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Everton 1 Watford 0 (17/08/2019) 18/08/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- It should be clear to all who indulge in such things that the First Home Game Of The Season and The First Away Game Of The Season are distinctly special things. The First Game Of The Season has a lustre of its own, of course, but above and beyond that there’s something special about returning to the Vic and something equally special about hitting the road again.

It’s difficult to justify driving half the length of the country to watch a football match and then driving the same distance back on the same day to someone not themselves invested.  But this is very different to doing the same journey for something as mundane as work…  the journey itself, in both the literal and the abstract sense, is part of the joy.

So…  getting up early to facilitate a lunchtime arrival in Liverpool is great.  A detour to pick up in Milton Keynes is great.  Comfortable prattle in the car is great, as is comfortable silence, commentary on the radio, stops for snacks, stops for fast food, getting stymied by a closed road heading back into MK and the subsequent adventure through single track back roads, Doctor Duncan’s, driving past Stoke’s ground (Stoke this, Stoke that), whatever it’s called, and Anfield, all of it.  Great.  Football’s back.  Hurrah.

2- Goodison Park is old.  Visibly old.  In a good way, although I suppose that only being here once a season helps.  There’s a novelty these days in a stadium that has evolved rather than being designed, with all the wonkiness that brings.  The concourse is broad, nothing like the alarming crushes of Anfield for example, but the roof is low, the width undulates creating plenty of nooks and crannies and it feels claustrophobic.  Also in a good way.  And noisy.

In the stadium itself we note that the Toffees, not satisfied with trying to nick our players, have also aped the bin-bag flags of Wembley (though more half-heartedly, the jam slightly scraped across the toast rather than a comprehensive slathering).

Noting Gerry in the starting eleven, Tom on the bench and not wanting to restart any further discussion of Z-Cars (jesus) we leave that one there.  Unlike many of our counterparts who persist with a particularly classy song about Everton’s narcissistic head coach.   No, really, awesome stuff.  Some feat to get half of the Watford crowd’s sympathies behind Silva, good work.

Gradually focus turns to what’s going on on the pitch; we’re desperately hoping for no repeat of last Saturday’s vapid performance against Brighton.

3- For the first twenty minutes or so, we get a repeat of last Saturday’s vapid performance against Brighton.  Everton come screaming out of the traps and are quickly looking for long passes over the heads of our full backs to Bernard and Richarlíson.  It’s effective too, effective because we’re off the pace, still, all over the pitch and particularly in the midfield; Everton have too much time to pick these passes.  Deulofeu scampers off with the ball once but can’t get it onto his stronger foot, and twice subsequently surrenders possession timidly when an opportunity had suggested itself.

The goal comes, and it’s not entirely a surprise.  A long ball out from the back sees Bernard released down the left;  he cuts inside onto his right foot and drives low inside Ben Foster’s near post.  It’s a poor goal defensively, though the replay reveals a deflection which downgrades it to poor from appalling.  We don’t say much, but “what the f*** is going on?” is what the aura is shrieking.

4- The noise from the away end barely wavers though, to everyone’s credit.  Everton immediately take a step back, perhaps hoping to do what Brighton did and sucker us into overcommitting to hit us on the break.  Instead, removing their foot from our neck allows us to claw our way back into the game.

Craig Dawson had an inglorious debut last week, but he looks much more the part here.  As we’re in the confidence-building stage of trying to hang onto possession as Everton hare after us, he’s the calmest and the one with the quickest feet at the back, confidently moving the ball to a yellow shirt in space.  He also does that thing you were looking forward to when we signed him, towering at the back post to send a deep corner crashing goalwards.  It smacks off the crossbar to the bafflement of the away end whose angle had suggested a goal.  We will get goals from that.

So half time comes, lucky chocolate is studiously shared and consumed and if we’re still behind then there’s reason for cautious optimism.  Optimism that’s reinforced from the first kick of the second half as Étienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucouré grab hold of that midfield and rip it between their teeth.

This is more like it.  No, we don’t get the goal but we are dominant in the second half and force an Everton side with a fine defensive record into risky challenges and pressure situations.  Capoue in particular does well, given that he’s running the gauntlet of a silly yellow from the first half.  We completely unpeel them once, when the Frenchman surges out with the ball (not for the first or last time) and an interplay with Deulofeu releases Deeney.  Only a stupendous block from Pickford, out quickly to receive the shot full in the face, denies him.

On comes Danny Welbeck, who had been the subject of increasing adulation from the away end.  His first touch as a Watford player is as rusty as hell but he gets better…  nimble, aware, mobile, strong and elegant.  A good start, and utterly sensible to give minutes to a man who badly needs them.  His appearance seems to invigorate Troy also;  the skipper has won next to nothing from Keane all afternoon but suddenly has his number, perhaps because he had a more obviously attentive target to flick on to.

