A Monday night game at Everton was a good excuse for a weekend in Liverpool. Things didn’t go quite to plan, but I had a fun weekend of comedy, music, art, film and hoped to finish it with a decent game of football. After a lovely morning at the Tate and visiting the studio of an artist friend of a friend on the waterfront, I returned to the hotel to meet up with our much depleted party. We were in the pub bright and early and found a table in our usual area where we were soon joined by a number of North-West and Happy Valley Horns, travelling fans who so rarely see us win in their neck of the woods.
Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with Sema and Quina (both making their Premier League debuts) replacing Hughes (who had picked up an injury against Man City) and Chalobah. I must say that the inclusion of Sema was a surprise to everyone. So, the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Quina, Sema; Deeney, Success. Needless to say, the Everton line-up included former Watford starlet, Richarlison, and our former manager, Marco Silva, was in the home dugout. It was clear that neither of them was going to get a good reception from the travelling Hornets, which was more understandable for Silva than for Richarlison who made the club a tidy sum when he was sold.
As we entered through the turnstiles, we were greeted by Dave Messenger who was handing out vouchers for £10 for food and drink. A really lovely gesture from the club to reward those who had made the journey to Liverpool on a Monday night. The smallish crowd meant that it was like the old days in the away stand, with us able to take any seat we wanted. So we headed to an empty section further back where we could stretch out and move about in comfort. Bliss!
On arrival at the ground, I had discovered that I did not have my purse with me. The inconvenience of having to cancel and replace cards was overwhelmed by the fact that I now had no cash and no train ticket home. My first thought was that I had left it on the bus to the ground, but a few minutes into the game I remembered exactly where I had left it. A quick call to the pub to tell them that a wallet bearing a Watford crest had been left on an armchair by the fire and they confirmed that they had it and it would be behind the bar on my return.
Panic over, I was able to concentrate on the match, the start of which had been dominated by chants against Silva and Richarlison. A number in the crowd had brought snakes with them to wave at Silva, which led to my first experience of seeing an inflatable snake being confiscated in a football ground.
There was an early chance for each side as, first, Pereyra had a shot from the edge of the box that was held by the Everton keeper, Pickford. Then Walcott met a cross from Digne with a header that was easily saved by Foster. The home side took the lead in the 15th minute when Gomes cut the ball back to Richarlison who blasted the ball past Foster. The young Brazilian celebrated by patting the badge over his heart. Oh Ricky, what a short memory you have. Watford should have equalized within a couple of minutes as Quina crossed for Deeney who, with an open goal in front of him, somehow managed to clear the bar with his shot. Richarlison could have had a second soon after, but a tremendous block by Holebas averted the danger. The first caution of the game went to Everton’s Mina who had handled a cross from Sigurdsson. Watford had a decent chance to draw level as a cross from Sema was met by Pereyra but his header was just wide of the target. Watford threatened again as a cross from Femenía fell to Deeney whose shot was blocked by Mina for a corner. Deeney was then in action at the other end of the pitch, snuffing out an Everton attack with a great tackle. Richarlison then tangled with Kabasele and, as is his wont, executed an outrageous dive (not his first of the evening). Kabasele’s expression as they made their way back upfield in conversation indicated that he was letting his former team mate know exactly what he thought of his actions. Watford had a great chance to grab an equaliser just before half time as Deeney received a long ball from Quina but he volleyed just wide. In the minute added on at the end of the half, Deeney found Success on the edge of the box where he was fouled by Mina. If the referee had given the free kick, he would have had to show Mina a second yellow and Everton would have been down to ten men, but he waved play on and the half-time whistle went with the Hornets a goal down and feeling rather aggrieved.
It had been a decent half of football. The home side had dominated the early exchanges, but the Hornets had grown into the game and were the better side at the end of the half. The half time discussion was around two crucial decisions and benefited from reports from those watching at home. By all accounts, Everton’s goal should have been disallowed as Walcott, who had been involved in the build-up, had been in an off-side position. So, that and the fact that Mina had got away with an obvious foul on Success that should have earned us a free kick and him a second yellow card, meant we were feeling very hard done by.
