First Team 13/09/2018

Team News: Manchester United

Watch Javi Gracia's press conference above, or read on below, as the Head Coach previews Saturday's game against the Red Devils.


By Kevin Affleck

Javi Gracia only has two players unavailable to him for the visit of Manchester United as he bids to plot another famous victory over one of Europe's elite clubs.

The Spaniard built his reputation in Spain on the back of shock results against Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid and he has transferred his ability to choreograph unlikely wins to England, pulling off memorable victories against Chelsea and Tottenham. Now he is eyeing the scalp of the Premier League's most decorated club — and he can do so with a near fully-fit squad to choose from.

“All the players are good,” he said. “We only have Tom Cleverley and Gerard Deulofeu out of the team. The rest are available.”

It is hard to see Gracia changing a winning team, even though Isaac Success and Nathaniel Chalobah are pushing hard for a start. Indeed it is a sign of the strength in depth right now that Ben Wilmot, who was so impressive against Reading, and one-time Player of the Season Sebastian Prödl cannot even get a place on the bench. Competition for places has never been so healthy.

“All the players are important,” he said. “All the players feel important – not only the 11 players. The rest of the team played very well in the Carabao Cup. We have a good atmosphere and all of them feel an important part of this club. All players are making a big effort.”

Gracia's Malaga took four points off runaway champions Barcelona in 2014/15 and then four again off Real Madrid the following season. He also bloodied the nose of Atletico Madrid. Jose Mourinho will be well aware of Gracia's reputation as a slayer of giants.

“We are ready to play the game with the support of our fans,” Gracia said. “We feel comfortable playing in Vicarage Road. We know it will be a very demanding game. But playing at Vicarage Road we feel strong and we think we are able to beat all the teams, knowing at the same time if we don't get 100 per cent we can lose with all the clubs as well.”

United have lost two of their first four games but Gracia has been in the game long enough to know you don't write off a team that can boast players of the calibre of Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez.

“For me, it's a very good team,” said Gracia. “Last season they were second in the table and for me it's a very good team, a very good coach and it will be a very demanding game. They can choose different players from many national teams. I'm sure they play with 11 very good players and it will be very hard for us. Playing at home, we have the confidence to compete and to try and get points.”

Gracia was named Premier League Manager of the Month for August and no side has won more home games than Watford since Gracia took charge in January. The Hornets are a tough nut to crack under the Spanish alchemist and United know they are in for a right old ding-dong on Saturday evening.

“In this moment the results help us to feel we can do it, but it's only a feeling because you have to do many things to win,” said Gracia. “We need to manage situations, we need to play well, run a lot and fight a lot. After that we can have some options to win. We try to prepare as good as possible.”

The team's run of four consecutive Premier League wins at Vicarage Road is their best home run in the top-flight since December 1986. They can break new ground by making it five at Saturday tea time.

“When you start something you always think it will be good, but you never know if you be able to achieve four games in a row,” said the Head Coach. “We are in a good moment, we are enjoying it, we know in the future things may change but this is a good moment for us. I prefer not to speak about if it's the fifth [game in a row], the sixth or the fourth –  it's the next one, the new one and the chance to get three points. The past is the past. I prefer to focus on the next game and the next three points. 

“It's important to get points because all the people are happy, but from the beginning, even when the results were not good, my feelings were good. It's a family – we enjoy together and we suffer together and we try to enjoy the Premier League.”

Ladies 13/09/2018

Ladies Report: Watford 2-1 QPR

Another late goal from Helen Ward helped Watford FC Ladies to a 2-1 victory over Queens Park Rangers Women, as the Hornets secured their third consecutive win at Kings Langley on Wednesday night.

The Golden Girls got off to the perfect start as they went in front after just 46 seconds, Linda Afuakwah getting her second of the season. The scores would be level at half-time though as Mara DeLuca equalised with a long-range strike.

Watford pushed for a winner in the second half and finally got it through the captain. Having hit the post earlier, this time Ward's shot across Gillian Kasirye found the bottom corner and gave the Hornets what proved to be the winning goal.

There were two changes to the side that won at Oxford United last time out, with Emily Hill and Katie Akerman both coming in and making their first league starts of the season.

Armand Kavaja's side couldn't have asked for a better start, with the opening goal coming inside the first minute. A ball was played into Katie O'Leary down the right and her low cross picked out Afuakwah at the back post and she beat Kasirye from close range.

Afuakwah had a chance for her second not long after but she couldn’t direct the ball goalwards after a smart pass from Kat Huggins had found her.

With just over a quarter of an hour played, Watford went agonisingly close to getting a second. The ball fell to O’Leary in the box and she hammered a shot that looked destined for the top left corner but ended up cannoning back off the crossbar.

There were several ex-Watford players in the QPR starting line-up and one of those forced Weronika Baranowska into her first challenging save of the game. Courtnay Ward-Chambers’ touch inside gave her plenty of space and her attempt from 25-yards was pushed away for a corner.

Watford had two chances in the 34th minute. Leanne Bell went around Kasirye but was denied by a superb saving tackle from the QPR defender. Huggins then had an effort that was dipping but not quite quickly enough.

The tackle especially would prove crucial as the visitors levelled not long after. It was a great goal from DeLuca whose 30-yard strike hit the bar and went in.

With QPR looking to build from the equaliser, Baranowska was called into action again as she had to hold Sandeep Tak’s attempt.

It was the opposition keeper Kasirye who made the best save of the half though. Hill rose highest from a corner and her header was superbly denied. When Hill then had another attempt, it was cleared off the line by Katie Knell.

The opening fifteen minutes of the second half was quiet in terms of opportunities. Ward-Chambers’ shot was deflected for a corner and then Baranowska held a header from the resulting set-piece.

Some good defending from Lauren Jordinson then prevented Kasirye being called upon, as she slid to block Bell’s powerful hit.

There were appeals for a penalty when Ward appeared to get to the ball before the QPR keeper, but nothing was given.

Ward then did brilliantly to create an opening for herself after beating Victoria Grieve to the header. The skipper then ran down the right before coming inside and hitting a low effort which hit the far post.

As the game entered the final ten minutes of the 90, Danielle Scanlon kept her shot from the edge of the box down, but it was well held by Kasirye.

When another chance was presented to Ward, this time she made no mistake. A ball from the back found its way through to her, she touched it forward and then picked out the bottom left corner to put Watford ahead.

Over six minutes of stoppage time was played and Baranowska was forced into action one more time, saving well from Whitney Locke’s shot.

Eventually the full-time whistle went and Watford secured their third consecutive 2-1 win, with four victories out of five so far this season.

The Golden Girls could add to that tally this weekend, with a trip to Portsmouth FC Women on Sunday. 

GOLDEN GIRLS | Baranowska, Hallsworth, O’Halloran, Hill, Huggins, Scanlon, Akerman (Stojko-Down, 53), Bell, Ward, Afuakwah (Carid, HT), O’Leary (Baker, 72).
Subs not used | Martin, Peck.
Goals | Afuakwah (1), Ward (83).

HOOPS | Kasirye, Bytyqi, Jordinson, Chimbima, DeLuca, Grieve, Locke, Tak (Kumaning, 46), Lawrence (Anes, 72), Ward-Chambers, Knell (Petit, 46).
Sub not used | Miller.
Goal | DeLuca (35).

Attendance: 132.