Tag Archives: Ross Barkley

A Tale of Two Penalties

Ben Foster about to launch the ball upfield

I always look forward to the Boxing Day game, so the news that it had been moved to an evening kick-off for the television cameras was met with some irritation.  A lovely afternoon walk through the Hertfordshire countryside proved a pleasant distraction from the action at the other grounds, but I was soon back to following our changing position in the table and worrying about what time to arrive for a 7:30 kick-off on a bank holiday.  Thankfully the roads were quiet and there were still seats in the West Herts when we arrived.  It was lovely to have Amelia back with us as her university studies and Saturday job have limited her attendance this season.

As we walked to the ground, it still seemed very quiet until we reached Vicarage Road and encountered a group of noisy Chelsea fans.  I was rather surprised only to see one tout on the way, they obviously take Christmas off too.  We didn’t arrive long before kick-off, but it was clear from the number of empty seats that a good number of people had decided to stay at home and watch this one on television.

Team news was that there were no changes from the win at West Ham.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney and Deulofeu.  But the hottest news as the team arrived was that Pereyra disembarked from the bus wearing a santa hat.  He is a little bonkers.

Holebas in deep conversation with the referee

The travelling Chelsea fans immediately endeared themselves to me with a first minute chant of “We’ve won it all.”  At times like this my mind goes back to the mid-eighties when they used to stop the clock at Stamford Bridge 10 minutes before the end of the game so that the fans didn’t get on the backs of their struggling team.  The visitors had the first chance of the game as Pedro exchanged passes with Willian before curling a shot wide of the far post.  Watford’s first chance came from a howler by the Chelsea keeper, Arrizabalaga, who gave the ball away to Deulofeu, but the Spaniard tried a back heel that went to no one and the chance was gone.  There was a nasty incident 10 minutes into the game, as Willian rounded Foster and hit the post, Kabasele slid in to try to cut out the shot and collided heavily with the post.  He needed lengthy treatment and the stretcher was brought around, but he was able to get to his feet and return to the field.  Unfortunately, that didn’t last long and he was soon replaced by Mariappa.  Watford had a half chance as a cross from Femenía was headed down by Doucouré but the ball rolled through to the keeper.  Then Doucouré and Deulofeu combined before the Frenchman hit an angled shot that was blocked.

A very blurred celebration of Pereyra’s strike

There was an even better chance after Deeney did well to win the ball and release Pereyra who crossed for Doucouré who was in a great position, but his shot was disappointingly high and wide.  The action was straight down the other end where Azpilicueta hit a low cross which flew across the front of the goal with no Chelsea player there to apply the finishing touch.  Watford attacked again as Deulofeu intercepted a pass and broke forward before squaring for Deeney, whose shot was blocked.  The visitors were being frustrated by some great defending as first Cathcart and then Capoue (twice) snuffed out chances with brilliant tackles.  Towards the end of the half, Chelsea were forced to make a substitution replacing Pedro with Hudson-Odoi.   We were then distracted by the sight of Kabasele being wheeled out on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask.  The Rookery rose to applaud him.  I suspect that his team mates were as perturbed as we were as, almost immediately, Capoue played a poor pass to Doucouré, Kovačič intercepted and fed Hazard who advanced and rounded Foster to open the scoring.  We were already in time added on at the end of the half, but there was still time for Watford to equalize.  Doucouré broke into the box, but the keeper dived at his feet to concede a corner.  The corner was taken short by Deulofeu, Holebas crossed and Pereyra volleyed brilliantly past Arrizabalaga.  Hopefully the cheers for the goal would have brightened Kabasele up as he made his way next door to the hospital.

So we reached half time with honours even after a decent enough half of football, even if all the shots on target had come in injury time.  My sister had kindly packed turkey sandwiches for us, which certainly hit the spot.

