More games from 19th April at https://oldwatford.com/tag/apr19
|English Division Two (old)||Table »|
|Birmingham City||1-0||Luton Town|
|Cardiff City||0-1||West Ham United|
|Charlton Athletic||2-2||Queens Park Rangers|
|Leyton Orient||2-2||Preston North End|
|Newcastle United||1-3||Swansea City|
|Shrewsbury Town||0-1||Oldham Athletic|
More games from 19th April at https://oldwatford.com/tag/apr19
It is sometimes said that teams play better with ten men and this certainly applied to Watford for the remainder of the half. Craig Cathcart went close in the 20th minute with a close range effort, but was denied by the leg of Bernd Leno.
“I don’t agree [it was a red card],” said Gracia. “Troy put his arm there but there was no contact with his elbow. I never saw an aggressive movement. I don’t understand why the referee took the decision.” The Spaniard’s frustration was clear but he was also right to praise his team for how they reacted to the loss of their leader. As was the case at Wembley, Watford showed resilience in the face of adversity and created enough chances to feel they were somewhat unfortunate to suffer their first loss here since Boxing Day.
Watford went on to strike the woodwork twice, and Arsenal were reliant on an excellent performance from goalkeeper Bernd Leno. The German turned Craig Cathcart’s effort on to a post and saved acrobatically from Etienne Capoue’s free-kick before half-time. After the break it was much of the same, with Adam Masina smashing the bar from range. Arsenal were also in the debt of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, on as a substitute, who did brilliantly to block Andre Gray’s effort when an equaliser appeared certain.
The majority of Graham Taylor’s most successful players, of either era, experienced the pinnacles of their careers at Watford. We all did it together, but they bought into it, at least partly, because it was a passport out of the lower divisions. That isn’t the case this time around. The real triumph of this season has been to reconnect the modern reality of the Premier League with a basic idea of Watford Football Club, of what it is in our heads and hearts, of what it once was in Graham Taylor’s imagination. It’s true that times have changed, and we’re not going to bump into Etienne Capoue in Our Price. But it feels as if this is a group of players which understands – or has been made to understand, whatever – why this football club actually matters. (A small part of why it matters is Z-Cars, incidentally. Hands off.)
Pre-Match Build Up
Before the season began, Watford were joint-third favourites for relegation, considered by bookmakers to be better only than Cardiff and Huddersfield. Javi Gracia was fifth in the betting to be the first top-flight manager to be sacked. General opinion was clear, and scathing. Fast forward eight months and Watford are jostling with Wolves for both seventh place in the top flight and, on Sunday, a spot in the FA Cup final.
Gerard Deulofeu delivered a sensational display after coming on as substitute to inspire Watford’s dramatic comeback from two goals down to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers after extra time in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
The FA Cup has still got it. Try as some might to kill it off and downgrade its significance, Watford and Wolverhampton Wanderers produced a classic Wembley semi-final as a reminder that this great old competition can still touch all the sport’s senses.
The Rocket Men have lift off. It has been a long, long time since Watford were in the FA Cup final but they produced one of the greatest-ever comebacks in the history of this grand old competition to shatter Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Javi Gracia and his players simply refused to lose, to buy into the script that had Wolves continuing their fairytale season with a march into the final against Manchester City. It took a moment of magic to revive them and one of the highest drama to force extra time. And, with the tide of a tumultuous semi-final turned, there was a degree of inevitability about the winning goal, which was scored by Gerard Deulofeu.
As a manager you know it is definitely and incontrovertibly your day when you are faced with one major selection decision, get it demonstrably wrong and then win the game because of it. Javi Gracia’s first full season at Watford is going so well that even his mistakes work out.
Our first small victory comes with the visual display. Wolves’ tableau is impressive, but static. A statement. But it doesn’t compare to the frenzied energy of the waving of 33000 plastic flags, like insects swarming over the away end. You can hear our lot now. We’re fighting back. The game hasn’t even started, obviously. But we’re in it.
Then a throw-in from Holebas was knocked back to Deulofeu, it didn’t look particularly dangerous for the opposition until Gerry nonchalantly lifted the ball into the top far corner. It was a gorgeous goal out of nothing and suddenly it was game on with 10 minutes remaining.
Fulham have been relegated from the Premier League with five games still to play after being hammered by Watford at Vicarage Road. The Cottagers needed to avoid defeat to put off their inevitable demotion for another week and were level at half-time, Ryan Babel having equalised after Abdoulaye Doucoure’s stunning opener for the Hornets.
Javi Gracia made two substitutions at the interval, and his tactical alteration paved the way for a dominant second period for the hosts as Will Hughes’ superb volley helped them regain the lead (63). Visibly deflated by the setback, Watford substitute Andre Gray took full advantage to set up Troy Deeney for a simple third (69) before laying off for Kiko Femenia to compound Fulham’s misery (75).
