After a weekend off, it was good to get back to the West Herts even if, after the last two games, I was no longer feeling optimistic about our chances. The pre-match discussion about the end of the transfer window was brief as it had been fairly quiet for the Hornets, although there was a lot of sadness at the departure of Seb Prödl who went from Player of the Season to invisible after injuries. I do hope that he goes on to great things. There was also some discussion of Ighalo’s move to Manchester United, which took me by surprise, and a hope that Richarlison’s head had been turned by the interest from Barcelona.
As we reached Vicarage Road on the way to the ground, you could tell that it wasn’t one of the bigger clubs visiting, as there was only one tout in view and even he may just have been a bloke trying to offload a spare ticket. As we reached Occupation Road, there seemed to be a big crowd blocking the way but, once we passed the first turnstile for the SEJ stand, the crowd reduced to usual size and we were soon through the turnstiles. As I was unable to find a programme at the home tie against Tranmere and then threw coffee over the programme I bought at the away game, I went to Doreen Pym’s programme stand at the GT end of the Rookery to try to get replacements. Sadly, they did not have either publication, but the journey was not wasted as I bumped into a friend on the way. The detour and chat meant a delay in getting to my seat and, when I arrived, I was told that I had just missed the lovely Seb Prödl saying goodbye to the Watford fans. That made me very sad, as I have a very soft spot for Seb. I was greatly cheered when my lovely friend, Alice, later told me that she had made him some Vanillekipferl as a goodbye gift. I am told that they went down very well with Seb and he kindly shared them with his countryman, Daniel Bachmann.
Team news was that Pearson had made just the one enforced change from the Villa game with Kabasele in for Dawson, who was missing due to injury. So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Chalobah, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney. It was great to see both Welbeck and Hughes on the bench, although we were short of defensive options with only Holebas included. Former Watford starlet, Richarlison, started for Everton and was booed as he has been ever since he left. Something that baffles me as we got very good money for him when he moved to Everton.
The visitors had the first chance of the game as Richarlison got on the end of a cross from Iwobi, but his shot flew over the bar. At the other end a great corner from Masina was met by the head of Kabasele, but he couldn’t get his effort on target. Christian was then in action at the other end as Richarlison tried to break into the box, but Kaba was on hand to steal the ball from him and snuff out the danger. The Hornets took the lead after 10 minutes and it was a wonderful goal that started with Capoue playing a lovely cross-field pass to Deulofeu who brought the ball down before passing back to Masina who shot past Pickford into the opposite corner.
The Hornets threatened again as Capoue played another lovely ball, this time for Pereyra, but Pickford was out to gather. The visitors created a decent chance as Sidibé crossed for Calvert-Lewin, but the header was easy for Foster. Off the pitch, the first sight of Danny Welbeck warming up was greeted with applause. Watford had a chance to increase their lead when a free kick from Masina was cleared as far as Doucouré whose bicycle kick cleared the bar. The hosts threatened again as Deulofeu found Doucouré on the edge of the box, but the shot was blocked at close range. VAR was then invoked as a nasty looking tackle by Digne on Pereyra was checked, but no punishment ensued. Maxi returned after treatment and exacted revenge on Digne. Again, VAR was called into action but, again, the offence was not deemed worthy of a red card (or a yellow for that matter). The second goal for the Hornets came after Deeney latched on to a loose ball and played a lovely pass to Pereyra who finished beautifully to put the Hornets in a commanding position with two minutes to go until half time. The goal had been against the run of play, but it was all looking so positive at that point. Sadly, 2-0 is a dangerous score and there followed two minutes of madness. The clock had reached 45 minutes when Everton won a corner. The Watford defenders failed to clear and the ball pinged around the box until Mina turned it in. It was a very scrappy goal to give away. It got worse almost immediately as Everton won another corner, Sigurdsson’s delivery was met by Mina, who was allowed a free header which beat Foster to level the score. The scorer was milking the celebrations right in front of the 1881 which irritated me immensely even if it is likely that he had been jeered by the home fans.
There was shock at half time, we had appeared to be in control of the game and had been defending very solidly, but that was all undone by two corners when the defence went missing. So frustrating in such an important game.
The first topic of the half time interviews was the National Citizen Service (NCS), a programme for 15-17 year-olds which has been one of the projects run by Watford Community Trust. It is a very positive project that has benefited many local youngsters.
The legend on duty was Gary Porter talking about his distinguished career with the Hornets. He was a part of some amazing teams and is very fondly remembered, although it shocks me to realise how long ago he retired as I think of him as one of the youngsters!