Deulofeu running on to a ball

Watford were shouting for a penalty after 54 minutes as Luiz flattened Deulofeu in the box.  Television pictures suggested that there was some wrestling between them, but you can’t help thinking that, had the same incident occurred in the Watford box, a penalty would have been awarded.  Needless to say, the next passage of play saw Hazard breaking into the box, Foster had no need to come out as Cathcart had it covered, but he did and pushed Hazard over.  There was no arguing with that one, it was an obvious penalty even from the opposite end of the ground, and Hazard made no mistake from the spot allowing Chelsea to regain the lead.  Foster was also booked for the foul.  It was very frustrating to be behind at this stage as the Hornets had dominated the start of the second half.  Watford fought back and Doucouré tried to find Deulofeu in the box, but the keeper just got there first.  Gracia made a second change half way through the half replacing Sema, who had a great game, with Quina.  The visitors had a decent chance to increase their lead as Willian had the ball on the edge of the box but whipped his shot wide.  Deulofeu then tried a shot from distance, but it was weak and easy for the keeper.   A mistake from Holebas allowed Hazard to break and find Kanté who shot wide of the far post.  There was a great chance for the Hornets to equalize as Doucouré played the ball in to Deeney at the near post, but Troy flicked his shot just over.  With 10 minutes to go, each side made changes as Kovačič and Hudson-Odoi (who had been the first Chelsea substitute) made way for Barkley and Emerson, and Success replaced Deulofeu for the Hornets.  Chelsea had a couple of late chances to increase their lead as, first, a corner came out to Jorginho who shot over the target.  Then Willian hit a low shot that Foster pushed around the post.  In time added on, Watford won a corner and Foster came up for it.  As the ball bounced around the box, Foster tried an overhead kick, such a shame that didn’t go in, but it certainly made me smile.  So the final whistle went on a narrow defeat for the Hornets.

Femenia, Sema and Doucoure keep an eye on Willian

Yet again, we were ruing missing our chances as we could easily have won a point in that game.  But, on the positive side, we were reflecting on a game in which we had matched one of the best teams in the country.  Watford no longer look like plucky underdogs in these games, but are playing with a similar quality to these household names.  There were regrets regarding the two penalties.  Watford’s would have been given on another day.  Chelsea’s was an unnecessary challenge by Foster but, given how well he has done for us this season, it is hard to criticise.

So we reach the half way stage of the season in the top half of the table with over twice as many points as the team in 18th place, so allowing us to continue to look up rather than down.

But the best news came this morning with a tweet from Kabasele that announced that he didn’t think that there was anything broken and “Great gesture of the goal post who visited me at hospital.”  I do love his sense of humour and it was wonderful that he let the fans know that he is better than might have been expected when we saw him taken out of the ground.  I wish him a full and speedy recovery.

Belgians and Brides

Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a drink!

With the game moved to Friday evening so that Sky could show our match with Chelsea on Monday, Friday morning was spent trying to get everything at work in order so that I could enjoy my afternoon off.  A text from Pete brought my planned departure forward to give me time to meet him for a lunchtime pint in the Doric Arch.  As we queued to board the train we spotted Paolo de Toffol, prompting speculation as to why he hadn’t travelled with the rest of the team on the previous day’s flight.

On checking in to the hotel in Liverpool, I was told that I had been upgraded to a superior room, which meant there was a little gift basket in my room containing chocolate, jelly beans and crisps.  I also had a great view of the Liver Building and the Mersey which was rather lovely.  But we weren’t there for the view so, having dumped our overnight things, we headed for the pre-match pub.  We were not the first to arrive as some of the North-West ‘Orns were already in situ and, as is always the case, our group quickly grew and the beer and conversation flowed.  There has been a lot of discussion about our poor away form lately, but it was still a shock when Andy, who is a regular at our Northern excursions, said that he hadn’t seen us win all season.

Banner in support of Aaron Lennon

When we got off the bus at Goodison Park, the rain was starting so we made a rapid beeline for the turnstiles, an extra motivation being the announcement on social media before the game that “the first drink” would be on Walter this evening.  I have to say that having enjoyed a pint at Euston, red wine in first class on the train and more beer at the pre-match gathering, this was most certainly not my first of the day, but I am not one to pass up a free drink so I picked up my voucher from the steward inside the turnstiles and exchanged it for a (small) bottle of red wine.  The atmosphere in the concourse was particularly jovial with chants of “Beers up, if you love Walter” and “Walter Mazzarri, he bought me a beer.”

On reaching our seats, there was an appreciation of what a great (proper) ground Goodison Park is.  So much nicer than the soulless bowls that so many teams are moving to.  It was also lovely to see a banner in the home stands supporting Aaron Lennon who has been hospitalized due to mental health issues.  I wish him a speedy recovery.

Capoue over to take a corner

Team news was that Mazzarri had made three changes with Holebas, Behrami and Deeney replacing Amrabat, Cleverley (who was ineligible to play against his parent club) and Niang.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kabasele, Prödl, Mariappa; Janmaat, Doucouré, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Okaka and Deeney.

