19/08/2017

Preview | Bristol City

Gregor MacGregor, of the Bristol Post, gives us the inside track on Tuesday night's opponents in the Carabao Cup second round.


Can we expect the Robins to ring the changes tomorrow night?
 
“Assistant manager Dean Holden spoke to the press today and said there’ll be changes. They’ve got a fairly strong squad and plenty of competition for places, so they’ll still field a very competitive side and want to come down and give it a real go. The players will be up for it. They’ve got decent players on the bench itching to start.”
 
Who should Watford fans keep an eye out for?
 
“Callum O’Dowda is an up and coming winger and he’s been unlucky not to get more minutes as he was in really good form in pre-season. He played in the last round against Plymouth. Niclas Eliasson is an exciting talent from Sweden and he might start.” 
 
City made a real statement in the last round against Plymouth…
 
“City were really impressive that night. They smashed Plymouth, scoring five before half-time They made five changes that night but still scored five goals from five different players.”
 
Is Lee Johnson definitely without anyone tomorrow night?
 
“Striker Milan Djuric is out as he’s had an op on his groin. Matty Taylor has also got a groin problem and he’s only just returning so this game will come too quick for him. There are a couple of niggles but the club didn’t want to go into those, so we’ll just have to see how they are.”
 
Aiden Flint has been the subject of a lot of speculation this summer. Will we see him at Vicarage Road tomorrow?
                                                  
“Flint should be involved. It looked like he was going to be on the move but nothing happened there and that deal could well be over. He is good and brilliant in the air, probably the best player in Championship in the air. He’s scored 25 goals from centre-back in the last three seasons and is a real threat from set-pieces. When the team are defending deep he is brilliant, but some aspects of his game aren’t maybe good as his heading ability, like getting turned occasionally. He’s a quality player and a bit of a talisman.”
 
Form tends to go out of the window in the cup but are City in fine fettle?
 
“They are in decent form. They drew 0-0 at Millwall on Saturday but the Millwall defence played well. City have only lost once this season and that was at Birmingham, but they played well that day. They’ve also got a bit of spirit about them as they were absolutely outplayed by Brentford but they scored with the last kick of game to salvage a draw at Griffin Park. Performance wise they have been a bit patchy and haven’t been as good as they were at the back-end of last season, but it’s been a decent start.”
 
What’s the expectation this season?

“The club have said officially that it’s just to progress. They finished 17th last season so they’d hope to better that. They’ve spent a bit of money and probably should be looking at the top half. I think the fans might have to be patient.”
 
Cauley Woodrow, the son of former Watford favourite Martin Patching, is now in City’s ranks. Is that a good signing?
 
“Woodrow has been a decent pick up on loan from Fulham. He got 15 minutes against Millwall on Saturday and looked a bit of a threat. He did alright at Burton last season so it’s good to have a recent former England Under-21 international in the side. It’s a shame he won’t play a part as he’s cup tied.”
 
Your manager started his career at Watford. How’s he viewed by the Ashton Gate faithful these days?
 
“It’s a vital period for him at the moment. He’s started well but if results go downhill he could come under a bit of pressure again. I think he will be given time to see how this new squad goes. He’s started the season well and if he can keep them ticking over at home and pick up the odd point away from home then he should be alright.”
 
There is another Watford link in the shape of Mark Ashton, who is now your CEO, isn't he?
 
“Most City fans think he’s doing a good job. City have been shrewd in the market this summer. They’ve spent a club record fee on Senegal striker Famara Diedhiou, brought in Nathan Baker, who has been outstanding in the last two games, and Eliasson, who looks really exciting. They’ve signed several good young players since Ashton has been there, including O’Dowda. So the consensus is Ashton is doing a good job and he’s done some good deals, especially this summer when the incoming business has been done early.” 
 
And, finally, what’s your view on how the Hornets have started the season?
 
“It’s been a good start. I thought they might struggle this year after changing their Head Coach once again but they look like they are proving everybody wrong. I’m looking forward to seeing a bit more of Richarlison. He looked good against Bournemouth and looks a real exciting signing. You look like you’ve got a really decent squad and I rate Marco Silva after what he did at Hull last season. It looks like good times ahead for the Hornets.”

Not yet secured your seat? Bristol City tickets are on general sale, with pay-on-the-day available to Watford fans. Click HERE for info.


MATCH PREVIEW
By Grace Flatman

Bristol City come into Tuesday evening’s fixture off the back of a thumping 5-0 win against Plymouth Argyle in their Carabao Cup first round match.

Jens Hegeler, Nathan Baker, Korey Smith, Freddie Hinds and Jamie Paterson were the Robins’ scorers on the night, and they’ll be looking to put in a similarly impressive performance in the second round tie at Vicarage Road.

