First Team 04/01/2019

Team News: Woking

Watch Javi Gracia's pre-match press conference above, or read on below.


By Kevin Affleck

Javi Gracia looks set to use the depth of his talented squad on Sunday after admitting the FA Cup game with Woking provides an ideal chance to give some game time to some of his underused players.

The Head Coach has found it really difficult to leave internationals out of his Premier League matchday squad, but accepts that it comes with the territory when coaching a near fully-fit squad of players all with experience of playing in the top leagues in Europe.

Now he has the perfect opportunity to rest those who have played four demanding Premier League games in 11 days and select others who are chomping at the bit for some action. Only Sebastian Prödl, Christian Kabasele and Andre Gray are unavailable through injury while Marvin Zeegelaar and Stefano Okaka will also not be considered as Gracia confirmed they are in negotiations over loan moves to Udinese.

"The rest of the players are available," declared Gracia.

That means the likes of Nathaniel Chalobah, Daryl Janmaat, Marc Navarro, Miguel Britos, Ben Wilmot, Adalberto Peñaranda, Domingos Quina, Tom Cleverley, Heurelho Gomes and Pontus Dahlberg are all under consideration to start against Woking.

“I agree, it is a good chance to respect the competition and know it is an important game, but maybe it will be a good option to see players in the last four games that didn't play. Maybe they have the chance to play.”

Peñaranda will be desperate to play having seen his introduction to English football delayed by the application process for a work permit and then a foot problem. 

“He's available and is improving,” said Gracia. “He is in a fit condition and I think he will be available. He is improving day by day and in this moment he is an option.”

Chalobah is also pushing to make his third start of the season and his first since the home game with Manchester City at the start of December.

“He is in a right moment, at the right level,” said Gracia, before going on to explain how difficult it is selecting his midfield two. “When you have to choose players in that position you have Cleverley, Quina, Capoue and Doucouré, but Chalobah is ready and is training very well and will be ready to play in the next game.”

Do not try and tell Gracia this would be a second-string team, though. He is treating this game with the utmost seriousness and does not feel the team would be weaker for the changes.

“The mentality is most important,” he said. “The players are ready. In all of the games we have played, the team has kept a very good level. It won't be any different. The players are ready and I'm sure they will be trying very hard.”

Okaka has never been anything other than wholehearted since he signed from Anderlecht in the summer of 2016 and Gracia wanted to give thanks to the seemingly outgoing forward.

“It's true, I know they are talking about that,” said Gracia. “I'm not sure if it is close or not but I would like to say Stefano - in all the time he has been with us - he has had an excellent attitude and excellent commitment. He is a top-class man. I wish him the best because he deserves it.”

The departure of Okaka would free up a spot in the club's 25-man squad submitted to the Premier League, but Gracia isn't overly anxious about filling it. 

“I am happy with the players we have in this moment,” said Gracia. “I would like to keep all these important players. I think we are competing well in all the games we have played and now I prefer to be focused on preparing for the FA Cup and after that the Premier League game against Palace because it's the best way to achieve good things for us. In this moment, I don't know is what going to happen, but I would like to keep the players we have.”

Gracia is not one to scour social media or pore over newspapers to find out which of his players are in demand, but he knows Abdoulaye Doucouré is a player coveted by others.

“It is nothing new because in the windows last season we were talking about him,” said Gracia. “But I know the club, the owner wants to keep our important players. We'll see what happens as you never know but, in this moment, I am thinking Doucouré will be with us for the rest of the season.”

Ladies 04/01/2019

Ladies: Middlesbrough FA Cup Preview

By Chris Smith

The Ladies have been working hard in training and haven’t stopped over Christmas with the lead up to this weekend’s game, but the break is over and the Golden Girls are back in action this Sunday, as they travel to Middlesbrough Women in the third round of the SSE Women’s FA Cup.

Both sides defeated lower division opposition by a single goal margin in the previous round. Middlesbrough beat Stockport County while Watford saw off Buckland Athletic.

This weekend’s opponents play at the same level as the Hornets but in the Northern Division, where they currently sit in seventh place.

Views from the Assistant Coach

It’s been a bit of a sparse time in terms of fixtures, with Watford having only played once since the Chichester game on November 18th.

“We’re very much looking forward to getting underway again,” Clinton Lancaster told watfordfc.com. “Everyone has had a lovely break and now we are ready to get going again.

“Having training sessions over that period was important for our momentum, we can’t have two full weeks off and expect to compete at the end of the season.

“It’s important for us to keep putting in the work all through the season, which is why we’ve had a few sessions between Christmas and this game.”

The SSE Women’s FA Cup is only one round away from the sides in the top two tiers of women’s football entering the competition.

“Our priority is to get into the fourth round by beating Middlesbrough,” explained Lancaster. “A fourth round tie is of no interest until we get there.

“We will go there focused on playing as well as we can and hope to come away with the win. We’re expecting them to certainly have a go at us, they seem to be having a good run in the league and will be playing at home, so I can’t imagine they will be sitting off us.

“We are prepared for all situations and feel confident that we can get into the next round.”

The Middlesbrough game is the first of a run of three fixtures which will see Watford rack up the miles, with trips to Cardiff and Plymouth to come the following two Sundays. 

“There’s no real concerns to be honest,” said Lancaster. “We have to play everyone home and away so whether that is three away or three home games in a row, it all adds up at the end of the season.

“We do have some long journeys in there, but the staff and players are well prepared for them and we look forward to it.”

Hosts

Middlesbrough have been one of the strongest sides in the Northern Division in recent seasons but currently aren’t quite hitting those heights this campaign.

After finishing fourth in 2014/15, they won promotion in 2015/16 by topping the Northern Division One. They lost to their closest rivals Liverpool Marshall Feds in the SSE Women’s FA Cup but would finish eight points clear of them in the league.

The following season would be a successful campaign as they finished second, only behind the undefeated Blackburn Rovers. In 2017/18 they again performed well for most of it but dropped a place to third as Blackburn yet again won the league.

For the neutral they were no doubt one of the most entertaining teams that campaign as they scored 63 times and conceded 52 in 22 games, without drawing once. They had a record of 14-0-3 before losing their last five, which remarkably included a 4-3 loss and two 6-3 defeats.

While that disappointing form hasn’t carried on this season, they haven’t been challenging towards the top of the table yet. After 11 games, their 5-2-4 record has them in seventh place.

With previous manager Kelsey Byrne leaving to take up a coaching role with the FA, this weekend’s game will see Arron Leahy and Joshua Ward take charge for the first time as Interim Managers until the end of the season.

Last time out

Watford 1-0 Buckland Athletic

Team: Baranowska, Fatuga-Dada, Edwards, Hill, Hallsworth (Kettle, 81), Scanlon, Stojko-Down, Carid (Afuakwah, 85), Ward ©, Bell, O’Leary (Harney, 89)

Goal: O’Leary (70)

Morecambe 2-3 (AET) Middlesbrough

Team: Trainer, Birtwhistle, Brown, Dale, Foster, Kelly (Hutchinson, 65), Luke, Manders, Marshall (Dodds, 55), Scarr, Watt

Goals: Foster (17), Dodds (75), Dale (102)

Information

Middlesbrough Women v Watford FC

SSE Women’s FA Cup

Sunday 6th January 

1pm

Billingham Town FC

TS23 4AF