Watford head coach Javi Gracia says he ‘prefers to support the referee’s decisions’ after valid claims for his side to be awarded a penalty during the 1-1 draw with Southampton were waved away by the day’s man in the middle, Simon Hooper.
The Saints were a goal up after Manolo Gabbiadini’s first-half strike when Nathaniel Chalobah was fouled in the area and denied a clear goalscoring opportunity. The spot-kick would have given the Hornets a clear route back into the game as well as seeing Ryan Bertrand dismissed for a second yellow card, further enhancing Watford’s chances of securing a result.
The home side also had good reason to query the officials, as a seemingly legitimate and law-abiding strike from Charlie Austin to send Southampton two goals ahead was disallowed as Maya Yoshida was deemed to have interfered with play from an offside position.
However, Gracia refused to criticise Hooper and his colleagues when questioned on the Chalobah incident.
“To be honest I didn’t see from my position,” he said. “It’s impossible to know what happened but after asking Chalobah he told me it was clear and then maybe the game would have changed from that moment.
“I prefer to support the referee’s decisions and I think it’s difficult doing their job and we must accept the decisions.”
Beyond the controversy, which shaped both the match and its consequential coverage and attention after the final whistle, Watford had to dig deep to earn their point on the south coast.
Southampton gifted their visitors a selection of chances to score early on but later grew into a state of defensive solidity, frustrating the Hornets and limiting them to scant and meaningless sights of goal.
Meanwhile, the Saints looked threatening in attack throughout and kept Watford’s defence under the cosh for lengthy periods but lacked the clinical nature both in the final ball and in the shot to capitalise on their efforts.
Gracia acknowledged from the outset that a trip to St Mary’s was no walk in the park.
“It was a difficult game for us. We started well, created chances, missed them and after that Southampton were playing better. They created chances and scored one goal and after that we were improving.
“In the second-half we showed character and ambition to try to score and to get a better result and we scored the goal. Maybe in the last minutes we had more chances to score but knowing during all the game that there were different moments where Southampton played well and created chances as well."
Following the game, Gracia spoke of his desire for his players to step things up in future matches. “We have to improve. Instead of speaking about the referees I prefer to be demanding with ourselves and in the international break try to improve all these things because this way is the best mentality.
“I know it wasn’t the best game but we’re keeping a good level, competing well. I can say that I’m proud of my players.”
Prior to the visit to St Mary’s, former Chelsea midfielder Chalobah had gone 14 months without starting a Premier League game for Watford having picked up an eventually devastating injury in the early stages of last season.
A player that has been heralded as one of the most gifted players at the club, the 23-year old was sloppy in possession and provided a fraction of the output of the man he was replacing, the suspended Étienne Capoue — though he should be given some leeway with regards to the quality of his performances at the moment having spent such a long time away from a football pitch.
“It’s normal that he didn’t play at his best level because he needs more time to play,” Gracia said. “But with [Abdoulaye] Doucouré both have played well and I’m pleased for them because, in this case, Chalobah deserved his chance to play.
“If you ask me about all of the midfielders that we have we can speak about Doucouré, we can speak about Chalobah, we can speak about [Tom] Cleverley, about young players such as Ben Wilmot and Domingos Quina. I think we have different options and all of them are good for the team.
“For me, Capoue is one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, but I think the team competed well without him and we were able to get a point.”