Everton had the first chance of the game with a shot from Barkley but Gomes was down quickly to make the save.  Watford’s first goal attempt came from a corner as Holebas crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked.  The next chance for the home side also came from a corner which Jagielka flicked goalwards needing Gomes to pull off a decent save to keep it out.  Okaka was the next to threaten, going on a run before unleashing a shot that flew wide of near post.  The Hornets nearly got themselves into trouble with a short back pass that Mirallas chased but, thankfully, Gomes was first to the ball.  The rather impressive youngster, Tom Davies (to whom I took an instant dislike, possibly due to his resemblance to Robbie Savage), then hit a cracking shot from distance that Gomes met with a flying save.  A lovely passing move featuring Okaka and Deeney finished with Doucouré shooting straight at Robles.  The Hornets came closer to opening the scoring as a Holebas cross was headed just over by Mariappa.

Waiting for the corner to be taken

Watford’s ridiculous run of injuries to defenders continued when Kabasele went down with an apparent hamstring pull.  Given that we had no central defender on the bench, there was some speculation in the away end about who would replace him, the answer was Zúñiga, who took Kabasele’s place in the back three until Holebas told him not to be ridiculous and swapped places.  Towards the end of the half, a Behrami tackle led to some handbags as Janmaat stupidly got involved until Prödl stepped in and pushed him away.  Both Behrami and Janmaat were booked for their trouble.  Towards the end of the half, Watford won a free kick in a decent position but, instead of directing it goalwards, Capoue chose to pass to Holebas on the wing and any possibility of a goal attempt disappeared.  So we reached the break goalless after an enjoyable half in which the visitors had put on a decent performance.

At half time, there were celebrations on the pitch as the Everton U23s received their trophy for winning Premier League 2.  The stewards then took to the pitch to celebrate being voted best stewards in the Premier League for the eighth year in succession.  An impressive record and, it has to be said, they are rather lovely so I was happy to join the applause.

Zuniga pretends to line up a free kick that Holebas will take

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as a cross was punched by Gomes to Schneiderlin who belted the ball over the bar.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as Janmaat exchanged passes with Okaka before feeding Deeney who, under challenge from Jagielka, could only direct his shot just wide of the near post.  But it was the home side who took the lead just before the hour mark, as Barkley picked up the ball and was allowed a free run at goal, Prödl failed to put in a tackle and actually moved away from the shot before it flew past the diving Gomes.  Another frustrating goal to give away.  Everton then had a decent shout for a penalty as Gomes spilled a long-range shot from Mirallas, Lukaku looked ready to pounce but was brought down by Janmaat.  The referee waved play on, but I couldn’t help thinking that Watford got away with that one.  Everton had another chance to increase their lead as Schneiderlin met a corner from Baines, but he headed it over the bar.  Okaka, who was being given no protection by the referee, broke into the box, he was tackled but did very well to win the ball back at which point he was adjudged to have committed a foul, a ridiculous decision.   Holebas picked up his 13th yellow card of the season for complaining about something (nothing new there).  During the game we had been regaled by chants for José from Colin and Flo who were sitting behind us.  “Hole, Hole, Hole, bas bas bas” was good, but “He always wins the ball, he never smiles at all” won my vote.

Deeney and Davies

With 20 minutes to go Mazzarri made another substitution with Amrabat coming on in place of Behrami.  Nordin was in action almost immediately crossing for Okaka, whose goalbound header was blocked.  At the other end, a shot from Lukaku was cleared off the line by Mariappa.  As the travelling Hornets started the 72nd minute chorus of “One Graham Taylor”, it was lovely to see the Everton fans in the block to our left getting to their feet to join in with the applause.  There was then a rather bizarre pitch invasion as a couple of 10 year olds went belting across the pitch towards Robles, they were hugged by the smiling keeper before one ran off behind the goal while the other headed back to his seat in the block next to us to chants of “Sign him up” from the away fans.  They were both escorted from the ground and the stewards doubled up around the perimeter of the pitch.  Watford had a decent chance to equalize as Mariappa met a corner from Capoue with a header that flew just wide.  Into the last 10 minutes of the game and each side made substitutions.  Goalscorer, Barkley, and Mirallas made way for Barry and Koné for the home side while Niang replaced Capoue for the visitors.  Okaka had a great chance to level the score as he received the ball in the box with his back to goal, turned and shot but Robles was equal to it.  Watford continued to push for the equalizer as Niang curled a shot towards the far corner, but Barry got his head in the way to block it.  At the other end Gomes stopped a shot from Valencia.  There was one last attack from the visitors in time added on, but a cross from Amrabat flew over Okaka’s head and the Hornets fell to their fourth defeat in a row.

