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Everton 2 Watford 2 (08/08/2015) 09/08/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- Daughter 1 has just turned 9 but is already occasionally experimenting with the taciturn sullenness more associated with your average teenager, heaven help us. In my head she’s also the less fanatically committed of the two… something good to do of an afternoon for her, a reason for existence for her younger sister. So when Miguel Layún’s joyful volley hit the back of the net and our end of the Bullens Road Stand was going completely berserk and she turned to me with eyes like stars and proclaimed that “this is turning into the best day of my life“, it all seemed worthwhile… the agonising queues on the M6 (ostensibly caused by Alice breaking down in the outside lane… so we could have been worse off…), the uncomfortable mingling with Bedfordshire’s emissaries at a rammed Norton Canes services, the scratch down the side of the car caused by hurried parking in our pre-booked driveway… a thunderous return of Football that blew away the lingering memories of those miserable last few minutes against Sheffield and any angst we had going into the new season. What followed (and preceded) it was a noisy, breathtaking, cobweb-flushing afternoon’s entertainment. Welcome back.

2- image1 (2) Our first half was awesome. Layún’s goal was a fine thing, a fully merited decoration to a lively, sparky performance from the Mexican that was very nearly duplicated with a punched shot across the face of goal and narrowly wide just before half time. More impressive altogether was our much advertised defensive shape… in evidence against Sevilla it was heartening to see us looking so robust in a challenging competitive fixture, never behind in a game away from home and therefore under constant inspection. Less bodies thrown in front of the ball and last-ditch defending than the calm, absolute and brutal effectiveness of a car crusher, closing in on Everton’s pensive possession from all sides and squashing the air out of them. Protagonist in chief was the extraordinary Valon Behrami whose count of snarling, wholehearted but clean tackles in the first half alone was well into double figures. It was pointed out afterwards that there’s something heartwarming about a bearded number 8 throwing himself into battle for the cause… and the parallels with John Eustace are there, not least in the degree of control to match the aggression that saw Behrami pick up only 6 yellow cards in two and a half years at West Ham despite our fears. There are differences too, though… John Eustace’s menace was in the depths of the blue of his eyes. Valon Behrami’s is more overt, from the shock of fierce yellow in his hair to the slightly unhinged facial expressions he could hardly look more intimidating with a cutlass between his teeth. His partnership with Capoue, simultaneously deft and strong, silk and steel and keener to push up in support of the attack, looks a fine bedrock.

3- The old “will take time to gel” thing drifts from being a source of concern to a reason to be excited in the wake of the opening fixture. Because there were deficiencies, several of them actually, and yet we went and got a result despite them in a challenging away game, twice taking the lead in the process. This team is only going to get better (and worth noting, as an aside, that Jose Mourinho was enthusing in reviewing the season’s prospects, about the quality of players that the newly promoted clubs have been able to attract from abroad. Norwich have signed nobody from abroad, Bournemouth Max Gradel and a Portuguese loanee…). Inevitable that after our terrific first half that saw us dismantle Everton’s attacking play whilst threatening, if largely on the break, the home side would reshape and rethink and ultimately apply more pressure. Nonetheless it took a miscommunication between Behrami and Holebas, each leaving a bouncing ball to the other before the Swiss midfielder’s clumsy attempt to deal, to create the opening for Everton’s equaliser. That’s the sort of thing that happens when players don’t know each other but will get better… and faced with the imposing wall that was Sebastian Prödl and Craig Cathcart it still took a fine strike from Barkley to capitalise. Going forward, too, it doesn’t look quite right… and again, if Quique has prioritised defensive shape (to good effect on this evidence) then the attacking verve will develop in time. Jurado, certainly, was a little disconnected for all his obvious skill… catching the eye with a nutmeg of Barkley here, a clever flick over an opponent there but only rarely interacting with his teammates to good effect and not sufficiently physically robust, yet, to buy himself the time to work with. That’ll come. Ighalo, too… despite his wonderful goal being huge fun and betraying that for all John Stones’ evident attributes in what was otherwise a fine performance by the defender he’d forgotten (or never received) the brief on Ighalo’s favourite trick, the Nigerian looked a little unsure of his role, not quite up supporting Deeney, not quite back in the midfield. The second half in general saw us having to withstand a barrage of pressure, particularly in the opening 20 minutes as Everton changed formation and the relentless sun sapped the legs of Nyom and Holebas who had both been eager and energetic outlets from fullback; you’d rather we didn’t have to cope with that every week.

4- Everton, for their own part, were far more agreeable than some of their visits to Vicarage Road in recentish years have suggested. Affable stewards, friendly supporters stopping us in the street to shake hands and reflect on the game. Perhaps I’m getting old but this stuff matters… or is appreciated at any rate. Admittedly a drawn game in the sunshine helps… I’d have not been in the mood for anything much had we lost, as has been the tradition at Goodison Park, and I’m sure we wouldn’t have found the locals as cheerful if the reverse had been true. Being accompanied by two young girls probably doesn’t hurt either… something about the presence of children that rather alters any perception of threat as those who were on the same trip as I was to Carrow Road in 2006 will surely remember. Most of all, yet another boisterous and bouncing performance by the support in the spirit encouraged by the 1881 was tremendous, and being focused on supporting our lot rather than antagonising the opposition (for the most part) alienates nobody. There are, of course, significant exceptions for whom directed comment will be appropriate, but for now another sterling performance by the travelling Hornets.

