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Watford 2 Everton 3 (01/02/2020) 02/02/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- Bloody hell.

2- People believe all sorts of crazy shit.  By “people” I mean everyone, yours truly included. In all sorts of contexts from the profoundly consequential to the thoroughly banal people can convince themselves of the validity of a wide range of inane twaddle. The need for certainty, for an unequivocal position often trumps all considerations rendering nuance, balance and complexity all inconvenience.

It’s for this reason that exposing oneself to a range of perspectives, opinions, cultures is a Good Thing.  Allowing your own belief system to be challenged on your own terms, in an unexposed and unthreatening way, is healthy.  It weeds out some of the crazy shit.

But there are situations where absolute certainty, total belief, can be advantageous.  Not all situations, obviously.  Total belief in crazy shit can and does result in all sorts of dangerous and witless circumstances.  But sometimes, sometimes, believing in something absolutely is a strength and a comfort.  That’s what makes it so attractive of course.  And in such circumstances that fact that you believe in something is more important than what you actually believe in.

3- Everton, then.  The latest massive game in the parade of massive games that will stretch from now until our fate is decided one way or another.  It has that feel to it too, today…  intense sunshine but cold, biting, ferocious wind.  It feels pivotal.  It feels as if stuff is about to happen.

Stuff happens pretty much immediately too in a game which has a buffeted around feel to it consistent with the conditions;  uncontrolled, a little wild, never quite allowed to settle down but invigorating and never dull.  We start strongly;  both sides are set up offensively, Everton in a positive looking 4-4-2, the Hornets with the increasingly settled looking 4-2-3-1-ish but with a bench packed with forwards.

But whilst there’s a little bit of getting-to-grips in the opening minutes – a tentative attack sees Calvert-Lewin head gently into Foster’s arms, Chalobah finds an early free kick swept over the penalty area on an unpredictable gust – the Hornets have the early territorial advantage and the first glorious move of the game produces a goal on ten minutes.  A break that starts with a majestic block by Kabs on Richarlíson sweeps down the right, Capoue’s crossfield pass does an only passable job of navigating the gusts but is brought to heel impossibly by Deulofeu.  Masina lopes onto his layoff and his cross-shot bounces happily past Jordan Pickford.  The left back has been afforded the accolade of his own song and looks every inch the first choice left back.  He is mobbed.

Most of the first half is a comfortable thing.  The sun is shining, any nervousness has gone and we’re knocking the ball around and retaining possession with the swagger that only a lead can bring.  The same actions at nil-nil would yield a much less patient reaction.

There’s a brief exchange between Laurent Digne and Roberto Pereyra.  The former comes through the back of the Argentine in turning over possession.  Not a reckless challenge but a dangerous one, albeit it isn’t punished by Craig Pawson.  Two minutes later Pereyra takes the first opportunity to kick Digne up the arse in retribution – in front of the away end no less.  He gets away with it and we grin.  We’re one-up, today is a good day.

Everton are far from the worst side we’ve seen this season but they’re not Brazil 1970 either. As Troy, who is beating the crap out of Yerry Mina, plays a ball through for Bobby Pereyra to plant a gorgeous finish for 2-0 we don’t have a care in the world;  the Toffees’ best efforts haven’t yielded an effort on target since that flick from Calvert-Lewin.  Everton earn a late corner, it’s an afterthought.  Our defending is scruffy, the ball breaks unfavourably, it’s a tight thing but Mina stabs home.  Two minutes later, deep into injury time now, another corner and Mina is criminally allowed to nod in at the far post by a sleeping Cathcart.  There’s so much wrong with this…  Mina being allowed to dominate the area, our heads not being in it.  Some of these things would be abetted with a big ugly centre back, a Ben Gibson or a Craig Dawson maybe, but not all.  It’s a maddening and horribly expensive two minutes.

4- The second half takes some time to settle down, but gradually we remember that we were the better side for most of the first and regain the initiative.  This is abetted with twenty minutes to go when Fabien Delph, comfortably the best player on the pitch to this point, picks up a second yellow card for an ill-judged attempt to rob Capoue.  It looks a soft one, but his expression as soon as it happens betrays that he knows what’s coming.

This gives us the upper hand, the initiative.  In the stands we’re keeping track of the toing and froing in the games around us but a win today was always going to take us out of the relegation zone and everyone could feel it.

With retrospect, there is criticism of Pearson’s decision making here.  Certainly his earlier choice of replacement for the worryingly fragile Chalobah could have been Will Hughes, whose tigerish snapping at the back of the midfield had been a feature of successes before his injury.  Thing is…  for all our positive play we hadn’t mustered a chance on target ourselves since our second goal, and much as Gerry had found himself one-on-one with Sidibe a couple of times we hadn’t really looked like doing so.  So Pearson changed something, rather than making a more like-for-like swap. No problem with that.

Welbeck will take games to get fully up to speed (Pete, rather cruelly, nails his colours to eight minutes before Danny crocks himself again) but he looks hugely impressive here.  Quick, clever, mobile, intelligent, perhaps the biggest positive from this afternoon.  Further attempts to mix things up follow… Isaac Success, looking heavier than ever, was expected to be elsewhere by now but Nige still has some faith in his role as an agent of chaos.  His willing thundering around is no more ineffective than anyone else’s in reality, but his backstory counts against him and there are more voices on the way back up Occupation Road blaming the afternoon’s developments on him than there are to bad defending.

Pussetto’s on too, for perhaps his most convincing cameo to date.  We’re applying pressure and knocking on the door (albeit politely and with every intention of slipping away quietly if we don’t get an answer) when Everton break.