Challenging in the box

Despite the result, most of the 680 Watford fans who had travelled to Everton appreciated the efforts of the players.  It had been a lively performance which was only let down by the finishing.  Mariappa, who had kept Lukaku pretty quiet after the departure of Kabasele, looked really disappointed as he applauded the fans, and he certainly cheered me up no end by taking his shirt off and giving it to a fan.  Deeney followed suit and gestured to the other players around him to do the same.  Sadly there was one among the travelling fans who thought it appropriate to abuse the players.  There was a look of horror on the faces of the Everton stewards as Deeney crossed the hoardings into the away stand.  He listened to what the fella had to say and then headed over to talk to Flora, one of our young disabled fans, and hand her his boots.  Sadly, Mr Angry couldn’t leave it and carried on abusing the Watford captain at which point he was grabbed by the police and stewards and escorted out of the ground.  On a more pleasant note, as the Everton fans applauded their team on their end of season lap of honour, they also took time to applaud the Watford crowd and we replied in kind.

Behrami versus Barkley

We headed back to the city for a post-match pint.  The highlights of the game were showing in the pub and backed up my impression that Watford had made some decent chances.  We were also engaged in conversation with some Everton fans, all of whom were delightful.  Liverpool really is a fantastic city.

Then it was back to the hotel for the late night shenanigans in the bar.  Notable sights were a woman draped in a Belgian flag, no idea if she was supporting Lukaku and Mirallas or Kabasele.  Then a bride in full white dress appeared to get a round in, leaving the bar with a tray of drinks.  We were then joined by another group of Watford fans, so our attention went back to the post-match analysis which went on until we closed the bar at 3am.

Considering the Everton game in isolation, it would be seen as a decent performance against a good team.  But, at this stage of the season and with the poor run of late, it was just another in a series of disappointing results.  Mazzarri comes in for a lot of criticism, but so many of our defeats have been down to individual mistakes and he cannot be held responsible for that.  With Chelsea having won the league title on Friday evening, we can only hope that they are on the beach by Monday and that Hull don’t beat Palace.  Having to face Manchester City next Sunday needing points just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Much Improved Performance Against the Toffees

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

It seems like a very long time since our trip to Goodison Park for the first game of the season.  At that time, the memory of our last visit (and the Chris Powell ‘handball’) loomed large, but the spirited draw was the first sign that this would be a much more enjoyable season.  Even though we have been on a poor run of late, it is worth remembering that we are guaranteed to finish higher than in our last two seasons at this level and, while we are not mathematically safe from relegation, it looks highly unlikely that we will get dragged into a fight against the drop.  There was some great news prior to the game as we heard that the U18s had won their league.

While we had been bemoaning our own recent poor form, it was easy to forget that Everton have also been on a bad run.  So it was a bit shocking to see a ‘Martinez Out’ banner unfurled in the away stand before kick-off.

For those of a nervous disposition, the team news did nothing to quell their jitters as Flores had made five changes bringing Paredes, Britos, Holebas, Behrami and Jurado in for Nyom, Prödl, Aké, Suárez and Abdi.  While we had been awful last week, the almost complete overhaul of the defence caused some concern.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Britos, Paredes, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Jurado and Ighalo.

Jurado on the ball

Jurado on the ball

The first action of the game was indicative of what was to follow as Deeney tackled Barkley who collapsed like a spoilt child and won a free kick.  On the positive side, any concerns about the return of Holebas were quelled when he stopped an Everton break with a great saving tackle.  Kevin Friend had set his stall out early by penalising every Watford challenge, so it was no surprise when the first booking went to Capoue for a foul on Barkley, although it was the Watford man who required the longest period of treatment following the challenge.  Watford’s first goal attempt came after quarter of an hour when Paredes intercepted the ball and went on a run before passing to Behrami, he found Jurado who unleashed a fantastic shot that required a decent save from Robles.  When Watson was fouled on the edge of the box, Mr Friend was forced to wave play on as it was he who had taken the Watford man down.  The resultant Everton break was made to a chorus of boos particularly when Gomes had to make a sharp save to deny Deulofeu.  Watford attacked again after Holebas intercepted the ball before feeding Jurado who made a lovely turn, but his pass towards Deeney was too heavy.  Then Paredes found Ighalo whose shot was cleared.  Lukaku tried a shot from distance but, under challenge, he hit it well over the bar.

