact, it was Gray’s shot that led to the corner for Hughes’ goal. He is banging on the door very loudly. Gerard Deulofeu will be justified in sweating over his place.

Gray provided the energy after coming off the bench to transform a lifeless performance by the team in the first half. It was a far cry from the energy and intensity they played with at Old Trafford and there was definitely half an eye on Wembley.

The first 45 was a tough watch. The tone was set early on when Craig Cathcart uncharacteristically let a pass roll under his foot. Ben Foster then smashed one of his sledge-hammer clearances straight at Aleksandar Mitrović, and even one of Étienne Capoue's telescopic legs failed to pinch the ball off Ryan Sessegnon. It was that type of half.

There were a couple of moments when you thought the Hornets might kick on, when they might spark into life, particularly when Deulofeu flashed one across the face of goal, when Pereyra produced a wonderful Cruyff turn to lose his man on the edge of the box and when Deeney flung himself at a cross from Femenía, but it never really happened.

Even when Abdoulaye Doucouré slammed in the opener with a cracking strike with his weaker left foot on 23 minutes, the Hornets still didn’t really get going, didn’t really kick on and go for the jugular. Gracia could sense his team weren’t at it and just minutes after he had screamed at his back four, Ryan Sessegnon was allowed to slide a pass between Cathcart and Adrian Mariappa for Ryan Babel to latch onto, round Foster and score. It had been coming.

There was the odd boo at half-time, which was a touch harsh but that spoke of the standard the fans have come to expect this season and the players didn’t need to be told by Gracia at half-time they had dipped below it.

Gracia responded by making a double half-time substitution, hooking Deulofeu and Pereyra for Daryl Janmaat and Gray. Straight away, Gray and Deeney linked up on the edge of the box while Janmaat clattered Tom Cairney. The more aggressive approach started to catch on as soon after José Holebas nipped in front of Cyrus Christie and drove forward, nutmegging him on the way. Mariappa then climbed all over Mitrović to win a towering header. This was more like it.

With Holebas playing more like a left-winger, the Hornets were on the front foot and they won the game with three goals in 12 devastating second-half minutes. Hughes slammed in number two in-off the crossbar; Gray then teed-up his big mate Deeney and then repeated the trick to allow Femenía to crash in his first of the season. The Hornets were running amok and it could have been five had Sergio Rico not brilliantly turned one destined for the bottom from Holebas round the post. 

There was still time for Foster to pull off another stunning save with his outstretched left hand to keep out Jean Michaël Seri, while Gray came so close to getting the goal his lively second-half performance so deserved. But perhaps he’s saving one for Wembley on Sunday. Que Sera Sera.

HORNETS | Foster (GK); Femenía, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue (Quina 78), Doucouré, Pereyra (Janmaat h-t); Deeney, Deulofeu (Gray h-t).

Subs not used | Gomes (GK), Sema, Kabasele, Masina.

First Team 02/04/2019

Gray: “I’ve Got To Force My Way In”

Watford striker Andre Gray says he is fighting hard to force his way back into Watford’s starting-XI after a series of goal-scoring cameos off the bench at Vicarage Road.

The former Burnley man has been the man of the moment in the Hornets’ last three home games, netting the winners against Everton, Leicester City and Crystal Palace despite not starting.

While Gray admits he would like to see his name on the teamsheet a little more regularly, he was quick to pay tribute to the man management of Javi Gracia, insisting those out of the starting line-up feel just as important as those in it – something the Head Coach has said himself on multiple occasions.

Gray is hoping tonight’s fixture against Fulham at Vicarage Road can provide him with another opportunity to stake his claim for a starting berthbut knows exactly what he needs to do to force his way into the reckoning.

“The only way to get in team is to score goals,” said Gray. “If I don’t, then I’m not knocking on [the manager’s] door.

“I try and effect the game when I come on, so I’ve just got to get my head down and force my way in.

“There’s no difference between the players that are playing and those that aren’t. It speaks volumes for the manager on how he has got us all together as a team.

“You’ve got to respect the manager’s decision. I’m not going to stand here and complain about it.

“We are flying in the Premier League and FA Cup. I’ll keep coming on and scoring goals - that’s all I can do. I’m just trying to do what I can to force my way back into the team.”

Should Gracia decide to shuffle his pack to keep players fresh for the trip to Wembley on Sunday to face Wolves in the FA Cup semi-finals, Graycould find himself partnering Troy Deeney in attack.

The pair have risen to the Premier League after spells in non-league and lower league football, and Gray feels that background gives the Watford duo a competitive edge and ensures they fully appreciate the good times the Golden Boys are currently enjoying.

“Our partnership has always been good, it’s a shame we haven’t played together as much as we would have liked,” said the forward. “We complement each other, and we can make things happen when we play.

“Players from non-league are unpolished and raw, but that’s what has got us where we are.

“Maybe academy players are more polished, but you learn different things. Hunger can be different, when you are a non-league player you have to find a job.

“I wouldn’t change anything though, it taught me a lot and made me grow up. It taught me a lot of life lessons in general.

“We want to finish as high as we can. We have a lot of home games left, and our home form has been good.

“We didn’t get the points we deserved [at Craven Cottage earlier this season] so hopefully we can put that right.

“We are all on our toes. We all want to succeed.”