Fulham’s resolve, which had held up impressively after the first goal, completely crumbled. Gray set up easy finishes for the unmarked Troy Deeney and the insultingly ignored Kiko Femenía – with Doucouré again losing a battle with a teammate for the right to administer the coup de grâce. Watford scored three times in 12 minutes and could have had as many more again, and though Sessegnon and the substitute Jean Michaël Seri had chances, all Fulham got was misery.
It did not help Fulham’s cause, on the night, that Watford have an FA Cup semi-final to be preparing for, and places in the side up for grabs. It was telling that Andre Gray came off the bench to inspire Javi Gracia’s side, creating two of their three strikes in the second half.
United certainly do the counter punch well, and the game’s highlight was a sublime pass from Shaw for Rashford’s goal, but Watford had 20 shots all told and as many on target – eight – as their opponents had efforts at all.
We were absolutely fabulous, to a man and from the very off. Not least the “reserves” at the back; Janmaat, only arguably a downgrade on Kiko in any case, and the dogged, focused Adam Masina in comfortably the best I’ve seen him in a Watford shirt rampaged up the wings. Miguel Britos has been unfairly demonised over the last twelve months, splendid that if he is to return to Uruguay in the summer as trailed it’ll be on the back of thoroughly solid, competent displays like this. And Christian Kabasele… he’s good at the stuff he’s good at, the brainfarts are what lets him down there was none of that today. Aggressive, disciplined defending, as aggressive in fact as any situation permitted, often quite enjoyably so.
Despite their disappointment at the defeat, the travelling Hornets roared their appreciation of the team’s performance with the songs reaching a crescendo as Gracia came over to applaud the crowd. It had been a tremendous performance by the Watford lads. It isn’t often that you play away against one of the top six and find the home team playing a defensive game hoping to score on the break. The Watford midfield ran the game and, in a season in which Capoue and Doucouré have excelled on a weekly basis, it was great to see Hughes put in a superb performance.
Gray’s goal 11 minutes from time booked Watford’s place at Wembley for the second time in four years after a passionate quarter-final at Vicarage Road, which the hosts were good value for edging. They took advantage of increasing first-half momentum to move ahead on the half-hour when Etienne Capoue was teed up by Craig Cathcart after Vincent Guiata missed a punch from a corner. But Michy Batshuayi then levelled after half-time following a horrible mistake from Adrian Mariappa.
Nearly 35 years since their solitary appearance in the FA Cup final under Graham Taylor, Watford now have the chance under Gracia to emulate that famous side by reaching the Wembley showpiece match in May for a second time. The Spaniard’s name reverberated around the stadium at the final whistle as the veteran goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes – who is planning to take up a new career as a pastor at the end of the season – wept tears of joy. “When the team was suffering in the second half they were very important for the team,” Gracia said of his club’s fans. “I think they really lifted our players.”
It had been a long time coming, but finally Watford have their revenge. After losing to Crystal Palace in the 2013 Championship play-off final and the 2016 FA Cup semi-final, they have made it past their bogey team. As the crowd sang loud at the final whistle, Javi Gracia’s side are on their way to Wembley. And in the process they have consigned Roy Hodgson to another season without an FA Cup semi-final appearance.
The tide of confidence was rolling by 11.15. That’s when “it’s bloody Palace, isn’t it?” was swept over and crushed. But in effect the build up to that wave, the little ripples, started at least a week earlier as Palace lost to Brighton, Southampton and Newcastle earned unlikely wins and the Eagles started looking over their shoulders again. So when Zaha pulled a calf muscle in training it was never going to be risked.
The 1881 had put incredible efforts into making sure that there would be a tremendous atmosphere. When we took our seats, the ground was already full of people waving flags. The big screen was showing footage of earlier quarter-finals. I enjoyed watching John Barnes lobbing Tony Coton in 1984, but it is the Arsenal game in 1987 that always comes to mind. I loved that day out at Highbury.
Prior to the game there was a lot of talk about Watford refusing to give Crystal Palace fans the entire Vicarage Road End and instead allocate them the absolute minimum number of tickets they could. This involved a lot of netting having to be put out in the stand…
Raheem Sterling’s quick-fire second-half hat-trick sent Manchester City four points clear at the top of the Premier League, but there was controversy over the opener that broke down a stubborn Watford side.
Sterling’s first goal, 40 seconds after half-time, was initially ruled out for offside but after a long discussion, referee Paul Tierney overturned his own decision, with Daryl Janmaat’s attempted block just before Sterling struck ruled as having played the winger onside.
Janmaat’s involvement did not change some basic facts, namely that Sterling had been offside from Agüero’s flick-on and was going for the ball, prominently involved in play. Yet Tierney came away from a lengthy discussion with his assistant, Adrian Holmes, by deciding to overrule the original decision and declare Sterling was, in fact, onside. Confused? Well, join the club. Javi Gracia, the Watford manager, tries not to be a critic of referees and showed commendable restraint afterwards, noting only his belief it was very much the wrong decision. As for Guardiola, he pointed out that English football should have had VAR in place long before now.
After the floodgates opened in the second half, Watford did strike back with one goal, coming from the first two touches of their two substitutes, introduced moments earlier on 65 minutes. Troy Deeney’s flick-on was finished well by Gerard Deulofeu.
