“We have got players who were near the first team who’ve had chances now and not taken them and they could do.”
This was the typically honest evaluation of Watford head coach Nigel Pearson following his side blew a 3-0 lead to draw at home to League One strugglers Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup third round at the beginning of the month.
Striker Andre Gray was one of a small number of mature players given the nod from the beginning in that tie. However, the club one-time record signing failed to catch the opportunity. Miserably so.
Up against a third-tier defence, which had surrendered 43 goals in 24 matches before their trip to Vicarage Road, Gray barely had a sniff. In actuality, he completed just seven moves in 90 minutes, had a solitary touch in the playground and didn’t attempt a single shot of his own.
In mitigation, he’d put up Roberto Pereyra’s 34th-minute strike, even though it was more a case of turning into traffic and the Argentine lashing home the loose ball than it had been choosing his team-mate’s run out. Since that time the 28-year-old has accrued only ten minutes in the Premier League.
Based on reports, Championship marketing hopefuls Leeds United were eager to take the prior Burnley striker in a knockdown #2million — a substantial hit on the #18million paid for the forwards few summers ago.
But talking to The Athletic’s Ornstein & Chapman podcast, Leeds reporter Phil Hay maintained the Hornets have’softened their position’ on Gray in an effort to get him off the books this month and might now be open to a loan change instead.
“They have enquired about Andre Gray down in Watford, they were originally told no about him, but Watford have softened their position and I believe that they’re open to advance offers for him,” Hay told Ornstein & Chapman.
Gray has been effective stepping off the bench for the Hornets than starting games. By no means lightning-quick, his pace in behind stretching tired defences and made him a helpful advantage in tight games.
Forty-three of his 79 Premier League appearances for Watford have come off the seat, meaning a record of 16 top-flight goals in 3,567 minutes equates to 39 matches, just over a complete season, and 0.4 goals per 90.
But he’s impressed as a starter. His first touch is unusually bad for a professional footballer — albeit one who left it into the fulltime positions relatively late in his career — although his hold-up play is only marginally better.
There have been mitigating conditions. Gray was not Marco Silva’s decision when he came at Vicarage Road in the summer of 2017 and completed his inaugural season with only five goals. Equally, the amount of times he’s been set up as a lone forward has not helped. His finest screens have come when as a part of a two with Troy Deeney typically the striker he thrives alongside.
However, with Pearson favouring a 4-2-3-1 shape, there’s absolutely not any room for Gray.
Leeds aren’t the only interested party. Reports claim Nottingham Forest will also be keen on Gray. A move to the Championship, where he has 43 goals in 92 looks, could be just what he wants to kickstart his career.
For Watford fans, there is no more any shade of gray to the debate. It is black and white: Andre Gray is not suited for the Premier League anymore.