Javi Gracia does not usually openly criticise referees and he was no different after Watford’s 1-1 draw at Southampton. But today – and to the amusement of the assembled media in his post-match press conference – he chose to turn a blind eye to both big decisions made by referee Simon Hooper and his assistants.
The Hornets battled back to earn a point after Jose Holebas’ 82nd-minute leveller cancelled out Manolo Gabbiadini’s first-half opener. Prior to the equaliser though, the Hornets had a clear penalty rejected when Ryan Bertrand scythed down Nathaniel Chalobah, while the Saints had very good reason to feel aggrieved as well when Charlie Austin had a goal ruled out for controversial offside decision against Maya Yoshida.
“To be honest I didn’t see it from my position,” Gracia said when asked about the penalty decision. “It’s impossible to know what happened. But after asking Chalobah he told me it was clear and then it maybe changes the game from that moment. But I prefer to respect the referee’s decisions. Their job is difficult.”
However, when it was pointed out Mark Hughes was very angry about Austin’s disallowed goal and asked how he would feel had the boot been on the other foot, Gracia prompted laughter by responding: “If I didn’t see the penalty…”
Reflecting on his side’s performance, Gracia said: “It was a difficult game for us. We started well and created some chances and missed them. After that Southampton were playing better. They created chances and scored one goal and after that we were improving.
“In the second half we showed character and ambition to score and to get a better result. We scored the goal and maybe, in the last minutes, we had the chance to score (again) but knowing all the game there were different moments where Southampton played well and created some chances.
“I know it wasn’t the best game, but we are keeping a good level, competing well, creating today more chances than the opponent, more shots and more possession.
“It’s not enough but it’s something good for us in that all the games we are competing well and in different circumstances I can say I am proud of my players.”