With the game moved to Friday evening so that Sky could show our match with Chelsea on Monday, Friday morning was spent trying to get everything at work in order so that I could enjoy my afternoon off. A text from Pete brought my planned departure forward to give me time to meet him for a lunchtime pint in the Doric Arch. As we queued to board the train we spotted Paolo de Toffol, prompting speculation as to why he hadn’t travelled with the rest of the team on the previous day’s flight.
On checking in to the hotel in Liverpool, I was told that I had been upgraded to a superior room, which meant there was a little gift basket in my room containing chocolate, jelly beans and crisps. I also had a great view of the Liver Building and the Mersey which was rather lovely. But we weren’t there for the view so, having dumped our overnight things, we headed for the pre-match pub. We were not the first to arrive as some of the North-West ‘Orns were already in situ and, as is always the case, our group quickly grew and the beer and conversation flowed. There has been a lot of discussion about our poor away form lately, but it was still a shock when Andy, who is a regular at our Northern excursions, said that he hadn’t seen us win all season.
When we got off the bus at Goodison Park, the rain was starting so we made a rapid beeline for the turnstiles, an extra motivation being the announcement on social media before the game that “the first drink” would be on Walter this evening. I have to say that having enjoyed a pint at Euston, red wine in first class on the train and more beer at the pre-match gathering, this was most certainly not my first of the day, but I am not one to pass up a free drink so I picked up my voucher from the steward inside the turnstiles and exchanged it for a (small) bottle of red wine. The atmosphere in the concourse was particularly jovial with chants of “Beers up, if you love Walter” and “Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a beer.”
On reaching our seats, there was an appreciation of what a great (proper) ground Goodison Park is. So much nicer than the soulless bowls that so many teams are moving to. It was also lovely to see a banner in the home stands supporting Aaron Lennon who has been hospitalized due to mental health issues. I wish him a speedy recovery.
Team news was that Mazzarri had made three changes with Holebas, Behrami and Deeney replacing Amrabat, Cleverley (who was ineligible to play against his parent club) and Niang. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kabasele, Prödl, Mariappa; Janmaat, Doucouré, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Okaka and Deeney.
Everton had the first chance of the game with a shot from Barkley but Gomes was down quickly to make the save. Watford’s first goal attempt came from a corner as Holebas crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked. The next chance for the home side also came from a corner which Jagielka flicked goalwards needing Gomes to pull off a decent save to keep it out. Okaka was the next to threaten, going on a run before unleashing a shot that flew wide of near post. The Hornets nearly got themselves into trouble with a short back pass that Mirallas chased but, thankfully, Gomes was first to the ball. The rather impressive youngster, Tom Davies (to whom I took an instant dislike, possibly due to his resemblance to Robbie Savage), then hit a cracking shot from distance that Gomes met with a flying save. A lovely passing move featuring Okaka and Deeney finished with Doucouré shooting straight at Robles. The Hornets came closer to opening the scoring as a Holebas cross was headed just over by Mariappa.
Watford’s ridiculous run of injuries to defenders continued when Kabasele went down with an apparent hamstring pull. Given that we had no central defender on the bench, there was some speculation in the away end about who would replace him, the answer was Zúñiga, who took Kabasele’s place in the back three until Holebas told him not to be ridiculous and swapped places. Towards the end of the half, a Behrami tackle led to some handbags as Janmaat stupidly got involved until Prödl stepped in and pushed him away. Both Behrami and Janmaat were booked for their trouble. Towards the end of the half, Watford won a free kick in a decent position but, instead of directing it goalwards, Capoue chose to pass to Holebas on the wing and any possibility of a goal attempt disappeared. So we reached the break goalless after an enjoyable half in which the visitors had put on a decent performance.
At half time, there were celebrations on the pitch as the Everton U23s received their trophy for winning Premier League 2. The stewards then took to the pitch to celebrate being voted best stewards in the Premier League for the eighth year in succession. An impressive record and, it has to be said, they are rather lovely so I was happy to join the applause.
