One of my oldest and dearest friends lives on Merseyside, so I took the opportunity of the game away at Everton to spend a weekend by the seaside. Saturday afternoon we had a lovely walk along the beach to Southport finishing in the Arts Centre there. As we enjoyed some refreshments, it was approaching 3pm and I had my usual panic that I was supposed to be somewhere else. My phone took an age to connect and confirm that ours was not one of the games that had kicked off and I could happily spend the rest of my afternoon wandering around the exhibitions.
Having heard of the travel chaos on the West Coast line on Sunday, it was a relief to have a short trip on local rail to meet up with friends. The pre-match pub appeared surprisingly empty until I made my way to the back room and found it packed with Hornets. At the appointed time, we piled out of the pub on to the bus to the ground, where we found ourselves sitting with some young Everton fans who bemoaned their season so far and, a little surprisingly for me, the loss of Tom Cleverley.
On arrival at Goodison Park, the steward outside the turnstiles was lovely, although I suspect that her decision not to perform a thorough search of my bag was influenced by my pointing out that my huge rucksack was full of dirty clothes. After taking our seats, I was rather perturbed to see a man in a Sparta Prague hat a couple of rows behind me. Talk about a bad omen. I fixed him with a very cross stare, but he remained oblivious.
Team news was two changes from the Stoke game with Hughes making his first league start for the Hornets in place of Capoue and Gray in for the suspended Deeney. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Kabasele, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Doucouré; Carrillo, Hughes, Richarlison; Gray. As the Watford team was announced, Cleverley’s name was cheered by the home fans, which was rather lovely, as was seeing the team run out to Z-cars at an away ground. I know that piece of music has more significance in Liverpool than Watford, but it still makes me feel at home.
Just before kick-off, they held a minute’s silence for Remembrance Day, but the accompanying rendition of the last post caused some confusion meaning the crowd erupted when the music finished while the players and officials were still standing with bowed heads.
Once the game kicked off, there was an early chance for the visitors as Femenía crossed for Richarlison who was unable to connect. There was very little action then until the 21st minute when Everton broke and Gomes reacted well to stop the shot from Baines. The home side had another chance after Carrillo lost out in midfield allowing Davies to advance on goal, but he decided to shoot from distance and his effort was high and wide. It was Watford’s turn to attack then as Hughes played the ball out to Femenía whose low cross went begging. The Spaniard then went for goal himself but his shot from distance flew well over the bar.
Watford’s best chance of the half came from a lovely move as Gray held off a defender, turned and advanced before feeding Richarlison who beat the goalkeeper, but his shot, from an acute angle, hit the side netting. Doucouré was the next to threaten but, in the process, he lost his 100% record of scoring from shots on target as Pickford made the save.
As has been the case a number of times this season, it had been a rather dull first half. The Hornets had a good spell late on, but didn’t test Pickford in the Everton goal.
Watford started the second half brilliantly as Gray fed Carrillo who passed to Richarlison, the young Brazilian rounded the keeper and found the net to send the away fans crazy, with the possible exception of those who had not returned from getting their half time refreshments. The visitors threatened again as Holebas crossed from a deep position, but Gray was unable to connect. Jose then tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar. Everton really should have equalized after Niasse beat Britos and crossed for Sigurdsson, but Gomes pulled off a great save to frustrate the Icelander, Rooney hit a follow-up shot, but Gomes was equal to that as well. Sadly the Watford keeper was injured while performing his heroics. He was down receiving treatment for a considerable time before emerging with a bandage around his head. Brief hopes that he would carry on were dashed when he was escorted to the dugout and replaced by Karnezis, making his Watford debut. Everton also made their first substitution at this time, replacing Baningime with Lookman.
The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead as Gray went on a run and put in a decent cross for Hughes, but Will met it at an angle and couldn’t direct his header towards the goal. But Watford were not to be denied for long and the second goal came on 63 minutes when Kabasele rose to meet a corner from Holebas and headed home. At this point, the Everton fans started streaming out and it all looked very positive for the Hornets. However, there was a note of caution from a young boy behind us who nervously commented that there were 26 minutes left. I thought that he was rather young to be so fatalistic, but there turned out to be a wise head on those young shoulders as Everton pulled a goal back within minutes. Niasse advanced towards the Watford box and, for some inexplicable reason, Karnezis decided to come out of his box to meet him, the Everton man skipped around him and was facing an open goal, Kabasele slid in to make a tackle but the ball drifted in to the net. It has to be said that, had Niasse missed, the ref would have had to give a penalty and Kabasele would probably have been sent off. It went from bad to worse on 73 minutes as a shot from Kenny was blocked by Holebas for a corner which Baines delivered and Calvert-Lewin (on for Rooney) headed home for the equaliser.
Watford’s injury woes continued as Kabasele went down in the Everton box and stayed down as the game continued for some time. After he finally received treatment, he left the field on a stretcher and Mariappa came on in his place. Watford pushed to regain the lead and Richarlison should have done better from a Holebas corner, but he headed over the target. Then Hughes put in a low cross that was blocked when maybe a shot would have been the better option. Watford had another chance from a corner but this time it was Mariappa who headed wide. Then disaster struck as Holebas chased Lennon and appeared to slip and take him down just inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Had Gomes still been in goal, I would have hoped for a penalty save, but Baines made no mistake and Watford, from being two goals ahead found themselves going in to time added on a goal down. When the fourth official indicated that there would be 12 minutes added time, there was no predicting the final score. Three minutes into injury time, Okaka emerged from the wilderness to replace Hughes, even though Holebas was still limping after the challenge on Lennon (thankfully, he soon ran it off). The Italian substitute had an opportunity to show Silva what he had been missing as he went for a cross into the box, but Pickford made the save before he could connect. Watford were given a lifeline as Pickford took Richarlison down in the box. I was a little surprised when Cleverley stepped up to take the spot kick and totally devastated when he hit it well wide of the target.
The final whistle was met with jubilation from the Everton fans and disbelief from the travelling Hornets. I am assured that it was a great game for the neutral, for those of us who bleed yellow, it was incredibly painful. Watford looked to be cruising and would probably have won had Gomes not been injured. The two penalties pretty much summed up our day. Conceding an unnecessary penalty due to a player slipping, then being awarded one that was nailed on and failing to covert.
The day didn’t get any better when we arrived back at Lime Street to find that both the train that I was booked on and the previous train (the 18:47, which should have left already) were delayed and there was a massive queue already in place. By the time that we left Liverpool, the train was transporting those booked on three different services, so was a little cosy. I found myself surrounded by a Liverpool fan and two Everton fans who, to be fair, couldn’t have been more pleasant. We were soon joined by Jim White of Sky Sports/Talksport, who was fresh from the Everton boardroom and was pressed by a number of people for his opinions on the managerial rumours that were going around. He was happy to chat and pose for selfies and it ended up being a very pleasant journey. I even found myself sharing photos with the lad next to me as he showed one of him (as a small boy) with the last trophy that Everton had won and I dug out an even older one of me before the cup final.
It is very hard to take any conclusions from that game. The defence didn’t cover themselves in glory, but it was the departure of Gomes that precipitated the collapse. Had Cleverley not hit such a terrible penalty, we would have left Liverpool with another point (one that I would have been happy with before the game). So we go into the international break on the back of three defeats and knowing that we will face a West Ham team trying to impress their new manager. After the wonderful start to the season, the last few games have been a cruel reality check. It will be very interesting to see if the players have the character to turn it around. Now what shall I do at 3pm next Saturday?