Celebrating the goal

Celebrating the goal

A move that was started by Ighalo finished with Jurado playing the ball back to Watson who shot straight at the keeper.  In the Watford box, Barry went down looking for a penalty which, fortunately, wasn’t given, the ball broke to Barkley whose shot was caught by Gomes.  Jurado exchanged passes with Holebas on the wing but his cross was straight at the keeper.  Then a cross from Holebas was met by a misdirected header from Ighalo which flew wide.  Just before half time, Watford had a good chance to take the lead as a Jurado free kick rebounded off the wall and Capoue’s follow-up was deflected just wide of the far post.  From Watson’s corner, Holebas headed just wide.  But it was the visitors who took the lead in time added on at the end of the half, as Britos lost out to McCarthy on the edge of the box and he finished past Gomes.  I felt so sorry for Britos, who was clearly devastated at his mistake.  But, at a time when the team needed the crowd to get behind them, one of my neighbours in the Rookery decided that the appropriate response was to boo very loudly.  Not for the first time, I told him exactly what I thought of him.  It made me feel a bit better, but what happened on the pitch next lightened my mood considerably.  Ighalo’s harrying forced Robles to concede a corner.  Ben Watson’s delivery to the far post was met by Holebas, whose header took a deflection before hitting the net and sending the home crowd into raptures.

So we were level at half-time, which was probably fair in an even game of few goal attempts.

The half time shoot out had reached the semi-final phase and was a cracking contest between Sacred Heart and St Paul’s with the latter prevailing during sudden death.  Both teams were applauded off the pitch with an enthusiasm that these contests rarely inspire.

Guedioura lines up a corner

Guedioura lines up a corner

Guedioura had spent the break on the pitch warming up, so it was no surprise when he replaced Behrami at the start of the second half.  Early in the half, irritation with the ref went up a notch as Ighalo was pushed over by Jagielka and nothing was given when Barkley appeared to get the benefit of the doubt every time he went to ground.  The first goal attempt of the half came 10 minutes in and took some remarkable work from Gomes to keep the scores level as he parried a shot from Lennon and then, somehow, prevented Lukaku reaching the loose ball.  At the other end, Watford had a free kick in a dangerous position, Watson played it short to Holebas whose shot went through the wall, but the pace was taken off and it was easy for Robles to gather.  Guedioura went on a great run, played the ball out to Deeney who crossed for Ighalo who couldn’t quite turn it in.  Watford’s second substitution saw Amrabat on for Jurado who had played very well.  Gomes was the hero again as Deulofeu broke into the box, he managed to shoot, despite a challenge from Paredes, and the Brazilian was down to make the save.  Martinez made his first substitution on 65 minutes replacing Barkley (who was booed off by the Watford faithful due to his tedious theatrics) with Tom Cleverley who was applauded on to the field for his Player of the Season turn as a loanee.  Everton threatened again as Coleman ran the length of the field, but his cross was safely caught by Gomes.

Ighalo, Deeney and Capoue challenge in the box

Ighalo, Deeney and Capoue challenge in the box

The visitors had a great chance to take the lead as Lukaku played a neat back heel to Lennon whose shot was kept out by yet another superb save from Gomes.  As we reached the last 10 minutes, each side made a substitution with Mirallas coming on for Deulofeu and Suárez replacing Capoue.  Everton could have won the game in the last couple of minutes of normal time as Mirallas won a free kick on the edge of the box.  His delivery was parried by Gomes and hearts were in mouths as Lukaku’s follow-up rebounded off the crossbar.  Lukaku had another chance to snatch a winner as he met a cross from Coleman with a header but he directed it downwards and it was easy for Gomes.  In time added on, it was Watford who had a chance to get the winner as Amrabat played the ball back to Watson whose long range shot took a deflection and appeared to be heading for the top corner when Robles pulled off a great save to keep it out.  Guedioura was the next with a sight of goal, but he shot well over the bar.  Each side had one final half chance to snatch a winner.  First the visitors as Barry met a free kick with a header that was saved comfortably by Gomes.  Then Suárez found Ighalo whose shot was disappointingly soft and easy for Robles.

