Following Watford’s narrow 1-0 victory over Everton, head coach Javi Gracia is delighted that his side were able to pick up all three points in what the Spaniard described as a “very demanding” tie.
The Hornets earned their first league win in four weeks thanks to a 65th-minute strike from substitute Andre Gray, though a solitary goal didn’t do justice to a game in which both teams had numerous chances to add to the scoring. Toffees defender Kurt Zouma was also shown two yellow cards for dissent towards the referee, Lee Probert, in a bizarre post-match sending off.
“I’m very happy today because, after a very demanding game, we were able to achieve three points and now I’m very happy for all the players, and for all the supporters.”
Meeting the visitors’ challenge
Everton didn’t exactly enter the encounter at Vicarage Road in a rich vein of form — since the reverse fixture at Goodison Park in December, the Toffees had lost seven out of ten league games, also bidding farewell to their FA Cup aspirations at the hands of Millwall amid that harrowing run.
Nevertheless, Gracia knew from the outset that the visitors would prove stern opposition — with players such as Lucas Digne, André Gomes and former Hornet Richarlison, it would be hard to expect any less of the Merseyside outfit — though all in blue were marshalled well by a diligent collective defensive effort from the home side.
“We knew before the game it would be very demanding and, after, it was very equal with some chances for both teams. We had at the beginning one clear chance for [Étienne] Capoue but we didn’t take it, and after that it was very equal.”
While the final whistle drew the curtain on a gratifying win for Watford, it was by no means a straightforward victory. Highlighting the first-half in particular, the Hornets looked outnumbered in midfield and were susceptible to damage from Everton’s fast-paced attacking football.
They reached the break unscathed, and the restart saw a notable rotation in the home side’s attack. Gerard Deulofeu was relocated from his advanced forward role into a spot on the left flank in order to make space for Gray who partnered captain Troy Deeney up front.
It was a move which proved significant in a hugely improved second-half performance from the Hornets, and Gracia was pleased to see his decision pay off.
“At half-time we decided to change the shape, tried to dominate, looking more directly,” he said. “I think it was better for the team. Andre always is ready to play, to help the team, and today he showed that he is always ready.”
Watford have had to cope with numerous injuries to first-team players of late — top scorer Roberto Pereyra was absent for the visit of the Toffees, while this was Abdoulaye Doucouré’s first game back in the fold since recovering from an injury he sustained in the victory at Crystal Palace nearly a month ago.
As such, Gracia is impressed that the players at his disposal continue to produce results in order to build on what has been, so far, the club’s best ever Premier League season.
“I think it’s very good for the team. Without some important players, they keep going, keep winning. In the last seven games we have only played one at home, today was the second one, and for us it’s very important to get the three points.”
Locking horns with the predecessor
This game was far from a standard clash between 8th and 9th in England’s top-flight — the underlying subplot of current Everton manager Marco Silva’s history with Watford intensified the encounter.
Gracia’s name rang around Vicarage Road for the duration of the game, while an unspeakable amount of jeers and taunts were hurled in the Portuguese’s direction when the final whistle sounded.
Yet the 48-year old insists it was and had always been business as usual from his perspective, whoever his opposite number in the dugout happened to be.
Asked if Silva’s return to Hertfordshire was a distraction, he said: “Not for me. I think we were focused on the game. During all the season, all the weeks, it’s nothing different. We try to do our best, try to win the game, and nothing else.”