Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes says the team “need to believe” after the 1-0 win against Queens Park Rangers on Friday night which saw the Hornets edge their way to the FA Cup quarter-finals.
It was hardly a straightforward victory, with Gomes enduring a busy evening against a Championship outfit desperate to claim a Premier League scalp. However, Étienne Capoue’s guided effort on the stroke of half-time was enough to separate the sides, with Watford’s name the first to enter the hat for next round’s draw on Monday night.
Gomes was enraptured to secure the result on his 38th birthday: “It was an amazing present for me, and for the fans as well. I couldn’t ask for more — God blessed me again with this win and with this present for me.”
A tough battle
The cliché reads that form goes out of the window when cup football rolls around, and that was certainly the case here.
QPR, despite losing five straight games in the league and conceding a miserable 13 goals during that run, were far from brittle opposition for the Hornets. They kept a potent strike force of Troy Deeney and Andre Gray remarkably quiet, frustrating Watford into aimless side-to-side passing, and looked threatening on the counter-attack, with Luke Freeman proving to be a dynamic technical presence in midfield.
Head coach Javi Gracia said prior to the game that he was expecting a “demanding” encounter with the Rangers, and Gomes says the squad was primed to meet the difficult challenge they posed.
“We expected it, to be honest. Before the game we said that it wasn’t going to be easy. We had to be very, very strong at the back, and when we had the opportunity to score, we did.”
One feature of QPR’s game-plan was the long ball. Former England national team manager Steve McClaren evidently wanted the ball-playing ability offered by Freeman to be complemented by the physicality of striker Matt Smith.
The 29-year old — standing at an enormous 6’6” — couldn’t fashion any clear shots at goal, but was nonetheless a hassle for centre-backs Christian Kabasele and Miguel Britos. Gomes, being the last line of defence, was called into action a number of times to deal with Smith’s considerable aerial threat.
“I spoke with the goalkeeper coach and with Javi before the game, so we knew they were going to use that kind of game. I was prepared for it.”
Watford currently sit 8th in the top flight, with the possibility of Europa League football next season growing as the weeks fly by. Following Friday’s result, the squad now know they are just one more win away from the semi-finals of England’s most prized knockout competition.
The credentials of this impressive campaign for the Hornets are increasing continually, and, on top of upholding their positive league form, Gomes feels that he and his teammates can go all the way in the FA Cup — if they yield the correct mentality.
“Maybe this could be the year for us,” he said. “We need to believe. The boys in the dressing room have already been speaking about it. It’s about believing, to believe and work hard like we did today.”
The last time Watford reached the quarter-finals was in 2016, the first season of their current Premier League stint under Quique Sanchez Flores. They in fact went as far as the last four that year, before a heartbreaking loss to Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium put an end to the fairytale run.
Gomes was first-choice goalkeeper back then, and surrendered his spot in the first 11 to Costel Panitlimon for anything other than league football. This term, though, the Brazilian plays second fiddle to Ben Foster and has appeared in all three cup games, conceding no goals.
Despite producing good performances, the 38-year old is not one bit remorseful that he hasn’t earned any league minutes this season, accepting and embracing the roles of responsibility shared by him and Foster in each competition.
“It’s amazing. For me it’s about trying to keep Ben’s level — he’s amazing at the moment and is playing very well, so when I come to a game like this, I have to be prepared to keep his level.
“I believe we’re able to help each other. We are a group of players that, whether you’re playing or not, are going to be happy. Of course any player wants to play, but the most important thing is to respect the one that is playing.”
The backing of the manager
Despite Foster’s obvious status as Watford’s first-choice goalkeeper, Gracia is keen to hold on to Gomes’ services should the former PSV Eindhoven and Tottenham Hotspur stopper decide against retiring in the summer.
“I think his contract ends this season but we will have to speak about that later in the year,” the Spaniard said. “We will not decide anything now because we don’t really know what he wants to do next season. First of all we have to see what is his desire and then after that we will have a look.
“I would like to have the goalkeepers we have this season for a long time because all of them are good keepers. They are most importantly good keepers but also good people as well.”
Beyond his shot-stopping ability, Gracia holds the presence of Gomes’ leadership qualities in the highest regard. He was a mentor to Richarlison last season and is now displaying his professionalism and humility as second-choice to Foster, attributes which the Spaniard believes are priceless.
“Maybe it’s something I can’t explain with words because it’s very special to me to have a keeper like Gomes with his attitude every day helping the team.
“You know he’s ready to help the team every day and when you decide he has to play he shows his quality and I think I’m very lucky to have the keepers I have. Not only as players but as people as well because they are very good professionals.”