With Watford playing for a place in the FA Cup semi-finals tomorrow, while pushing for seventh place in the Premier League at the same time, Javi Gracia is understandably happy about the way this season has gone so far.

The Spaniard has exceeded expectations on his first full season in charge at Vicarage Road and he has won over supporters and pundits alike with his side’s impressive showing. 

However, the former Rubin Kazan, Malaga and Osasuna coach is more modest about his achievements. He believes that his real success has been to instil both a sense of belief and belonging in his squad, which has resulted in progress on and off the pitch.

“Its important to know the squad you have and how you can, at the end of the season, have all the players feeling they belong to this club,” he said.

“To have that feeling of belonging, it’s important for us and I think we are doing a good season for that reason.”

Gracia has shown this season that he is not afraid to chop and change his starting line-up and has brushed off a barrage of criticism for it throughout the campaign.

He was famously branded a “disgrace” by Chris Sutton for making 11 changes away at Newcastle United earlier in the FA Cup, but silenced the pundit’s critique with a comfortable 2-0 victory.

Now, with everyone trying to predict his team selections, the head coach simply wishes that people respect his prerogative to use his full squad and to accept that he always chooses his team with victory in mind.

He said: “I know what my players are able to do and I would like the rest of the people to respect my decision or respect our players because when I choose some of them it’s because, for the next game, I really think they are the best option for us.

“When we are in March and we have all the squad ready, all the squad motivated and looking forward to the next game, I think it’s good for us and maybe you can’t achieve it if you manage your team in another way.”

One player likely to start for Watford this weekend is goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes who could well be playing his last game at Vicarage Road for the Hornets.

The Brazilian has played every FA Cup match so far this season and is yet to concede a goal in the tournament.

However, Gracia insists that sentiment is not driving his decision to pick the goalkeeper, only ability.

“If Heurelho plays it’s because he deserves it,” he said.
“He’s not playing because it’s his last game or he can play another year, it doesn’t depend on that.

“It only depends on our chances and our options to win the next game.

“I would like all my players to play more time, but the time is the time, I cant do anything.

“I only have to choose the best option and I try to be fair with all of them.”

Saturday’s game against Crystal Palace will be a quarter-final by title, but Gracia wants his players to treat it like a final in order to receive their reward, with all the club aware of how much it means.

He said: “It’s very important for me. The next game is always the most important, we know this will be a final because if you don’t win you don’t have the chance to play in the semi-final, but in this moment, I think all the squad ,all the players, all the staff, all the club know how important is the next game. 

“We are going to do our best.”