5- As a building block, as a start, as a statement of intent this was tremendous. It’s only a point, and much as it might have caused immediate revision of the widely held view that Watford will struggle and finish bottom we’ve only made a single, positive step along the road. Significant, though, both as regards our own prospects and our own sentiment that whereas in the past Premier League seasons we’ve been the ones reflecting on a positive performance undone by a late goal, or bemoaning decisions that went against us (whilst ignoring the two goals we conceded by dint of standing stock still in our own penalty box, speaking hypothetically) we’re now able to look back on the moments of Premier League quality from the opposition – Barkley’s finish, the build up to Kone’s equaliser – and recognise that it took these to deprive us of victory at a ground where we’ve only ever tasted defeat in nine previous visits. Those moments – the bad decisions, the unrewarded performances – might still come. On this evidence, we shouldn’t expect them to be decisive in determining our season. Yoooorns.


1. Alice Arnold - 09/08/2015

Thanks for the report Matt. Wish I’d been there to see it! Hope I never break down in the fast lane of a motorway again. Stranded in a traffic jam so no way of getting the car over onto the hard shoulder. Not a fun experience. Feel very bad for those I delayed – I formally apologise. At least we are back in the NW in 3 weeks so I can collect the stupid car.

Matt Rowson - 09/08/2015

Didn’t see that it was you. Was bathing in that sea of relief that you get when you pass an obstruction on the motorway and the traffic flies away in front of you…

2. simmos - 09/08/2015

Lots of positives out of the day but my slight negative was that Holebas seemed to fade in the final 20 minutes and Anya was not getting back enough to help which ultimately resulted in the draw rather than a win. In the second half all the danger came from Everton’s right and but for some poor headers we may have had our usual result at Goodison. I am hoping that this is just early season lack of fitness and that we can finally overcome the same problem of old with the left side of defence.

3. dandjwray - 09/08/2015

Matt. Thanks for this, in particular the Behrami description as he certainly puts Jack Sparrow to shame.
Really good friendly atmosphere before and after the game, we even met some Liverpool fans who were happy with the result as well.
Decided to use the train and got back home at 11.30pm so maybe car next time?

4. Keith catchpole - 09/08/2015

Excellent report as ever Matt…. Agreed about the interaction with the Everton fans before and after… Top supporters and felt really safe until our own interaction with Bedfordshires finest in the services who tried to wind us up bravely outnumbering us 20 to 3… I just thought of Nic and kept my trap shut and left them to the hoardes of Wolves fans who arrived on our way out… How ironic.

5. Matt Lovett - 09/08/2015

4th time I’ve been to Goodison and the first time I’ve ever had anything to celebrate. Unfortunately I was high up in the Gwladys Road End with my Everton supporting mate who fully expected normal service from this fixture, so restraint was the order of the day. Lots of long faces among the Everton hardcore – even the equalisers were greeted with relief rather than joy. What a fine place Goodison Park is though – proper ground, proper fans, proper club.

6. Quebechornet - 09/08/2015

Great result in the end given how much Everton dominated the 2nd half. Concerned as to how much we seemed to tire, but maybe that was due to the effort in the 1st half and it being the 1st game of the season. It begins…

7. Goldenboy60 - 09/08/2015

For a team with so many new players and one of the toughest fixtures we could have faced, I thought the TEAM did brilliantly on their first competitive game together. I think there is huge promise and they worked their socks off throughout the game in their closing down as a team. Yes we tired a little but they will get match fit as the games go on. This will be a very interesting season and I don’t believe we will get caught up in the bottom 3. I would like to see how Vydra’s pace can be used to help out Troy though is he going to be able to keep his discipline?

Despite all the hype around Bournemouth I think they will finish in the bottom 3. This is going to be one hell of a ride.

Matt Rowson - 09/08/2015

As per the preview, I think Bournemouth might struggle in the end but will start OK. They’re a decent side. Agree about our team, and Vydra… the question is quite where he (and Ighalo) fit in the formation that Quique seems to favour.

8. NickB - 09/08/2015

Is that THE Alice Arnold?

alicejarnold - 10/08/2015

Lol – nope I’m definitely not married to Clare Balding!

9. JimB76 - 10/08/2015

Agreed, lots of positives to take from a great day, not least the familiarity that seemed to exist between Capoue and Behrami who swept up for one another / made room for passes etc on numerous occassions – impressive stuff.

Anyone that feels there is more time in the premiership might have had second thoughts at that first half, not sure I’ve witnessed many more high-paced 45min encounters than that. They say the cream rises to the top in these situations, step forward Layun who looked solid for the first half then seemed to fade after the break, presumably running out of steam. Until then his calling for the ball, positioning, passing and interceptions had been first class. Enough said already on his goal.

Our ability to absorb the kitchen sink thrown at us in the first 15mins of 2H was also pleasing – good on Prodl and Cathcart for standing up, but also the fullbacks who did a crackign job. The one downside for me was Anya who having got the ball in quite a few good positions made some poor choices with his passes, either losing the ball or putting teammates under pressure.

I was very proud to be a Watford fan on Saturday, nice watching Flores’ humble yet upbeat post-match interviews too.

Get Ighalo signed up ASAP

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