Last up was Everton Speedo Mick who is walking 1000 miles from John O’Groats to Lands End while dressed in Speedo swimming trunks to raise money for Leave the Light On which contributes to community projects that help disadvantaged young people. His excitement at Everton’s comeback was a little hard to listen to, but I let him off as it is a tremendous charity https://www.gofundme.com/f/speedomick-1000-ml-charity. I was a little embarrassed when the two guys in front of us commented on my taking photos. It was for the blog, honest, not because I want photos of a middle-aged bloke in a Speedo.
The visitors had the first chance of the second half and, again, it was from a set piece. Sigurdsson took a free kick which reached Calvert-Lewin, whose header was deflected over the bar. There was then a tussle between Deeney and Mina, not the first of the afternoon. The Everton man was rolling around trying to get Troy into trouble and Troy’s look of contempt mirrored my feelings. Nigel Pearson made his first substitution just before the hour mark as Chalobah made way for Welbeck. Nate did not look happy at being replaced, but the introduction of Welbeck was warmly received by the crowd. The first booking of the game came soon after and went to Delph for a trip on Pereyra. The visitors made two changes in quick succession bringing Kean and Schneiderlin on for Iwobi and Sigurdsson. There were a couple of rash-looking tackles from the Hornets as Everton broke forward, but the referee finally blew up for a nudge on Richarlison on the edge of the box, with Masina booked for the most innocuous foul in that sequence. The resulting free kick was taken by Digne who hit it straight into the wall. With 20 minutes remaining, the visitors were reduced to ten men after Delph was shown a second yellow card for a clumsy foul on Capoue. The resulting free kick was repelled as far as Capoue who shot over the target.
Each side then made a change with Keane replacing Calvert-Lewin for the visitors and Success on for Pereyra for the home side. The first contribution from Success was unimpressive, he lost out to Sidibé and so brought him down and was shown a yellow card for his trouble. Pearson made his final change replacing Deulofeu with Pussetto. Geri left the pitch by the goal in front of the Rookery and walked half the length of the stand where he was applauded the whole way around but didn’t once acknowledge the crowd. Late in the game the Hornets had a few decent chances to regain the lead. First a corner from Masina was cleared to Doucouré on the edge of the box, his shot was hit well but flew wide of the far post. The next yellow card went to Mina, who was seriously annoying me, so I was glad to see him booked for a foul on Success. The Hornets threatened again as a lovely free kick from Pussetto was punched clear to Capoue who squared for Doucouré whose shot was wide of the near post. The visitors picked up another yellow card as Holgate was booked for a foul on Doucouré. There was another half chance to grab a winner for the Hornets when they got the ball into the Everton box, but no Watford man could get a meaningful touch on it. The Hornets had been pushing for the winner, but it was the visitors who took all three points with a goal in the 90th minute. Masina lost out in the middle of the pitch, Richarlison advanced and played in Kean who moved the ball on to Walcott, at first he appeared to have run wide of the goal, but that proved to be wishful thinking on my part as he finished past Foster. There was a roar of encouragement from the Watford faithful as the fourth official held up the board indicating 5 minutes of added time, but the Hornets created nothing of note in added time and the final whistle went to boos from the home fans.
The reaction after the game was mostly anger. Listening to fans as we left the ground, Nigel Pearson has gone from football genius to being utterly clueless. Again, the withdrawal of Chalobah was questioned especially as he didn’t take advantage of the presence of Hughes on the bench who would have firmed up the midfield, but that could have been criticised as like-for-like when Pearson was making a change to the formation. But most of the fury was directed towards the appearance of Success. Given the amount of criticism Gray has attracted recently, I was rather amused to hear a comment that Andre must wonder what he has to do if Isaac is coming on ahead of him. My assumption was that Success was brought on due to his strength and, given that Gray was awful at Tranmere, the greater likelihood that he would cause the Everton defence problems. But when he does nothing it looks to be a poor substitution.
My great annoyance was at the fact that we have lost to Everton on three occasions this season and they haven’t had to play well in any of those games. On Saturday we beat ourselves and that hurts. We had scored two lovely goals in the first half and had kept Everton completely at bay through effective defending, but that was undone with some sloppy play at the end of the half. Watford looked most likely to win the game late on, but we wasted our chances and one mistake allowed Everton the opportunity to grab the winner.
So, we are back in the bottom three and the visit to Brighton is looking to be crucial, given that it is followed by a trip to Old Trafford and the visit of Liverpool. Consider me fickle, but I hate football again.