It’s easy to pick holes in our behaviour here.  The otherwise excellent Masina gives the ball away, critically, and neither brings Richarlíson down straight away nor gets close enough to him to put in a break-stopping challenge afterwards.  Cathcart, again, could have played a more assertive role than he did.  But in truth this was Everton’s most convincing attack of the game, a lethal breakaway perfectly executed.  It left the home stands shaking collective heads in disbelief.

5- And that lack of belief, that lack of conviction in direction of travel is perhaps the most concerning aspect of the afternoon.  When Nige took over we surged with that common purpose;  others might have called it a new manager bounce, but it felt like more than that in that we’d seen play like this from these players last season, it felt more like refinding form.

Where’s that belief now?  Why were we not surging all over Everton’s midfield with an extra man in the middle and Gylfi Sigurdsson eminently tramplable?  Why did Gerry fail to square for Danny Welbeck in the second half, why did Troy give him two barrels for it, why did Gerry slouch away in a sulk walking past the ball that needed quickly ferrying sideways for a quicker corner to accelerate the pressure?  Deulofeu was subbed soon afterwards;  he hadn’t played particularly badly, but that demonic shared purpose has vanished.  Concerning, too, that having failed to strengthen at the back in the window Craig Cathcart puts in his worst showing in memory.

As ever, this report has spilled over from Saturday evening into Sunday morning and I’m not as despondent after a night’s sleep.  It was a horrible afternoon, sure, another criminally wasted opportunity that feeds a potentially self-fulfilling belief that we are get-attable… opponents believe it and come at us with, you know, more belief and so it continues.

But looking at the table, we’re still only a win away from escaping the relegation zone.  It’s been said repeatedly that, the top one or three teams aside, this is a poor Premier League…  it’s poor at the top end but relatively strong at the bottom.  Norwich are the worst team in the league, but no basket case and comfortably stronger than the three that went down last season.  Much of the rest of the division is much of a muchness.  We just need to avoid being in the worst two of the rest, and as many will have noted amidst feverish overanalysis of Nige’s choice of words, Ismaïla Sarr’s recovery is a game changer at both ends of the pitch.

But we really could do with rediscovering that belief.  Preferably before Brighton next Saturday.  See you there.


Foster 3, Mariappa 2, *Masina 4*, Cathcart 2, Kabasele 3, Capoue 3, Doucouré 2, Chalobah 3, Deulofeu 3, Pereyra 3, Deeney 4
Subs: Welbeck (for Chalobah, 57) 3, Success (for Pereyra, 75) 2, Pussetto (for Deulofeu, 82) NA, Holebas, Hughes, Gray, Gomes




1. Harefield Hornet - 02/02/2020

In 42 years that’s probably one of the most annoying afternoons at Vicarage Road I have experienced. We looked so assured before that mad extra time at the end of the first half (where did it all come from by the way?) I was seething with rage and having just about recovered by the time Delph got his marching orders….. well what happened after that is beyond belief? The crazy thing is if we were comfortable in mid-table you’d just enjoy the match for what it was and move on. But our current predicament negates that philosophy. We now need to win half a dozen of our remaining 13 games now to stay up – starting next Saturday.

NickB - 02/02/2020

Same here, HH. Plenty of matches where I’ve felt desolate at full-time, but that’s the worst half-time I can recall experiencing. The dressing room must have been like a morgue.
These days refs always seem to let corners and attacking free-kicks be taken when added time has apparently expired. Someone should remind them that this should only be the case with penalties.

2. Buckstops - 02/02/2020

It’s still niggling me big time. We’ve now practically thrown away 8 points from the last 3 years. I’m not sure we need 6 wins but we do need to start winning again from next week. The quality was there for all to see yesterday but so was that bit of complacency. Maybe it’s over confidence. Let’s hope it’s not arrogance.

Nick B Jnr - 02/02/2020

I agree (assuming you mean 7 points from three games)… but having only won five games all season, exactly how we are going to at least match that is now looking a forlorn hope.

I think it’s win at Brighton or bust now.

Great first 45 minutes yesterday, notwithstanding.

Nick B jnr - 02/02/2020

Apologies Buckstops; I totally misread your post. You (obviously) said 8 points dropped, whereas I’ve been stewing over the probability that we should have picked up 7 points from those games.

Either way, it’s 1 point from 9, which ain’t ideal!

3. simmos - 03/02/2020

I was not as angry at the late goal as most seem to be although this does make life difficult for us. Pearson was clearly trying to win 3 points and I would prefer that than having to watch us defend for large parts at home against the likes of Sheffield United and Bournemouth to achieve 0-0 draws.

I seem to recall that in our most recent promotion season when we played Ipswich at home we similarly controlled the game only to lose in the last minute with a breakaway goal. That didn’t stop our promotion push and I am hoping that history repeats itself. If the team can remain positive, results will fall in our favour.

david - 03/02/2020

Ageeed Simmos, We made positive substitutions in the home Villa game and it worked. Yesterday it failed but that in itself does not mean Person’s strategy was wrong. Im accepting what Im told, Chabs removal was medical not tactical but we diddn’t look like scoring once he went off.

Success is a worry; if we were mid table we could afford giving him time to see what he can do but…….

simmos - 04/02/2020

I agree David. The substitutions didn’t work but at least Pearson was trying to make a positive impact on the game.

As for Success, I am sure there is a decent player in there but I just don’t see us being the team to get anything from him. However the option of Gray equally doesn’t fill me with hope and I wonder if we would be better turning to Penaranda or Pedro as the impact sub.

4. Mark Scholfield - 05/02/2020

Substituting 3 of our best passers was a big mistake as even against 10 men we created virtually nothing

Matt Rowson - 05/02/2020

Agree we created nothing. But we were creating nothing with those guys on the pitch, criticising changes for not working is 20/20 hindsight. In any case Chalobah had a knock (again), Deulofeu was sulking.

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