At half time, the shoot-out involved a lad in a wheelchair, which was rather lovely.
The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets as Pereyra hit a free-kick that went into the side-netting, although a good number in the away end were celebrating as they thought it had gone in. Watford continued to threaten as a long throw reached Doucouré in the box, but his shot was blocked. Then Deeney played a one-two with Doucouré before taking a shot, but Pickford was down to make the save. Gracia made his first change just before the hour mark with Sema making way for Deulofeu.
I won’t say that the substitution was inspired, but the Hornets equalised on 63 minutes as Femenía crossed for Pereyra, whose shot hit the post but rebounded out to Coleman and bounced off the Everton man into the net. For once it felt like luck was on our side and it has to be said that the equaliser was well deserved. But that wasn’t the end of it, as the Hornets took the lead a couple of minutes later as Pereyra crossed for Doucouré who rose above the defence and headed past Pickford. Needless to say, the celebrations in the away end were brilliant. When the travelling Hornets started chants of “Silva, what’s the score?” I couldn’t help feeling uneasy. It is never a good idea to crow over the opposition that early in the game. Sure enough, while I was distracted noting that Calvert-Lewin had come on for Bernard, I heard a cheer from the home fans. At first I thought that they had scored, but it then became clear that the referee had awarded a penalty for a foul by Kabasele on Mina. I had everything crossed as Sigurdsson stepped up to take the spot kick and was joy was unconfined when the shot was saved by Foster’s trailing leg. In the confusion, I had missed that Silva had made a double substitution, as Walcott had made way for Lookman. Quina, who had impressed on the ball, also showed what he can contribute to the defence as he tackled Richarlison in the box.
Each side made another substitution as Everton brought Tosun on for Gueye and Success made way for Chalobah for the Hornets. The Watford man’s first action of note was to get booked for time wasting. Richarlison looked to bring the home side level as he ran on to a ball into the box, but Foster was out to save at his feet. As the clock ran down, Everton won a series of corners, but only one (a Sigurdsson header from a Coleman cross) required a save from Foster. As the clock reached 90 minutes, the board for extra time was held up indicating 6 minutes. Oh, for goodness sake, my nerves were already in tatters. Gracia made a final substitution replacing Quina with Mariappa. Just when we thought we would finally see a win at Goodison Park, Kabasele needlessly handled a long forward ball and the referee awarded a free kick on the edge of the area. Again, I had everything crossed, but when Digne stepped up I knew that there was only one outcome and, sure enough, his free kick cleared the wall and found the top corner to level the game. There was just time for one last attack from the visitors as Deulofeu surged forward and found Pereyra, but he could only direct his shot across the front of the goal and the game ended in a draw.
Several of the players dropped to the turf in despair at the end of the game. Most notably Holebas, who didn’t move for ages until Zigor Aranalde went over to commiserate when he reacted angrily. The players were right to be angry and upset. They had done more than enough to win the game and had been easily the better team in the second half. But they were beaten by a mistake from the officials and a moment of madness from Kabasele.
We headed back to the pub, where my purse was returned to me, so the least I could do was to buy a round. We then settled down to analyse the game. The overwhelming feeling was one of frustration. It had been a terrific evening’s entertainment and if someone had offered me a point before the game, I would have bitten their hand off. But, after that performance we deserved to come away with all three points. Concentrating on the positives, Pereyra and Doucouré both put in their best performances in some time. Quina continues to impress, for such a young man he plays with great assurance and is a tremendous addition to our squad. Watford were clearly the better team, but we have to start translating that into victories. This is a likeable and talented team, probably the best that Watford have ever had. But the players are also working hard, so surely it must only be a matter of time before the talent translates into positive results. Please let that start against Cardiff on Saturday.