So, the final whistle went on what had been a very entertaining game of football and a pleasing point for both teams after their recent run of defeats.  Watford had been much brighter than of late and the return of Capoue to a central position did both him and us a favour.

Post-game, I had a quick chat with Mick Smithers, Watford’s Football Liaison Officer, who mentioned that the Everton fans had been delightful.  This was backed up by Karoline the Roadie who said they had been the nicest group of fans to visit Vicarage Road this season.

It is hard to believe that there are only two more home games left in this season but, before the next we have a trip to West Bromwich, a final hurrah at the Boleyn and a semi-final at Wembley.  A lot to look forward to and let’s hope that the team go into them with the positive approach that they took today.

A Pleasing Start

Pre-match formalities with a silly arch

Pre-match formalities with a silly arch

There was a certain element of groundhog day as the fixture computer gave us Everton away for the first game of the season, just as they did on our last visit to the Premier League. On that occasion, I left Watford at the crack of dawn on match day in order to visit Anthony Gormley’s Another Place on Crosby Beach, a place that I have come to love. The decision to add a distraction from the football was justified when we were robbed of a point due to a referee penalizing Chris Powell for a handball which actually struck his head. On arrival back at Watford Junction that evening, I bumped into Graham Simpson whose reaction to my concerns about that sort of luck plaguing our season was typically stroppy. I was saddened to be proved correct come the following May.

In the light of my previous experience, it was, perhaps, tempting fate to add a cultural element to Saturday’s visit to Liverpool. But, as my train arrived very early, I arranged to meet a friend at the Walker Gallery and thoroughly enjoyed my visit. Normal matchday protocol was soon resumed as the usual suspects gathered in a lovely old pub for beer and delicious pies. There was a lot of discussion pre-match about the propensity for pundits to predict our immediate relegation without having a clue about our manager or players. A bit of pragmatism was introduced as we acknowledged that most of us were equally ignorant of how our new recruits would perform and whether the team would gel in time.

Jurado ready to take a corner

Jurado ready to take a corner

The taxi driver who took us to the ground was clearly a red as he wished us luck while commenting that the Everton fans were expecting to thrash us. I can’t say that I doubted their confidence. Despite the feeling that we had made some quality signings during the Summer, I was feeling rather flat at the prospect of the new season.

Flores’s first competitive line-up included six new signings. The team was Gomes, Holebas, Prodl, Cathcart, Nyom, Behrami, Capoue, Layun, Jurado, Anya and Deeney. Former Watford loanee and Player of the Season, Tom Cleverley started for Everton.

As the formalities started before the game, there was a silly arch on the pitch that seemed to have no purpose beyond decoration. Also, I must admit that I didn’t hear Z-cars, which saddened me a bit. But, finally, the build-up was over and the game kicked off.

Celebrating Layun's strike

Celebrating Layun’s strike

The first goal action came in the 12th minute from the visitors as a Capoue cross was touched back by Layun to Deeney who tried a bicycle kick that flew wide. A minute later, Watford took the lead as a Deeney shot was blocked, it fell to Layun who hit it beautifully into the corner. The away end erupted with joy and, apologies for the blurred photo, but it was all I could do to point the camera, I couldn’t stop my hands shaking. Everton nearly equalized five minutes later as a corner from Mirallis was headed goalwards by Barry but Gomes was on hand to tip the ball over the bar. Capoue and Jurado exchanged passes, but the return was taken off the Frenchman’s feet. A through ball to Anya came to nothing as Howard was first to it. On 25 minutes, I saw a couple of fans that I know taking their seats. I had heard that the coaches were delayed and could only sympathise that they had missed our (opening) goal. It wasn’t until I got home that I discovered that the traffic queues on the M6 were caused by a friend of mine breaking down in the outside lane. She missed the game completely and insult was added to injury when she found out that her seat would have been very close to that occupied by her beloved professor Almen Abdi.