Watford lost in the first round of the competition last season, falling 2-1 to Gillingham after extra-time. Odion Ighalo put the Hornets ahead, but strikes from Mark Byrne and Bradley Dack sent the Gills through.

City manager Lee Johnson is likely to field club record signing Famara Diédhiou, a Senegalese striker who cost £5.3m in June. The 24-year-old agreed a four-year deal at Ashton Gate and came from French top-flight club Angers.

Diédhiou is likely to partner Freddie Hinds in attack, with fellow striker Cauley Woodrow – who is on loan from Fulham – cup-tied.

Watford and Bristol City have met 93 times in total, with the Hornets accumulating 28 wins, 29 draws and 36 losses. The most recent meeting between the two sides was in January 2014, when Watford won 2-0 in an FA Cup third round replay at The Vic having drawn 1-1 at Ashton Gate 10 days earlier.

However the last meeting in the League Cup dates all the way back to 2003, when the Robins won 1-0 at home thanks to Lee Miller’s extra-time goal.

First Team 17/08/2017

Colney Chat | Andre Gray

By Kevin Affleck

In the wake of the maiden match for The Graham Taylor Trophy, to mark the memory of the man who twice led Watford on a joyous ride through the divisions, it was entirely apposite that Watford should break their transfer record to sign a player who has been on a meteoric rise of his own through the league pyramid.
 
GT would have loved Andre Gray’s story, loved the fact that he cut his teeth in non-league with Hinckley and then Luton before being mined as something of a rough diamond by Brentford. His backstory means he’s grounded, insatiably hungry and in no danger of forgetting his roots, all touchstones GT used to admire in a player.
 
“I never dreamt of this [a club record move to Watford] happening when I was at Hinckley,” he said. “When I was there it was one step at a time to try and get into the Conference, then League Two, then League One and so on. I just tried to take those steps and set myself a goal of getting into the league above and then the league above that.”

Things escalated quickly for Gray. Such was his burgeoning potential that his career was fast-tracked: he skipped the natural progression from non-league to League Two and then to League One. Instead he was parachuted straight from the Conference into the helter-skelter world of the Championship with Brentford after being recruited by former Hornets' Academy coach Mark Warburton.
 
“Obviously, from the Conference I jumped quite quickly to the Championship,” says Gray. “To be totally honest, I thought  it would take longer but I got a bit of luck with injuries to other players and I got thrown in at the deep end and I managed to come out of it in the end.”
 
He did a bit better than “come out of it in the end”. His combined haul of 45 goals in successive freewheeling Championship seasons for Brentford and Burnley saw him garlanded as the Championship Player of the Year and elevated to the land of milk and honey in the Premier League. Yet the tough days at Hinckley, where he rebuilt his career after rejection as a rough and ready teenager by Shrewsbury, are still vivid, providing him with a stark reminder of where he came from.
 
“I was on £200 a week at Hinckley,” he revealed. “I was living at my mum’s and that was the main part – I had a roof over my head. I was 18 or 19 so we were getting through life. Me and my mates were all in the same boat, although I was in a slightly better position because I had a wage. That’s how we grew up – having to survive. It didn’t seem too bad until you look back. Having to survive made me learn a lot. It’s a place I’ve never wanted to go back to – and hopefully I won’t have to now.”
 
Gray had all the tools as an unpolished teenager, lightning quick and an eye for goal, but the lightbulb moment came when his friend Amari Morgan-Smith left Ilkeston to join Luton in 2010. 
 
“That made me see what was possible,” he said. “I was playing teams in that league and seeing players get moves. The first season [at Hinckley] I didn’t take it too seriously and then I realised what I wanted to do. I started going to the gym on my days off and doing things to try and be a step ahead of everyone.”
 
His big break came when Hinckley played Luton in the FA Trophy in 2012. “I was about to go to Tamworth at the time. That didn’t happen, then we played Luton and I did okay against them and they came for me the next day. The Luton situation came round at just the right time and I haven’t looked back.”

Indeed, he's barely had time to look in his rear view mirror. Gray’s Roy of the Rovers story is not to dissimilar to a certain quicksilver England striker at Leicester.
 
“I’d love to score the 25 goals Vardy did in a season and win the league as well, but every year I hope to get better and score more,” he says. “I’m still learning. I’m learning a lot. I’m still fairly raw and I still need to tweak certain things. Hopefully the better I become at those things, the more I can score.”
 
Belief is what propelled Gray through the English football league system. He and Vardy have become flagbearers for other aspirational non-league players and living proof there is life outside the professional game and the Academy system. 
 