We don’t have it all our own way.  Richarlíson has two headers at goal, one a particularly bad miss which could have changed the tone completely in a low-key afternoon for the Brazilian.  Moise Kean turns and twists to send a low shot narrowly wide.  But these are the exceptions… we have the upper hand, we’re forcing the corners.  Another good move from right to left sees Doucouré missing out at the far post, perhaps harshly denied a corner.

5- The game ends without us hammering on the door, partly due to Everton’s effective “game management”.  Everyone does this of course, Everton are no worse than most others…  but as an aside the tapping of the wrist to indicate time being added on as by Lee Mason here misses at least some of the point.  When you’re chasing the game you don’t want the other lot to kill the momentum…  it’s not just about time remaining it’s about being able to play it effectively.  A staccato ten minutes isn’t much harder to manage than a staccato five minutes as the side protecting a lead if the referee doesn’t take action to forcibly prevent the slowing of everything down rather than pretending that tapping his wrist and adding a minute or so covers it.

As for VAR…  another game not particularly disrupted by the technology in the sense of that M word, Momentum, again.  A couple of the judgements looked a bit odd, not least Mina escaping without conceding a penalty for what looked a foul against Deulofeu.  But… it didn’t take time, which is the main thing for me.  Indeed, VAR’s biggest negative intervention here was to result in the scoreboard erroneously advising that Brighton had gone ahead.  Not so seamless elsewhere, once again.

So we wandered back across Stanley Park in the sunshine, beaten but unbowed.  Another defeat, yes, from a game in which we could, maybe should have taken something but the greatest need from today was to see that there wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong, that the Watford team in our heads was still there.  We got that in spades, particularly in that second half.

Unfavourable statistics have been trotted out, but these things mean nothing out of context.  And there’s plenty of context for the run of defeats, the lack of clean sheets…  Cup Final, Troy’s suspension, da da da da da.  There’s a lot of grey space between everything’s terrible and everything’s great, and that’s where we are.

And one day we will win here.  We’ll cash in the debt of luck we’re owed at this ground (a very small extension of Everton’s credit here today courtesy of that deflection) and we’ll absolutely dick them.  And we’ll be there to see it.

Oh, and did I mention that football’s back?  Hurrah.


Foster 2, Femenía 2, Holebas 3, Dawson 3, Cathcart 3, *Capoue 4*, Doucouré 4, Hughes 3, Pereyra 4, Deulofeu 3, Deeney 3
Subs: Welbeck (for Hughes, 67) 3, Cleverley (for Deulofeu, 79) 0, Gray (for Capoue, 84) 0, Janmaat, Kabasele, Quina, Gomes


1. baz - 18/08/2019

You did ok yesterday if a bit scrappy. We probably would have conceded this time last season but a bit better defensively this. You better get a move on if you want that elusive Goodison victory. We’re moving home in a few years.

Matt Rowson - 18/08/2019

Cheers Baz. You looked solid. I’ll pass on the memo about getting the Goodison win sorted.

2. Lincoln Hornet - 18/08/2019

I was at the game and for me you have summed it up perfectly. We are not shite like a lot of moaners on social media are saying and if they have their way Javi will be looking for another job this week. With a bit of luck and the same commitment we will get three points next week and spank Newcastle the week after and all will look a lot brighter.

3. Paulus - 18/08/2019

A fair report as ever but my 5 thunks if I may based on the last two games are: Daws makes me nervous when he tries to play the ball forwards, Kiko is better going forwards than defending, lumping the ball up to Troy who last week and this was being marked by giants isn’t a great game-plan, we are often far too slow getting the ball forwards, and Javi really needs to consider whether his favoured XI should begin every game (Hughesy bless him isnt a natural wide man, and may well miss out when the new guys are up to speed.) A marked improvement in the second half yesterday, and no need to panic yet, but may well be looking up at a lot of teams at the end of Sept…..

4. Robert Hill - 18/08/2019

I thought we dominated the ball for the greater time than Everton had. Our defending was better and I can feel the belief rising even though we’ve lost both games. We just need that extra zip in and around opponents penalty areas. Certainly we contained Everton, and now we need to be more ambitious and be sharper when we are in the opponents penalty area.
We can do this with an improved sharpness and confidence. I’m sure we will get there.

5. WD3 - 18/08/2019

Thanks for providing some well-needed reassurance, Matt – zero points, bottom of the nascent table and 6 consecutive defeats paints a pretty dismal picture so good to know that nothing is fundamentally wrong. Need to start picking up some points before confidence crumbles, however….

6. HornetFez - 18/08/2019

Strikes me that the preseason preparation was two matches shy of what was required for match sharpness. There’s something to be said for banging in four or five goals against lower league opposition over the summer… not that we should pass up the chance of playing the likes of Leverkusen and Ajax.

7. Robert Hill - 19/08/2019

I don’t know how many got caught in traffic around Birmingham but when going to the North West I always go up the M1, and do a left just before Derby which takes you across to the M6 on the A50, joining at Stoke after going past the ground and much further North on the M6, leaving the Birmingham traffic behind.

Matt Rowson - 19/08/2019

Yep. What we did both ways.

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