The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as a cross was punched by Gomes to Schneiderlin who belted the ball over the bar. Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as Janmaat exchanged passes with Okaka before feeding Deeney who, under challenge from Jagielka, could only direct his shot just wide of the near post. But it was the home side who took the lead just before the hour mark, as Barkley picked up the ball and was allowed a free run at goal, Prödl failed to put in a tackle and actually moved away from the shot before it flew past the diving Gomes. Another frustrating goal to give away. Everton then had a decent shout for a penalty as Gomes spilled a long-range shot from Mirallas, Lukaku looked ready to pounce but was brought down by Janmaat. The referee waved play on, but I couldn’t help thinking that Watford got away with that one. Everton had another chance to increase their lead as Schneiderlin met a corner from Baines, but he headed it over the bar. Okaka, who was being given no protection by the referee, broke into the box, he was tackled but did very well to win the ball back at which point he was adjudged to have committed a foul, a ridiculous decision. Holebas picked up his 13th yellow card of the season for complaining about something (nothing new there). During the game we had been regaled by chants for José from Colin and Flo who were sitting behind us. “Hole, Hole, Hole, bas bas bas” was good, but “He always wins the ball, he never smiles at all” won my vote.
With 20 minutes to go Mazzarri made another substitution with Amrabat coming on in place of Behrami. Nordin was in action almost immediately crossing for Okaka, whose goalbound header was blocked. At the other end, a shot from Lukaku was cleared off the line by Mariappa. As the travelling Hornets started the 72nd minute chorus of “One Graham Taylor”, it was lovely to see the Everton fans in the block to our left getting to their feet to join in with the applause. There was then a rather bizarre pitch invasion as a couple of 10 year olds went belting across the pitch towards Robles, they were hugged by the smiling keeper before one ran off behind the goal while the other headed back to his seat in the block next to us to chants of “Sign him up” from the away fans. They were both escorted from the ground and the stewards doubled up around the perimeter of the pitch. Watford had a decent chance to equalize as Mariappa met a corner from Capoue with a header that flew just wide. Into the last 10 minutes of the game and each side made substitutions. Goalscorer, Barkley, and Mirallas made way for Barry and Koné for the home side while Niang replaced Capoue for the visitors. Okaka had a great chance to level the score as he received the ball in the box with his back to goal, turned and shot but Robles was equal to it. Watford continued to push for the equalizer as Niang curled a shot towards the far corner, but Barry got his head in the way to block it. At the other end Gomes stopped a shot from Valencia. There was one last attack from the visitors in time added on, but a cross from Amrabat flew over Okaka’s head and the Hornets fell to their fourth defeat in a row.
Despite the result, most of the 680 Watford fans who had travelled to Everton appreciated the efforts of the players. It had been a lively performance which was only let down by the finishing. Mariappa, who had kept Lukaku pretty quiet after the departure of Kabasele, looked really disappointed as he applauded the fans, and he certainly cheered me up no end by taking his shirt off and giving it to a fan. Deeney followed suit and gestured to the other players around him to do the same. Sadly there was one among the travelling fans who thought it appropriate to abuse the players. There was a look of horror on the faces of the Everton stewards as Deeney crossed the hoardings into the away stand. He listened to what the fella had to say and then headed over to talk to Flora, one of our young disabled fans, and hand her his boots. Sadly, Mr Angry couldn’t leave it and carried on abusing the Watford captain at which point he was grabbed by the police and stewards and escorted out of the ground. On a more pleasant note, as the Everton fans applauded their team on their end of season lap of honour, they also took time to applaud the Watford crowd and we replied in kind.
We headed back to the city for a post-match pint. The highlights of the game were showing in the pub and backed up my impression that Watford had made some decent chances. We were also engaged in conversation with some Everton fans, all of whom were delightful. Liverpool really is a fantastic city.
Then it was back to the hotel for the late night shenanigans in the bar. Notable sights were a woman draped in a Belgian flag, no idea if she was supporting Lukaku and Mirallas or Kabasele. Then a bride in full white dress appeared to get a round in, leaving the bar with a tray of drinks. We were then joined by another group of Watford fans, so our attention went back to the post-match analysis which went on until we closed the bar at 3am.
Considering the Everton game in isolation, it would be seen as a decent performance against a good team. But, at this stage of the season and with the poor run of late, it was just another in a series of disappointing results. Mazzarri comes in for a lot of criticism, but so many of our defeats have been down to individual mistakes and he cannot be held responsible for that. With Chelsea having won the league title on Friday evening, we can only hope that they are on the beach by Monday and that Hull don’t beat Palace. Having to face Manchester City next Sunday needing points just doesn’t bear thinking about.