“I’ve advised young boys that I’ve spoken to at other clubs to go play in non-league on loan and learn your trade in men’s football,” he says. “I don’t think they learn as much in the Under-23 games and on the training pitch. Sometimes you just need that real game experience, even just the mentality of winning every week. Competitive football – that’s what’s driven me to be here now.

“I’m sure everyone has been to pre-season games where the Premier League teams are playing non-league teams and you can’t really notice too much of a difference. It shows that they can compete. It’s not as easy as it sounds. You’re going down four or five leagues but at the end of the day, if you’re good enough, you’ll go there and prove it. Then you’ll be back before you know it. If you can’t go on loan to a Championship, League One or League Two club then go to the Conference and prove yourself.

“As a striker, if you go to the Conference and score 20 or 30 goals then you’ll be back in League One or the Championship before you know it. The way I see it is you’ve got to prove it first. I had to. I left Shrewsbury and went down to Conference North to prove I could do it there before I stepped up.”
 
Watford now hope Gray can step up and spearhead their Premier League attack, sharing the goalscoring burden with Stefano Okaka and Troy Deeney. 
 
“I enjoy scoring goals and hopefully I can score some here,” he said. “Every season I’ve managed to step up.”
 
Hasn’t he just. He got 20 in his first full season at Luton and 30 in his second. Brentford fans saw him rattle in 18 in his first season at Griffin Park and then he topped that at Burnley the following season with 23. He got nine, despite missing four games through suspension, in his maiden season in the Premier League and the record discussed above suggests double figures beckon this time round as he always does better once he's got a season in the division under his belt.

“I feel like I can build on that now, keep progressing in my career and my goalscoring record,” he says. “It’s not going to be easy. The Premier League is difficult but that’s what I’ve come here to do, and I believe I can do that.”

Watford believe he can do it as well, which is why they eclipsed the fee they paid for Roberto Pereyra to bring the striker to Vicarage Road in a club-record move.
 
“It’s a new challenge for me and an exciting time to be at a club that’s going places with an exciting manager,” said Gray. “I had a fantastic time at Burnley but I feel like I did my job there. When this move came around it was the right time to move on. Watford made me feel wanted and that means a lot to players when a club are really keen to get you.”

The deal for Gray was shrewdly thrashed out by Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Scott Duxbury, but the input of Head Coach Marco Silva was the clincher. 
 
“A lot of moves come about sometimes because the directors want you and not the manager, or an agent doing what’s best for himself, but me coming here is what the manager wanted,” said Gray. “He wanted me. And obviously speaking to him, it’s obvious that he’s got a vision for me. I think he [Silva] did his research. I’m sure he watched games and watched clips. So I’m not just coming here off the back of someone who’s working upstairs, it’s the manager’s say-so, and that’s a huge part of it.”
 
Twenty six and on the rise, Gray is confident in his own ability but isn’t expecting to walk straight into the side. He had to be content with a place on the bench on Saturday as Silva opted to go with those he's worked with the longest during pre-season. “It’s down to me,” said Gray. “It’s competition like it would be anywhere. I’ve got to train well, work hard, and get myself into the team. However the manager wants to play, that’s down to him and it’s down to me to prove to him that I’m worthy of starting. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve wanted to succeed and every club I’ve been at, I’ve managed to do that.”
 
Watford finished a disappointing 17th last season but some eye-catching transfer business and the installation of Silva as Head Coach has seen expectations recalibrated. “I’ve come here to improve and to compete for things,” says Gray. “I haven’t come here to be relegated. We’re here to go to the very top. We’re not here to fight relegation. That’s not even crossed my mind.”

Neither has the transfer fee Watford paid to Burnley for his services. It's water off a duck's back. “The size of the fee doesn’t bother me too much. People questioned the fee when I signed for Burnley. People were asking how they’d paid £9m for a player in the Championship. The next thing we knew, we’d won the Championship and I was top scorer and Player of the Year in the league, so it’s nothing new that people raise their eyebrows but it’s part of our football.”
 
Gray will be repaying the transfer fee in instalments with each goal he rattles in. His burning desire to find the back of the net runs deep. 

“If you ask any striker, if you’re going to win 6-0 on Saturday and I don’t score and I play the whole game, I’m not going to be happy. It’s bittersweet. That’s just the way a striker’s mind is. It’s the same with a goalkeeper or a defender – if we win 7-0 and in the last minute we concede a goal they come off the pitch unhappy. That’s the way it is. I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing, it’s just a hunger to succeed and score.”
 
And that hunger stems from his days at Hinckley where he was just trying to keep his head above water. His career has had its fair share of bumps in the road but now, in full bloom, he's able to enjoy the fruits of his labour. 
 
“I enjoy nice things like everyone does, I like going to nice places, I like buying myself things and looking after my family,” he says. “That was something I’d always dreamed of.”