By Kevin Affleck
For Javi Gracia, the motivation for Tuesday night’s game at home to Southampton boils down to a simple equation.
Forget about the fact a win would leave the Golden Boys in pole position for seventh place. Forget how it would readdress the balance after the defeat to Arsenal last time out at Vicarage Road. And don’t entertain talk of spots in the FA Cup final team being up for grabs. The Head Coach will be drumming one thing into his players in the bowels of the Sir Elton John Stand pre-match.
“Before playing the game my players will know perfectly that we need the points more than Southampton,” he said.
That’s it. Nothing more sophisticated than that. “That’s the best mentality to have,” he said. “If we don't play with that feeling. It’s difficult to get a good result.”
The Head Coach is not preoccupied with the table, but he does look at it. He knows winning this game in hand on the other rivals for seventh spot will put his side in the box seat.
“There are only four games left,” he said. “We are in a good position. I had other experiences when we were in the same situation, when we had different objectives with something important to achieve. In this moment all the players know it and I can feel all of them looking forward to the next game. I am happy with the moment and I am enjoying the moment. I think the success this season is not only in the ending – we have to enjoy every day, every single game.”
Gracia has had plenty of reasons to cheer this season and he’s walking round right now with an even bigger smile on his face. If he was being picky, and it’s difficult when you are through to the final of the FA Cup and on the verge of securing a European spot, he would really like to tighten up defensively. The Hornets haven’t kept a clean sheet since the middle of February.
“It’s one target for us,” he said. “It’s important for us, but we have other important targets as well. The final result is the main objective for us. If we are able to compete well, the result is a consequence of our play. We try to do well the things that have got us points so far. If you get a clean sheet, it’s easier to win the game.
“I wasn’t happy with the goal we conceded on Saturday. We have to keep concentrated until the end and try to be demanding in that game and the next ones. If we don’t do it in the next game, I am sure we won't be able to achieve the results we want.”
Gracia is seeking to raise the bar because he knows Southampton head to Vicarage Road on the back of four wins in their last seven. He’s watched them several times and knows Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side will be a tough nut to crack.
“They are playing well now,” he said. “They are a very competitive team, they are playing well with a different shape in some games. They have very good players in that squad and are maybe not getting the results in some games. It will be a tough game.”
It will be the third time Gracia has come up against Southampton since he joined in January 2018 and the third different Saints’ coach he has pitted his wits against. Games against the Saints will always have that big of extra significance for Gracia because it was at St Mary’s where the Spaniard coached the Hornets for the first time.
“It’s true, it was my first game,” he said. “I don't spend too much time speaking about all these things, if it is my first time, my first win, my second win, my first game. Everything is changing, everything is different and now I just look at the next step. This is the way I live. We are enjoying the moment we have with our supporters right now and we have to live it.”