The previous two instalments of this fixture this season suggested this was never going to be one for the ages and it so proved. Watford never played well by any stretch of the imagination, although they did get better as the game worse on, but they did just enough and won it with a fine goal from Andre Gray just past the hour mark and then the clincher from Isaac Success late on.
Gracia will not give two hoots really about the imperfect nature of this one. He got the opportunity to give some minutes to some of the fringe players of his squad, managed to give some kingpins the afternoon off and yet managed to ease through to the next round with plenty to spare. Job done, boxes ticked, let’s all settle down for the draw on Monday night.
Watford made most of the running in what was, if we are honest, rather pedestrian fare served up in the first half. The two sides played like exactly what they were: two XIs put together this week who were very much looking to find some cohesion and combination play on the hoof. They only managed four shots on goal between them, one of which fell into the on-target category. And that came from Domingos Quina after five minutes.
The Newcastle defenders clearly hadn’t been briefed about his penchant for shooting from long-range, not been made away of his his beauties against Reading and Cardiff, because they stood off him and allowed him to unleash one that dipped, swerved and forced Freddie Woodman into acrobatic action.
And that really was about it. There was a free-kick that went close from Nathaniel Chalobah after a driving run from Daryl Janmaat and then Isaac Success shinned one wide after a cross from Janmaat. The pickings were extremely slim.
The good thing was that Newcastle barely threatened and the biggest cheer from the home fans was when Adam Masina unceremoniously launched a clearance against the roof of the stand. There was a nice tackle from the excellent Miguel Britos to stop Jacob Murphy getting a cross in from the right, but it said much about the first half that it ended up being among the talking points.
Gray was peripheral in the first half, very much finding his feet after an injury layoff but he got into his stride at the start of the second half and fired off a shot on the run. It was off target, but the connection was sweet and hinted at brighter things to come.
Not long after, on 61 minutes, Gray was dead-eyed with the sort of chance he thrives on. Will Hughes played him down the inside right with a lovely reverse pass and Gray raced onto it and lashed it first time, low past Freddie Woodman. The Newcastle ‘keeper was simply beaten by the pace and quick-fire nature of it. It was classic Gray.
The Hornets never really looked liked doing anything other than progressing safely into the next round thereafter. Rafa Benítez threw on Ayoze Pérez and Christian Atsu in a bid to liven his side up, but the only time they really threatened was when Ben Wilmot had to clear one off the line from Javier Manquillo, after Gomes had been chipped by the wing-back.
Gracia had no thought about shoring things up and holding on, opting instead to sling on Adalberto Peñaranda for his first taste of action against a Premier League club. And the Venezuelan finished the match with his first contribution to a goal in a Watford shirt. He got hold of a counter-attack, played in Quina down the left and watched the midfielder lay the ball on a plate for Success to bundle in.
The Watford bench erupted as they knew that was it. Gracia punched the air and someone slammed their hand on the roof of the dugout. There was no way back for Newcastle from there and there would be no dreaded replay. Everyone connected with Watford left feeling a lot happier than they did the last time we were up here.