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Javi Gracia heaps praise on super-sub Andre Gray after Watford reach FA Cup semi-finals

Gray scored the winner just three minutes after coming on.


Matchwinner Andre Gray has drawn praise from his manager (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Matchwinner Andre Gray has drawn praise from his manager (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Matchwinner Andre Gray has drawn praise from his manager (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Javi Gracia praised the match-winning Andre Gray after the striker’s goal secured the 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace that sent Watford into the FA Cup semi-finals.

The striker had been on the Vicarage Road pitch for only three minutes when his classy, first-time finish from Roberto Pereyra’s cross restored the lead Etienne Capoue had earlier given them and that Michy Batshuayi had cancelled out.

Watford will therefore contest a semi-final at Wembley three years after Palace eliminated them at the same stage and the same venue, and via the same 2-1 scoreline with which they have now beaten their visitors three times this season.

For the second time in three matches the 27-year-old Gray had come off the bench to score their winning goal, and Gracia said: “We put Andre on the pitch, he always has a good chance to score and scores important goals for the team, he deserves it and I am happy for him.

“It is amazing for all of us, for the players, staff and supporters.

“It is an important day to have the chance to enjoy a semi-final, we are keeping the same level, competing well and that is our target in this moment.

“It’s our strength, our solidarity, our behaviour as a team (that is important). I spoke with them before about playing as a team, always playing as a team and that we are stronger than them if we play as a team.

“We can achieve important things for the club (if we play like that). If we don’t, then you don’t have any chance.

“We are all very proud of our players.”

Palace had been further undermined by a hamstring injury that unexpectedly ruled out the influential Zaha, when Mamadou Sakho is already absent and his replacement Scott Dann had been forced to withdraw when falling ill.

They had struggled throughout the first half and Batshuayi’s goal, which came when their former defender Adrian Mariappa gifted the striker possession, was followed by Watford again taking control and regaining the lead, ultimately making Hodgson criticise his team’s “game management”.

“We were unlucky to lose a player of Zaha’s quality before the game,” the 71-year-old said. “We don’t really want to go into an important quarter-final without players of his ability and his importance. So that was a bit unfortunate as, of course, has been the Mamadou Sakho injury.

“There was a chance we could go on to win it (once Batshuayi scored).”

Asked about Zaha’s expected recovery time, the Palace manager then responded: “You never know with hamstring injuries and strains in the hamstring. You have to be very, very careful especially with players as explosive as Wilf.

“He felt it after the Brighton game (last week) and didn’t train during the week. It would have been an enormous risk to play him; a risk of much more serious injury. With the two weeks now coming up, we can only hope he will recover in time when we play our next game.”