First Team 14/02/2019

Gracia: “It’s A Final For Us”

Watch Javi Gracia's pre-match press conference above, or read on below.

By Kevin Affleck

Whatever changes Javi Gracia makes on Friday night, whoever is rested and whoever is given a chance to shine, the one thing you can count on is that the Hornets will be defensively well-organised.

The Golden Boys have kept five clean sheets in their last seven games and really worked on the ugly side of the game since they shipped three in six minutes at Bournemouth.

Whatever the combination at the heart of the defence has been, be it Ben Wilmot and Miguel Britos, Britos and Cathcart or Cathcart and Adrian Mariappa, the team have tightened up significantly of late and only Heung Min-Son and Fernando Llorente have managed to find a way through. The only other goal they conceded was the own goal by Cathcart at Selhurst Park.

Ben Foster has claimed most of the credit thanks to some international-class performances in goal, but Gracia feels the full-backs, the centre-halves and the midfield four should also be recognised.

“All the goalkeepers are showing a good level, but when you speak about defensive work, I prefer to talk about all of the team,” said Gracia. “When you make a good defensive work collectively, you are able to reduce shots on target and you are able to defend better. It's something relative to all the players.”

The Hornets will have to have their defensive wits about them at Loftus Road on Friday night. The Hoops scored three in the second half against Birmingham on Saturday and have only scored one less goal at home this season than second-place Leeds.

“They are playing well,” said Gracia of the team sitting 16th in the Championship. “It’s true in the last games they didn’t get good results, but in many games they have been close to getting them. Against Bristol City [on Tuesday] they conceded a penalty at the end and in the game before, against Birmingham, they started losing 4-0 at half-time, were able to score three goals and missed a late penalty. They always compete very well. They beat Portsmouth [in the last round] and I know it will be a very demanding game for us.”

The Hornets are one win away from being in the quarter-final and there is plenty of chatter among the fans about a trip to Wembley. But you won’t catch Gracia counting any chickens.

“I focus to win the next game,” said Gracia. “I respect a lot the next rival, this time QPR. It’s a lack of respect to speak about the semi-final or final. We have a very demanding game and we have to be ready to compete in that game. It’s special because we have the chance to win one game and achieve something for the club, but all the games are important and we try to prepare as good as possible.”

Gracia will treat this game like a final as he knows there is no next game to bounce back in if they were to lose and get knocked out. It’s win or bust.

“We have to be ready for a final, it’s a final for us,” said Gracia. “If you lose, you don’t have a chance to play in the FA Cup. We know we have to be ready to compete on the pitch as well as show our ability. We have to be ready for that. I don't know if we will be able to achieve something special in the FA Cup, but we try for sure.”

The match at Loftus Road is Gracia’s sixth away from home in all cup competitions since he joined last January.

“I prefer to play home if we are able to,” said Gracia. “It will be good for us, for our supporters, playing home, but first of all we have to compete and win the next game. We just need to compete and do well. There are chances to get to the sixth round, but it depends on many circumstances. We will try to do our best.”

First Team 13/02/2019

Team News: Queens Park Rangers

Watch Javi Gracia's pre-match press conference above, or read on below.

By Kevin Affleck

Sebastian Prödl and Roberto Pereyra have both returned to full training, leaving Javi Gracia with the decision as to whether to include them in the squad for the FA Cup clash at Queens Park Rangers.

Prödl has been out since October, firstly with a hamstring injury he sustained after coming on as a late substitute against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and then with a knee problem he picked up in training. 

Pereyra sustained a hamstring injury at Wembley Stadium against Tottenham Hotspur and missed the last two against Brighton and Everton, but he is now back in the mix.

“At this moment we only have Isaac Success and Kiko Femenía injured,” said Gracia. “Sebastian Prödl and Roberto Pereyra are training with the team, but we'll decide tomorrow if they are options to play or not.”

Pereyra would be more likely to be involved than Prödl as Gracia never likes to play someone who hasn't got a good body of training work under their belt.

“Pereyra started to train two days ago, so we'll decide tomorrow,” said Gracia. “It depends on different circumstances.”

The absence of Femenía is a blow to Gracia as he hoped to have him available last weekend against Everton.

“Kiko is improving,” said Gracia. “He started to train at the end of the last week, but he didn’t feel well so the medical staff decided to stop. He’s now training out of the group but he will be ready soon.”

The Head Coach made 11 changes in both rounds three and four of the cup, but they were largely because there was a Premier League game four days before the Woking match and one four days after the Newcastle United clash. With a full week to prepare for the game against Cardiff City, Gracia may not feel the need to make as many tweaks against QPR.

“This game will be different because we’ve had all this week to prepare and we don’t have a game in midweek,” he said. “We have more time to recover and more time to prepare. We will choose the best option. I think a lot about the team and I always to choose the best option. I don’t know how many changes I’m going to do. I only try to choose the best option.”