Prodl lines up a free kick

Prodl lines up a free kick

Back to the game and Everton had a lot of possession, but the Watford lads were doing a great job of frustrating them, constantly snapping at their feet and giving them no space at all such that it took nearly half an hour for the home side’s first goal attempt from open play which was a Barkley shot from distance that flew well over the bar. Barkley’s next attempt came soon after and was considerably more dangerous, a shot from the left of the area that required a touch from Gomes to keep it out. Cleverley was the next to threaten the Watford goal, but his cross-cum-shot was weak and easily gathered by the Watford keeper. A Barkley cross was headed clear by Holebas. Then Nyom appeared to be beaten on the wing, but caught his player, dispossessed him and went haring away with the ball, it was a real shame that this piece of joyous skill came to nothing as, when the ball eventually reached Capoue, he shot straight at Howard. Anya crossed for Deeney in the Everton box, but Stones fell on the ball which then broke to Galloway and Troy’s attempt to retrieve the ball left the Everton player on the floor and earned the Watford man a yellow card. Gomes came out to deal with a long ball and, as he was close to the edge of his area, pushed it clear of the attacking player. The home fans behind the goal appealed that he’d handled outside the box, but we were in line with it and it looked a legitimate move. There were smiles on Hornet faces again as Jurado nutmegged his man, the ball eventually reached Layun who shot just wide of the far post.

Gomes takes a free kick

Gomes takes a free kick

So we reached half time a goal to the good. But the smiles in the away end were as much to do with the performance, which had been disciplined to the extent of restricting the home team mostly to desperate shots from distance. Our defence, which came in for some criticism last season, looked solid. As a fan of Angella, it hurts me to admit this, but Prodl and Cathcart look like a formidable partnership. The quality of our other new recruits was clear to see and the concerns about the team gelling had been quelled. These were clearly lads who had met before.

It was unsurprising that Everton changed their shape in the second half and became more of a challenge. The first chance fell to Lukaku whose shot from a narrow angle was straight at Gomes. A long clearance from the Watford keeper reached Deeney whose downward header was gathered by Howard. Mirallas made a run down the wing and crossed, but Gomes punched for a corner that he comfortably gathered. A cross from Barkley gave Lukaku a great chance to equalize, but he headed wide. Lukaku then turned Cathcart but the Watford defender was soon back to snuff out the threat. An attempt to break by Capoue was stopped by Coleman who was booked for the foul. Watford’s first substitution saw Paredes replacing the goalscorer, Layun. Anya went on a great run down the wing, but his cross was blocked by Stones. Holebas was booked for taking too long over the resulting throw. When he finally released the ball, it was returned to him and he dribbled into the box but his shot was blocked. The Greek then tried a shot from distance that was punched by Howard as far as Jurado who shot over the bar.

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The bundle after Ighalo’s goal

A cross from Cleverley was met by the head of Kone who directed it just wide. Another Everton cross flew over the heads of the Watford defenders and reached Mirallas who clearly wasn’t expecting the ball, so it bounced off him. Watford’s second substitution saw the tiring Jurado replaced by Ighalo. Watford had had the lead for an hour, but the home side equalized with a lovely strike from Barkley which came after Behrami had tried to play the ball out instead of wellying it. I worried at this point that the home side would take control but the next chance was a Deeney header from a Holebas cross that Howard gathered, although I believe the lino on the opposite side had his flag raised. The final change for the Hornets saw Watson replace Behrami. The Hornets regained the lead on 83 minutes as Ighalo received the ball on the edge of the box and dummied England internationals Stones and Jagielka before coolly finishing past Howard. At this point, Deeney was standing in the box with his fists raised in celebration and the home fans were streaming for the exit. More fool them, as Everton equalized soon after as their substitute, Kone, shot across Gomes into the far corner. Both teams tried to push for the win. First Anya cut inside, but his shot was a bit weak and flew wide. Then Lukaku broke into the Watford box, Nyom got a touch to put him off and his subsequent shot was caught by Gomes. The five minutes of injury time passed without incident and the Hornets left Goodison Park with their first ever point at that venue.

Thanking the fans

Thanking the fans

There was some disappointment among some Watford fans that we had twice surrendered the lead. Others, me included, felt that we would have bitten hands off if offered a draw at the start of the game. We met a number of Toffees fans on our journey back to the city centre who were very complimentary about our performance and scathing of theirs. Most Watford fans were impressed with our strong showing and the quality of our new signings. Quique has promised us a surprise in each game. I am not sure that will be good for my blood pressure or my sanity, but I am intrigued to see how he will set up at home. So far, so good and I am really looking forward to the rest of the season.