During the weeks that the rail companies are expecting leaves on the line my morning train to work leaves two minutes earlier than usual. For someone who needs every minute in the mornings, this causes me issues. As I prepared to leave the house with my bag packed for the overnight stay in Liverpool, I realised that I had forgotten something so, by the time I left, I was cutting it very fine. Sure enough, I arrived at the station to see the train start to pull out. As I had half an hour to wait for the next one, I decided to collect my tickets for the journey to Liverpool. That was my second mistake of the morning as my credit card was damaged and became stuck in the machine, much to the displeasure of the woman in the ticket office. At that point, I boarded my train, sat down with a coffee and hoped that was the end of my bad luck for the day.
After a shorter than anticipated morning at work, I arrived at Euston where I bumped into Mick Smithers, our Police liaison officer. I almost didn’t recognise him as he was in civvies. We had a chat speculating on the likely small away attendance and then went our separate ways. I caught up with Adam, my travelling companion for the day, on the train and we settled down for the journey north.
As we arrived too early to head for the pub, I tried to do something cultural. I didn’t fancy the clothing exhibition at the Walker, so headed for St George’s Hall as we believed there was a photography exhibition there. The signage wasn’t good, so we scaled the three flights, had a look around the courtroom and into the gallery before descending and finding that the exhibition was on the ground floor. It was diverting enough, but I found myself spending more time with the educational display about crime and punishment in Victorian Liverpool. Of particular interest there were the cautionary tales of the punishment of habitual drunks, most of whom appeared to be female. With this still fresh in my mind, we headed for the pub where we met up with Mike.
While sitting in the pub, we saw a man knocking on the window trying to attract someone’s attention. The young lad sitting behind us went out to see him and returned to inform us that he had been summoned to see the Watford team boarding their coach which was parked opposite the pub. It was only about 75 minutes to kick-off, so it seemed that they were also cutting it a bit fine.
I am a big fan of the musician Ian Prowse of Amsterdam and Pele. It just so happens that Mike is a friend of his, having worked with him on an educational video some years ago. Ian had promised to drop in to say hello, but as time went on it appeared that he had found something better to do. Just as we had given up on him, he appeared and told a few stories as only Scousers (and the Irish) can. It was very tempting to get another drink and stay in the pub with him, but we dutifully headed to the ground at the appointed hour.
The seats that we had been allocated were at the back of the stand, so the view was somewhat restricted by the low roof. Luckily, due to the small crowd, we were able to find seats at the front of the block where we could see most of the pitch (around the pillars) and at least we could sit when the ball was down our end.
Team news was that Quique had made eight changes but was sticking with first team players. The starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Cathcart; Foulquier, Chalobah, Quina, Hughes, Femenía; Pereyra, Gray. Dalby, who has been impressing in the U23s had travelled with the team but only made the bench.
Everton had an early chance as a counter-attack finished with a shot from Kean that was blocked by Cathcart. A mistake from Richarlison was greeted with jeers from the travelling Watford fans, which set the tone for the game as he was booed every time he touched the ball. The animosity towards that young lad really baffles me. Watford’s first chance came in the 17th minute, a low cross from Pereyra reached Quina at the far post, but he couldn’t sort his feet out and could only turn his shot wide. It was a very cagey first half, so the next action of note was after half an hour. Pereyra intercepted the ball, found Chalobah, who hesitated before shooting and was crowded out, the ball broke to Foulquier who won a throw. The throw-in reached Pereyra, whose shot was very poor. The fact that this uninspiring passage of play was deemed worthy of note highlights how poor the rest of the half had been. At the other end a cross from Iwobi was easily caught by Gomes. Each side was forced to make a substitution towards the end of the half. Quina, who had been struggling for a while, made way for Doucouré and Mina was replaced by Keane. The home side had a chance to open the scoring just before half time when Hornets gave the ball away on the edge of the box allowing Iwobi to get in a shot, but Gomes made the catch.
So the half ended goalless. It had been a very dull half of football, and the cagey approach had led to a shout from behind me of “Don’t play for 0-0, it’s a cup game.” There were some suggesting that the game should go straight to penalties rather than making us sit through another half of tedium, but we weren’t to be so lucky.
Everton made their second substitution at the break as Walcott replaced Kean. On 54 minutes, Watford had the best chance of the game so far, and their first shot on target, as Gray went on a run before hitting a powerful shot that required a good save from Pickford to keep it out. Then Gray tried to play Doucouré in, but it was a poor pass that was easily dealt with. Everton had a decent chance from a Digne free kick, Keane had a free header, but he headed downwards and it bounced into the arms of Gomes. Then Hughes picked up a loose ball and released Gray who played a square ball which went begging. At the other end, Digne tried a low shot, but Gomes was down to gather. The home side should have taken the lead when Richarlison cut the ball back to Gomes but the shot was cleared off the line by Mariappa. Watford made another substitution bringing Kabasele on for Prödl.
The second half was much livelier than the first but, unfortunately, it was the home side who were creating the most threat. Their next chance came from a shot from Iwobi that rebounded off the crossbar. Flores made his final change and it became clear that we were not to see U23 goal machine, Sam Dalby, instead Deulofeu replaced Pereyra. The Spaniard took to the field to applause from the Everton fans. That warm greeting for former players used to be the practice among Watford fans, I don’t know when we morphed into a group who jeer nastily. The first booking of the game went to Doucouré for a foul on Gomes. Digne took the free kick which was deflected off the Watford wall and, again, the crossbar saved us. Everton took the lead in the 72nd minute as Walcott crossed for Holgate to head home. The goal was greeted with a sense of resignation in the away end. It had been coming and, given what had gone before, it seemed highly unlikely that Watford would get back into the game. Silva made his final substitution bringing Tosun on in place of Calvert-Lewin. Everton won a free kick in a dangerous position but, before they could take it, Hughes required treatment, which was of some concern as the Hornets had already used all of their substitutes. When the free kick was eventually taken, it was a terrible delivery that flew wide of the near post. As the game reached the 90 minute mark, Mariappa was booked for a clumsy tackle. He protested the decision, I have no idea why. There was 4 minutes of added time which was not welcomed in the away end. The Hornets did have a half chance to draw level when Deulofeu exchanged passes with Chalobah, but his shot was straight at a defender. Instead Everton broke downfield and Tosun fed Richarlison who finished past his mentor, Gomes, to seal the win for the Toffees. The travelling Watford fans streamed out at that point. I did stay around long enough to applaud the team off. There was some consolation for the fans who had stayed to the bitter end as a number of the players came over to give away their shirts.
We headed back to the pub a disappointed bunch. It had been a miserable performance. Everton were very poor, but we were worse. Apart from the Gray shot early in the second half, we didn’t look likely to test Pickford. That is what I am finding so frustrating this season. Even if we are short on strikers, we have players who can create chances and they aren’t doing so. The cup defeat means that we can now concentrate on the league, but I am increasingly concerned that this is a relegation season in the making. We often joke about staying in the pub rather than going to the game and I couldn’t help thinking that we would have had a lot more entertainment if we had continued drinking with Prowsey.
On Wednesday, I had a lazy morning but caught a train in time to get to work for the afternoon. At least that was the plan, but a combination of a broken-down train on the line and signal failure meant that I didn’t arrive back in London until after 3:30, so ended up having to book another half day off work for a game that certainly wasn’t worth using that much holiday. This was certainly not the best trip I have ever been on.