Like the majority of Watford fans, I don’t travel to places like City expecting anything out of the game, so the fact that the home side had the vast majority of the possession and Watford had only the single shot on target came as no surprise. Unlike the trip to Liverpool, Watford were more effective in defence and, had the referee not interfered, the result may have been more favourable.
This game was given added spice by the announcement five days beforehand that former Watford manager Brendan Rodgers had left Celtic to take over the vacant manager’s job at Leicester City. The Guardian detailed the story of his time at Vicarage Road.
A last-gasp goal from Andre Gray denied Brendan Rodgers his first point as Leicester manager as Watford earned a 2-1 win in the Premier League on Sunday. Rodgers’ debut saw him return to the club where got his first managerial job after being appointed at Leicester on Tuesday, but it was a terrible start for the former Celtic boss as Troy Deeney scored inside five minutes.
Troy Deeney insists there will be no Watford “meltdown” this season after the Hornets continued their impressive campaign with a late victory over Leicester in Brendan Rodgers’ first game in charge of the Foxes.
Watford boss Javi Gracia says his team “deserved” the win after beating Leicester City 2-1 at Vicarage Road, the Spaniard is also pleased with the “ambition” his players continue to show, saying they want “more and more” as the Hornets aim to finish the season strongly.
Among all the accusations that have swirled around since Brendan Rodgers swapped Celtic for Leicester, there has been little suggestion that he picked the easy option. Watford provided an instant crash course in the perpetual uncertainty of the Premier League’s middle third and, when the substitute Andre Gray ran through in added time to send a charged-up Vicarage Road into raptures, it felt like enough to stop even the most incorrigible optimist in their tracks.
Leicester were indebted to Kasper Schmeichel and then Wes Morgan for keeping Watford out from a third-minute free-kick, only to fall behind to another free-kick two minutes later. Gerard Deulofeu curled in the dead ball with such ferocity that Troy Deeney needed only to allow it to skim the top of his head to beat Schmeichel.
The beginning, strictly speaking, is Tuesday’s management announcement in Leicestershire which confirmed that for the third home game in a row we would be facing a former boss. The third of the three home games this calendar year incidentally versus nine away of which only two defeats, a figure distorted by cup draws and Spurs’ stadium nonsense… but these statistics which highlight how well the present incumbent is doing and how the identity and history of the Other Bloke only matters up to a point.
Leicester’s decision to dispense with the services of Claude Puel and appoint Brendan Rodgers meant that this was the third home game in a row in which we would face a former manager. It also ensured a better atmosphere than may have been expected on a Sunday lunchtime as Mr Integrity returned to Vicarage Road.
Fear stalked the Watford defence each time Salah received the ball in space, a lesson they failed to heed from United’s approach at Old Trafford. The paucity of the visitors’ attacking display was summed up by Javi Gracia withdrawing both of his forwards, Troy Deeney and the erratic Gerard Deulofeu, in a double substitution.
In many respects, Watford did well to keep it to three before the last ten minutes when the situation finally became critical, two crosses delivered into the box – one each from the two full-backs – and both headed past Ben Foster by Virgil Van Dijk.
Deulofeu opened the scoring in the 18th minute in a first half where Cardiff felt they should have had a penalty when Josh Murphy went down in the box under a strong challenge from Daryl Janmaat (42).
Deulofeu had not scored for eight matches but looked as if he was back playing for Barcelona as he ran riot in the second half. Abdoulaye Doucoure headed Bennett’s free-kick clear and into the path of the former Everton player, who knocked the ball past Manga on the halfway line, before taking it round Neil Etheridge and slotting home his fifth goal of the season.
His third also came thanks to generous defending, this time from Harry Arter, who was intercepted by Etienne Capoue. The Frenchman sent Deulofeu through and he finished neatly. Not content with his offing, Deulofeu then switched flanks, and burst through on goal again after 73 minutes. He looked on for a fourth, but instead side-footed into the path of Deeney, who deserved to be on the scoresheet. Cardiff pulled one back nine minutes from time after Bamba latched on to a loose ball during a frenzied goalmouth scramble, but there was little interrupting the scenes of adulation in the away end, and Deeney completed the rout after 90 minutes from a Will Hughes lay-off.
The final whistle went sparking wild celebrations in the away end. The players all came over to celebrate with the crowd and the songs and cheers went on for some time. Deulofeu secured the match ball, despite an attempt by Doucouré to steal it. As the others left him to it, he stood alone in front of the away fans while we told him he was magic. It was a lovely moment.
What started off a tetchy, nerve-wracking evening turned out to be one of the best games of the season. Watford were sublime in the second half and produced one of the finest counter-attacking displays I have ever seen. Deulofeu was a man possessed as he embarrassed the Cardiff back line with some superb finishes.
Queens Park Rangers had to wait for this moment. Their previous appearance in the FA Cup fifth round had come at Wimbledon in 1997 and it is doubtful whether any club has since endured a more dismal record in the competition. The London club had won only four ties – each of them in the third round – before this season.