Under-23's 25/01/2019

U23 Report & Reaction: Coventry City 1-0 Watford

By Kevin Affleck

New signing Adam Parkes showed why the club moved to sign him from Southampton with a very competent display in goal for the Under-23 side this afternoon.

The 19-year-old former England youth international was a professional at St Mary’s and was identified by Academy Goalkeeping Coach Graham Stack as a player who could fill the void left by Sam Howes’ departure on loan to Eastbourne Borough and help ease the burden on Dante Baptiste and James Hoskins, who are doubling up as the ‘keepers for the Under-18s and the Under-23s.

Parkes made his first appearance since signing against Coventry and he pulled off two superb second-half saves, one low to his right and the other a reactionary effort to palm the ball over the bar.

“I thought he was terrific,” said Darren Sarll, the Head of the club’s Academy. “Really terrific. He’s going to be with us for the next three or four months and hopefully a lot longer after that. I thought he played well and he’ll only get better with our training, with our coaching programme and working with Graham Stack. He is going to be a good goalkeeper.”

Academy goalkeeping coach Graham Stack has a new protégé to work with

Parkes could do little about the winning goal on 69 minutes scored by David Bremang, a strike that brought a halt to the Hornets’ two-match winning run in the Professional Development League.

“We haven’t done too much wrong, but that’s football,” said Sarll. “Sometimes you make mistakes and get away with it and sometimes you don’t. In this instance, for the majority of the game it was pretty much all us. I was a bit disappointed in our style of play sometimes. We got frustrated and that happens with young players. I think we got frustrated that we didn’t get the reward for the good things we did. We feel like we were the better side and that we’ve left something behind, we’ve left some points out there.”

Ryan Maclean's versatility has impressed Darren Sarll

Imaad Sankoh and Dan Phillips again put in a shift in midfield, scrapping and working their socks off in a bid to try and get things going from the middle of the park, but it was another first-year scholar who really caught the eye of Sarll.

“I thought a real positive was seeing how Ryan Maclean would cope,” said Sarll of the central midfielder who has played in both full-back positions in recent matches. “He has again shown a good temperament, an intelligence to a role that he looks so comfortable in. 

“Every time the likes of Maclean, Imaad and Dom Hutchinson are being exposed to this level, Watford win. I see first-year scholars playing in the 23s like some Academy managers would see if their lads were playing in the first team. They will only be better for playing in these situations. Every time six out of 11 apprentices play in our team and we are competitive, this club is winning. Sometimes we’ll beat QPR, who had seven Championship players, and sometimes you’ll lose to Coventry, who had no Championship players. That’s the way the game goes sometimes.”

HORNETS | Parkes (GK); Maclean, Mukena, Tricker, Leighton; Sankoh, Phillips, Charles (C), Bennetts (Hutchinson 70); Cassidy, Folivi. 

Subs not used | Hoskins (GK), Holsgrove, Adebiyi.

First Team 25/01/2019

Gracia: “The FA Cup Is Really Important For The Club”

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

By Kevin Affleck

Javi Gracia was appointed as Watford Head Coach largely on the back of the body of work he put together at Málaga. 

There he oversaw a historic first half of the season in 2014/15, equalling the club’s best ever position at the midway point of La Liga and plotting a run to the quarter-final of the Copa Del Rey, their furthest ever run in Spain’s premier club knockout competition. 

Gracia is now doing the business in the league with the Hornets, engineering a position from which they should achieve at least their highest ever Premier League finish and, with a fair wind, could finish as the best of the rest. Now, though, Gracia is out to show his pedigree when it comes to knockout football. 

“We would like to play more games in the FA Cup,” he said ahead of the fourth-round tie on Tyneside on Saturday. “It’s a short road to enjoy to be able to play in a final. We are going to make the effort to try to achieve the possibility to play more games. Everything happens in football, but what I can tell the supporters is that we are ready, that we are looking forward to the game and everybody in the squad and the staff know the FA Cup is really important for the club. We will try to do our best.”

You could count on one hand the times this season when the team could be accused of not being at its best: at home to Bournemouth, at home to Burnley and at home to Newcastle. Even away at Newcastle, when they lost 1-0, they were good, particularly in a dominant first half. 

“I remember we played well at Newcastle,” said Gracia. “We had a good performance, but it wasn’t enough to get a good result. Playing away we dominated the game, creating enough chances to win the game. Then we managed to lose.”

The one at Vicarage Road last month was more of an arm wrestle and Rafa Benítez squeezed the life out of the game before Abdoulaye Doucouré popped up with a late equaliser.

“The second one was a close game,“ said Gracia. “They started winning and after it was tough for us. We had more possession again and chances to score, but it was a more equal game. Maybe now, in the third game, we will be able to get the victory. We try to get the victory we didn’t get in the two games before.”

Benítez has never said as much but you get the impression from the way the Spaniard expertly sets his team up that he is still mindful of the way Gracia did a job on his Real Madrid side in September 2015. It’s almost a battle of wills. Gracia took his un-fancied side to Madrid and managed to return with a goalless draw. Atlético Madrid and Barcelona were the only other two sides to prevent free-scoring Real from scoring at home that season.

“I remember we did very good defensive work,” said Gracia. “You have to do it playing against Real Madrid. You have to do it playing against Rafa. The results weren’t very good for Real then. I remember it was the game where Pablo Fornals made his debut. We played well, we were disciplined and we got a very good point.”

Gracia is extremely courteous with members of the opposition coaching staff, but he’ll offer a particularly warm handshake to a member of Benítez's coaching staff at St James' Park on Saturday.

“I played with Mikel Atía at Real Sociedad,” said Gracia. “He was a good defender, a central defender. He was my teammate, but he was my friend as well. It's nice to play against Newcastle as we have the chance to see each other.”

Atía will be thrilled with how his countryman has performed at Vicarage Road. Gracia has given the Hornets a real identity and won 15 of his 41 games.

“It has all been so very, very fast, but I think in all this time the results are quite good,” he said. “But you know we are always very demanding. We can do better, there is still room to get better and it's our ambition to try to improve, knowing it's not easy to get results. We've done well because the players have done some very good work in this period.”