As is usual for games in Liverpool, I went up on Friday to see an old friend. Lots of catching up and a scary amount of reminiscing about a play that we were involved in during sixth form and a pub that we both worked in. The locals were a cast of characters whose names and catch phrases we both remembered, while struggling to recall what play I saw last week (actually, it was Blues in the Night at the Kiln Theatre, very good).
Saturday lunchtime, I bid them farewell before heading to the designated pub. As planned, I arrived just before 1 and was greeted with questions about where on earth I had been to be so late. Our travelling group was rather depleted for this game, but we were joined by the Happy Valley crowd so the turnout was respectable. As usual, both the beer and the food were excellent, but we were a little concerned that there was no sign of the shuttle buses to the ground that are usually lined up outside. On leaving the pub we spotted a steward who directed us to the new boarding place, so we were at Goodison in plenty of time. As we passed through the fan zone, it was lovely to hear Z-cars, even if it wasn’t for us.
Team news was that Gracia had made only one change from the Brighton game with Pereyra in for Gray. So, Watford’s starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney. Dropping Gray seemed a bit harsh after his great pre-season, it wasn’t his fault that he had no service last week. That said, it was pleasing to see both Quina and Welbeck on the bench. The home side had Richarlison in the starting line-up and, of course, our previous manager in the dug-out.
Everton had placed flags at each seat in the home stands which were to be waved as the players emerged from the tunnel. It has to be said that they were not a patch on the flags at Vicarage Road. Maybe we were unlucky with our positioning, but we were surrounded by some of the worst of our fan base and started the game with our ears being assaulted by an abusive song aimed at Silva. Now I have no love at all for the man, but he won’t give a damn what we think about him (that was obvious when he left), neither will the Everton fans, so chanting abuse at him is totally futile and detracts from supporting our own team.
The Hornets started well and had an early chance as Deulofeu won a tackle in the midfield, then hared upfield before trying to play Deeney in, but, unfortunately, the pass was overhit. The Watford defence were guilty of complacency as they paid no attention when an Everton corner looked to be rolling out on the opposite side of the goal, they had missed the presence of Digne who managed to keep the ball in before shooting just wide of the near post. Everton took the lead in the 10th minute and it was too easy. Digne found Bernard on the left, he cut inside, moved the ball onto his right foot and slotted it just inside the near post. At the time, it looked as though Foster should have done better, but his view was likely blocked by the defenders and it seems that the shot also took a deflection. But it was not a good start and, given our record at Goodison Park, I was not hopeful. The first booking of the game also went to the home side as Coleman was cautioned for a foul on Pereyra. Watford had a great chance to score an equaliser as a deep corner from Holebas was met by the head of Dawson, but his effort rebounded off the crossbar. There was a half-hearted appeal for a penalty from the home side as Calvert-Lewin tumbled in the box, but the referee was having none of it and VAR didn’t get involved. At this point the chants for Danny Welbeck started in the away end.
The next caution of the game was earned by Capoue for a foul on former teammate, Richarlison. The lively Deulofeu made another foray into the Everton box, but was crowded out by the defence. The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position as Hughes was fouled on the edge of the box, but Holebas wasted the chance with his delivery flying wide of the far post. Watford also had a shout for a penalty as Deulofeu went down in the box. On this occasion VAR was invoked, which prompted a loud voice behind me to declare that they were never going to give the penalty as they wouldn’t humiliate the referee. I must say that this was a new take on VAR for me. Maybe they had a point, though, as the penalty wasn’t given. The Hornets had a great chance to draw level as Deeney played the ball back to Capoue whose powerful shot required a decent save from Pickford to keep it out. At the other end, Richarlison should have extended the lead for the home side as he got on the end of a free kick from Sigurdsson and was allowed a free header which, thankfully, cleared the bar. Some good work from Pereyra on the left led to him winning a free kick. The delivery from Deulofeu was excellent, but Capoue was unable to connect so the chance went begging. In time added on at the end of the half, Hughes found Deeney whose shot was blocked, he claimed by a hand, but the referee wasn’t moved.
