Watford striker Andre Gray has labelled the narrow 1-0 victory over Everton as “massive” after the 27-year old scored the decisive goal in a tense encounter, the significance of which was escalated by the underlying subplot of current Toffees manager Marco Silva’s history with the Hornets.
Gray began the game on the bench but was introduced onto the pitch at half-time, partnering captain Troy Deeney up front. In the 65th minute the tenacious forward then found himself on the end of intricate passing play from the hosts, tapping home into the open goal to send Vicarage Road into eruption.
And the striker recognises the importance of both his goal and the win for his side, which solidifies Watford’s position at 8th in the Premier League table.
“It’s massive,” he said. “I think we needed the three points first and foremost. We’ve had a lot of draws recently, a lot of away games too, so it was a massive opportunity with the run Everton have been on as well. We knew it was a big chance for us, playing at home — the fans played a massive part in the game.”
Overcoming injury issues
Watford won all of their first four games of 2018/19, and Gray’s blossoming partnership with Deeney in the forward line was key to the Hornets’ early fortunes. The pair were acclaimed as a traditional English striking duo — physical, clinical, and cohesive in their effective style of play.
However, Gray suffered injury just eight games into the season yet the team continued their positive form in his absence — with Gerard Deulofeu and Isaac Success proving useful attacking options — making it all the more difficult for the striker to regain the starting place he had so deservedly received at the start of the campaign.
“I’ve been out with injury and since October I’ve lost my starting place and not managed to get it back yet. It’s always been difficult, it’s been frustrating.
“Coming off the bench can be difficult at times, especially in these tight games. When you get 10 or 20 minutes here and there it’s always difficult but I’ve just got to be ready as always and just keep my head down, trying to get back in the team.”
While Gray was only given a half to perform against the Toffees, his impact was infinite. It was a cunning move from head coach Javi Gracia, who was also delighted to see it pay off.
The 27-year old used his pace to put pressure on an otherwise comfortable Everton back line, his movement complimenting the hold up play of Deeney far more effectively than Deulofeu had. And Gray knew from the moment he was given the green light what his job on the pitch would entail.
“As a player, when you’re on the bench, you’ve always got to look at it and analyse what difference you can make if you come on and just make sure you’re ready. It was just one of those games where I just wanted to come on and show that I can make the difference, and I managed to get the goal to do that.”
Watford have scored a number of impressive goals this season — ranging from pieces of individual brilliance to sweeping team moves — and Gray’s was another eye-catching strike to add to the ever-increasing tally.
The Hornets recycled possession after a corner had been cleared by Everton. Jose Holebas whipped a cross to the edge of the box where Craig Cathcart flicked the ball to Will Hughes, who slid the ball across goal with his weaker foot granting Gray a chance he couldn’t possibly miss.
“I don’t remember the build up too much. I just remember it was a great pass from Craig to Will who’s picked me out perfectly with his weaker foot. It was a tap in, really.”
While it was a sweeping attacking move which granted Watford the numerical scoring advantage at the final whistle, Gray insists the defence played a key role in a crucial win for the Hornets who have now kept three clean sheets in their last four league games whilst also keeping Tottenham Hotspur at bay for 80 minutes.
“Everyone was getting frustrated,” the striker admitted. “We were giving away silly fouls. We need to learn from that because it could cost us, but credit to the boys at the back.
“I don’t think [Ben] Foster’s really had to make a save as he usually does, so it shows how much the back four defended well and kept the likes of Richarlison very quiet.”
Gray also believes the home support were vital in spurring the team on in a game which, truth be told, could well have gone either way.
Prior to kick off, a banner covering the whole of the Rookery Stand was unveiled reading “Audentior”, meaning: “go forward with great boldness”. The stadium was filled with a sensational atmosphere for the duration of the game and was sent into utter jubilation when Gray’s strike nestled in the back of the net.
The Hornets had played just one of their last seven games at Vicarage Road prior to the visit of Everton, making it all the more vital that they picked up the points on home turf.
“Playing away from home isn’t an excuse but there’s no doubt that you get that edge playing at home, so we needed that. It was a tight, scrappy game, not much in it, and that twelfth man can be the difference. I think that was shown today.”
The win over the Toffees has cemented Watford’s position in 8th, just a point behind Wolverhampton Wanderers in 7th who have a game in hand.
However, the Hornets now have a two-week sabbatical from league action as the FA Cup Fifth Round sees them travel to Queens Park Rangers on Friday night.
With survival all but secured and a top-half finish now looking to be a real possibility, Gray is adamant that the team’s current lofty position will not get to their heads and asserts that they will fight until the very end of the campaign.
“We’ve got 12 games left now and we just want to test ourselves and see how far we can go. We don’t want to lose games, we’re going to try to win every game.
“We’ve got the cup game next week and it’s a great opportunity for us and the boys that are not playing. We all want to go as far as we can this season.”