Watford striker Andre Gray was over the moon to break a four-month goalscoring drought and lay to rest a painstaking period of injuries which had significantly reduced the 27-year old’s first-team involvement in recent times.
Gray played 68 minutes against Newcastle United in the FA Cup on Saturday, earning his first start in any competition since October 6th, and scored the first goal in a 2-0 win for Watford to send their name into the hat for the Fifth Round draw.
“It was a great day, and obviously it’s a long journey for the fans, so I’m glad we could come away with a good win and a good performance.”
Finding the net
The Midlands-born forward says patience was key to his progression after such testing times on the sidelines: “It’s been a frustrating time. The injury came at a bad time, around Christmas when there are a lot of games.
“But it’s part of the game and I just kept myself fit and tried to make an impact today, get my goal and I managed to do that.”
Prior to Saturday, one would have to look back as far as September 22nd to see the last time Gray scored, when the former Luton Town, Brentford and Burnley striker notched in the 2nd minute of the 1-1 draw at Fulham.
As such, seeing his 61st minute strike ripple the net of Freddie Woodman’s goal will have come as a massive relief to the 27-year old.
“I had chances before that, where I got put off a little bit by their defenders and put it over the bar,” he conceded. “For the goal, it was the same situation again but it was a case of, once I got inside the area, to get my shot off.”
The importance of squad depth
For the visit to St James’ Park, Javi Gracia made wholesale changes from the monotonous goalless draw with Burnley a week before — not one player retained their place in the starting lineup.
Although it must also be acknowledged that the Spaniard’s selection consisted of five first-team regulars who have appeared to varying degrees of consistency over the course of 2018/19, while the majority of the others had been involved in the Third Round win over Woking and in the Carabao Cup earlier in the season.
The Spaniard’s decision came under scrutiny by many who considered it to be disrespectful to the competition. Former Blackburn Rovers and Celtic striker and current pundit Chris Sutton went as far as saying he ‘hoped’ the Hornets would lose as a result.
However, Gray supports the choice his manager made, and believes it is a reflection of the squad depth that is building in the ranks of the club.
“I think it shows the strength in depth we’ve got in our squad,” the forward said. “The manager has made 11 changes from the last game, we’ve all come in and I feel like we stepped it up, took the game to a good team and came away with the win.
“Everyone’s ready, and we showed that today.”
Aspirations of cup success
Victory over the Magpies sends Watford into the Fifth Round draw. It’s just the second time in the last ten years that the Hornets have reached this stage, and the last time they did saw them bow out of the competition in the Semi-Final against Crystal Palace in 2016.
Having defeated sixth-tier Woking in the Third Round and now Premier League opposition in Round Four, Watford will be dreaming of another favourable draw to see them clear the hurdle of Round Five and reach the Quarter Finals.
“If you get a good draw in the next game and win that, then you’re in the Quarters, and who knows what can happen from there.”
Yet Gray insists the Hornets are prepared for any outcome and is confident of accession into the last eight regardless of the opponent.
“Whoever we get, we’re ready.”