So we reached half time a goal down, although the performance from the Hornets was considerably better than last week, and we were unlucky to be behind. As the substitutes came out to warm-up during the break, there were cheers and applause for Welbeck.
The second half started with a card for Gomes for a foul on Capoue. Watford had a great chance to equalise when Capoue broke forward and found Deulofeu, who played a lovely ball through to Deeney, who was one on one with the goalkeeper, but his shot was blocked by Pickford’s face. So frustrating (and painful for the Everton keeper). Holebas then picked up his booking, again for a foul on Richarlison. The young Brazilian had a chance to extend their lead but, again, his header from a free kick was over the bar. On the hour mark, Pereyra wasted a decent attack by theatrically falling to the ground due to the presence of Sigurdsson. It was a pathetic dive and thoroughly deserving of the yellow card that was brandished. The first substitution was made by the home side as Walcott replaced Richarlison, the former Watford man leaving the field to jeers from the hard of thinking among the away crowd. Another decent chance for the Hornets ended with a bit of head tennis as Doucouré knocked the ball on to Pereyra whose effort cleared the bar. Gracia made his first substitution on 67 minutes bringing Welbeck on for his debut in place of Hughes. Danny’s first touch was less than accomplished and, hey presto, the ‘answer’ was transformed into a donkey in the eyes of some in our vicinity.
For the home side Kean replaced Calvert-Lewin and, almost immediately, Silva was forced to make his final substitution as an injury to Digne meant he had to be replaced by Holgate. Welbeck’s next contribution was decent enough as he found Deulofeu but the Spaniard’s shot was well over the bar. That was Gerry’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Cleverley and, in contrast to the jeering of Richarlison by a large number of those in the away end, he was applauded off by the Everton fans. Watford wasted another chance to get back on terms when Femenía put in a decent cross, but there was no Watford player in the box to meet it, so it was an easy catch for Pickford. Gracia made a final change for the Hornets bringing Gray on for Capoue, meaning there were 3 strikers on the pitch. Unfortunately, it did not lead to a goal with the best chance coming when a shot from Deeney was blocked and broke to Doucouré but his shot was well wide of the target. Everton had a chance to increase their lead when Kean went on a dangerous run but, as so often in this game, the shot was well wide. Kean had another chance to increase the Everton lead in time added on and, from my vantage point, I thought that the ball was in the net and had been ruled out for offside. Replays showed that it had rolled just the other side of the post. The final whistle went on a narrow defeat and, thankfully, there was just a smattering of boos.
We headed back into town for a quick drink prior to catching the train home. The post-match consensus was that we were unlucky not to get a point from the game. While it wasn’t a great performance, it was considerably better than the previous week and there were certainly some positives. The midfield looked far more effective, particularly Deulofeu, but the defence remained fragile. The two Craigs do not seem to be gelling. That said, Everton’s shooting was pretty woeful throughout the game. The biggest disappointment was that they were there for the taking, but we couldn’t capitalise as their defence was the difference between the teams.
There was also some discussion of the away crowd. The protracted and pathetic abuse of Silva and Richarlison contrasted badly with the warm reception that the Everton fans gave both Deulofeu and Cleverley. Then, when they weren’t abusing former players, they turned on ours. Dawson seems to be a particular target for the boo boys at the moment, but what really rankled was the moaning about Welbeck. He is clearly rusty and will take a while to get back to fitness, but he looks like he will be a great asset to us. I am already excited about his partnership with Deeney, and there were some early signs that they are already forming an understanding.
So we finish the weekend bottom of the Premier League due to our name starting with W, although the table is not worth a look until at least four games have been played. I hope at that stage things are looking a bit brighter or I might have to stop going to away games as the moaning is bad for my health.