By Kevin Affleck
Javi Gracia was pleased his squad managed to showcase its depth and his unrelenting faith in them by knocking Newcastle United out of the FA Cup on their own turf.
The Head Coach had no hesitation in making 11 changes to his starting-XI as he feels they are all capable of competing at this exalted level and continuing the club’s push for their best ever Premier League finish and plotting a deep run in the FA Cup. His faith was rewarded as his rotated side made it through to the fifth round with plenty still left in the tank.
“I’m very pleased for all of them,” said Gracia. “Sometimes it is not easy to explain how important all my players are. When I say I believe in all my squad, I believe in all my squad. Games like today are important to show all of them are working really well.”
If pushed to explain the wisdom of making so many changes, Gracia could easily point to the fact that his perceived strongest team came a cropper at St James’ Park in November. The supposed weaker team has drawn a league game with the Magpies and now won a cup tie.
“We've played twice against Newcastle and we didn’t win,” said Gracia. “In one game we deserved more, but today I think it was more close. We had the control, but you never know what will happen. We worked well and dominated a part of the game. In that moment we scored the goals. I think it was a good performance from us.”
Gracia never likes to talk about individuals, preferring instead to focus on the collective so he clearly agreed than Miguel Britos had a fine game. The Uruguayan has only featured three times since March, but he showed all his years of experience here and read the game superbly from the left-hand side of the defence.
“Miguel is an example in everything he does,” said Gracia. “He is very important player for us. It's true last year he didn't play a lot, but he is always a guarantee for us because of his experience and his quality of character.”
The integration of Adalberto Peñaranda was also a major plus. He looked bright when he came on, displaying some nice touches and he had a hand in the killer second goal.
“He has a long time out of the play, but now he is enjoying playing with the rest of the steam,” said Gracia. “I am very happy for all of them.”
Peñaranda spent his first season in Spain playing alongside Isaac Success, so it would have been a reassuring sight for the Venezuelan that Success was still on the field when he came sprinting on as a second-half sub. Success has led the line in all four cup games this season and he now has three goals in the knockout format of the game.
“He scored at the end of the game, but he worked a lot during the game, fighting with all the defenders and trying to give different attacking options. I think the goal was the reward he deserved.”
The cup win leaves the Hornets in a healthy position as we head into the business end of the season. They’ve got a fifth-round tie to look forward to next month and the pursuit of a top-ten finish to be cracking on with.
“We are in a good position in the league,” said Gracia. “We go forward in the FA Cup, but we are in January and we have lots of games left in both competitions. Now is the moment we have to show our level, now is the moment we have to be demanding. We want to progress in this competition.”