The return of Marco Silva to Vicarage Road had been hotly anticipated, although his recent on-field problems had led to many Watford fans being concerned that he may be sacked before they played us. There had been some negative reports in the press relating to a fans forum that had taken place in a London pub during the week. These related to some very innocuous comments that Deeney had made when asked whether the players knew what the Everton game meant to the fans. He basically said that the fans shouldn’t have a go at Everton as it would motivate them, but that the players would do the job (I’m paraphrasing here). He was also very positive in talking about Richarlison, saying he had done nothing wrong. Sadly the language that he had used was a little ripe, so the reports built his comments into an attack that provided a rallying cry for Everton, which was a shame as it was nothing of the kind. On the subject of that forum, Scott Duxbury, Fillippo Giraldi and Troy Deeney came along to a London pub on a Wednesday night to answer questions fired at them from a crowd of fans. This took place in a crowded bar and I have to give credit to them all for coming along and answering all of the questions openly and honestly. It was a tremendous evening.
Saturday and we were back to the West Herts for our only home game in February. While we may be only occasional visitors at the moment, it is always lovely to gather at ‘our’ table and the beer and jerk chicken were both excellent.
Team news was that Gracia had made just the one change from the Brighton game with the welcome return of Doucouré in place of Cleverley. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed to hear that Femenía hadn’t even made the bench. So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu and Deeney. This would be Holebas’s 100th appearance for the club. Everton’s starting XI included Richarlison, the announcement of whose name was met with a mixture of boos and applause. Emma Saunders then welcomed Marco Silva back, which elicited only boos. On the way into the ground I couldn’t help noticing how many fans had turned up with plastic snakes.
As the teams came out, the “Audentior” banner was raised over the middle of the Rookery. We were under this when the announcement was made of a minute’s appreciation for Emiliano Sala, which was honoured with applause from those of us under the flag.
Watford had a great chance to take the lead in the 10th minute as Janmaat crossed for Deeney who chested the ball down to Capoue but the shot from close range was turned over the bar by Pickford. At the other end a dangerous cross from Richarlison was headed clear by Mariappa before it could reach Tosun. Richarlison went down rather too easily (nothing new there) to win a free kick. Digne’s effort reached Keane who headed goalwards, but it was an easy save for Foster. The visitors had another chance as Zouma latched on to a cross from Digne, it was a much better header but Foster was equal to it. At the other end a cross from Hughes went straight to the keeper. Watford then made problems for themselves as a misplaced pass, while trying to clear the ball, led to Tosun gaining possession, thankfully his powerful shot was stopped by Foster. Watford then had a chance as Deulofeu crossed towards Hughes, but Zouma intervened and headed over the bar. Deulofeu threatened again, this time his shot was blocked. Watford could have taken the lead in the last minute of the half as Pickford dropped a free kick, but they couldn’t capitalise on the mistake so the half ended goalless.
Steve Sherwood was the guest for the half time draw. He will still have nightmares over a certain game against Everton, so it was very gratifying to see the incredible reception that he was given as he walked along the front of the Rookery. He looked very happy as he applauded the fans back.
At the start of the second half, Gracia replaced Sema with Gray, a positive move. Everton had the first chance of the second half with a shot from Sigurdsson that hit the top of the crossbar. Holebas then tried his luck with a shot from outside the area that flew wide of the far post. A deep corner from Holebas caused Pickford some concern, but the ball bounced off an Everton player for a corner which wasn’t given as the referee believed there had been a push on the keeper. Just after the hour mark, the visitors made their first change bringing Walcott on for Gomes. Watford had another decent chance with an angled shot from Holebas that flew just wide of the target as Deeney was bearing down on goal but couldn’t quite reach it. The goal came on 65 minutes and started with a gorgeous pass by Cathcart to Hughes who put in a low cross for Gray to power past Pickford from close range and send the Hornets fans wild. Marco Silva was then serenaded with a chorus of “Sacked in the morning.” Before the restart, Richarlison was replaced by Bernard and left the field to a chorus of “50 million, you’re having a laugh.” I must say that I felt sorry for young Ricky. He had started brightly enough, but soon found himself in Holebas’s pocket and was reduced to falling over looking for sympathy which quickly elicited the opposite reaction. Deeney received the first booking of the game for a challenge on Zouma.
Watford had a chance to grab a second when a Holebas corner was cleared to Mariappa whose shot cleared the bar. Silva made another change with 15 minutes remaining, bringing Calvert-Lewin on for Sigurdsson. Everton attempted to hit back as a cross from Walcott found Tosun, but his shot flew wide of the target. Gracia made his second substitution bringing Cleverley on for Deulofeu, who had had another frustrating afternoon. Holebas received his 10th booking of the season for a push on Walcott. It was needless and means that we will lose him for two games, just when he is in such tremendous form. The resultant free kick rebounded off the top of the crossbar, but it had never looked likely to trouble Foster. Zouma wrestled Hughes off the ball in midfield, which was completely within the laws of the game according to Lee Probert, so he was allowed to break upfield and cross for Calvert-Lewin who, thankfully, headed wide of the target. Gracia made his final change in the last minute of normal time, bringing Chalobah on for Hughes. There were four minutes of added time during which Everton had a couple of chances to gain a point. First a free kick from Digne was headed goalwards by Calvert-Lewin, but Foster was behind it. In the last minute of added time, Bernard crossed for Tosun whose header looked as though it was flying in, so there were a lot of very relieved Hornets when the ball cleared the bar, although Tosun was in an offside position so any goal would have been disallowed, but we didn’t know that as our hearts raced.
The final whistle went to tremendous celebrations among the Watford fans, who belted out “Javi Gracia, he’s better than you,” with a renewed vigour. Mariappa came over, as he usually does, and gave his shirt to a young fan, before a tremendous fist pumping celebration that showed exactly what this win meant. As icing on the cake, Zouma, who had been a niggly and unpleasant presence during the game, had words with the referee after the final whistle and earned himself two yellow cards and a sending off.
As we walked along Vicarage Road away from the ground, we could see something going on by the Everton coaches. There was a crowd by the cemetery wall looking in and first reports were that there had been a stabbing, although that was proved wrong after the game. But two Watford fans were hospitalised, one with a nasty head injury. As someone who started to go to football matches in 1979, these scenes were seen on a weekly basis in those days but had become a rarity in recent times. I really hope that it remains that way.
That was a sad end to what had been a good day. It hadn’t been a classic game by any stretch of the imagination, but the Marco Silva factor meant that there was an edge to the game that spurred on both the crowd and the players. The second half had been much better for the Hornets. The introduction of Andre Gray made a difference, he was linking up well with Deeney and took his goal very well. The defence had been superb. Both Cathcart and Mariappa were assured and solid. Holebas was magnificent, giving Richarlison no room to play. And Janmaat was excellent, making my pre-game disappointment at the absence of Femenía look rather foolish. The return of Doucouré was very welcome, he makes such a difference especially as he allows Capoue to shine. So, not a brilliant performance, but still very pleasing and a deserved win against a team that were thought to be a step up for Marco Silva last season.
We go into the FA Cup weekend comfortably in 8th place. It will be very interesting to see what the team is next week, but we have to give of our best as, for a team in our position, a cup run can only be a positive thing.