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Everton 2 Watford 5 (23/10/2021) 24/10/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- Sometimes you wake up and the world feels different.

I love this time of year anyway.  You can step outside in the morning and the air is surprisingly cold without being cold.  You feel alive.  But the more so on this particular morning, there’s an unnatural silence as we leave the house, a stillness.  Like we’ve stepped out in between days and everything else is frozen.

Daughter 1 was deterred by the prospect of a 9am start – which, given how her previously documented choices have gone this season should have been encouragement in itself.  But Daughter 2, isn’t letting me get past “do you fancy going to…” at the moment and is briskly purposeful as we set off.  She’s not missed an away trip yet and this is a significant milestone – at twelve years and three months, her one hundredth game.

9am because as any seasoned veteran knows, the M6 is not to be trusted.  Today is relatively benign, the hold-ups frequent but tame.  We float through them all in a eerily serene bubble.  This will not be a normal day.

This will be the day that we cash in all of our Goodison chips.  This is for Chris Powell, and the ultimately decisive penalty given against him for having the ball smashed into his face in 2005.  This is for Lucas Digne’s 96th-minute free kick three years ago.  For Alice breaking down on the M6, for me taking out the side of the Qashqai in a hurried attempt to park in 2015.  For Felix’s puncture in 2000, the insane jacking up on the side of the motorway before rushing to Goodison to see us get effortlessly dicked.  Again.  For Gomes’ injury and Cleverley’s missed penalty.  For Steve Terry in 1983, one of six defeats in six visits in our first top flight spell.

You wouldn’t have chosen to cash in all those chips at once.  But given that we were to go whole hog, it would have been rude not to enjoy it.

2- Any instinct to rub the outcome of the afternoon into the noses of the watching (or reading) Toffees is severely tempered by a thoroughly agreeable pre-match pint of Guinness at the Abbey on the edge of Stanley Park.  Pubs very close to away grounds are best avoided as a general rule, but this place comes recommended by Tony who drops in for a swift pint and for comparison of pre-match notes before we head to opposite “ends”.  The Abbey and its patrons are good natured and likeable, despite the very obvious threat posed by my brother’s young herberts as they march in in full colours.  One local apologises earnestly for unwittingly stepping ahead of me at the bar, another offers to dance as we try to negotiate passage down a narrow corridor.  Tony assures Daughter 2 that her latest discovery and new obsession, the Chicken Balti pie, is on the menu at the ground.  He’s wrong, as it turns out… they’re down to Steak and Ale or Scouse as the noisy concourse rattles through a back catalogue championing Almen Abdi and Fernando Forestieri amongst others.  In the context of the afternoon Daughter 2 agrees to let him off.

Which isn’t to suggest that the afternoon passed without mishap or mis-step.  Far from it.  Three minutes in and our early punchiness was undermined by a bold but criminally under-bootered Everton attack down the Watford right.  The sprightly Anthony Gordon was at the centre of this…  our viewpoint is low-ish and looking down the goalline as Demarai Gray made the most of a fortunate bounce in front of us to get past William Troost-Ekong and square for Tom Davies to shovel home despite Masina, Cathcart and Foster being in the vicinity.  All much, much too easy.

That air of serenity descended again.  The back of my neck felt suddenly cold as the development sunk home, the futility of another trip to Goodison, memories of last week’s misfortunes which I’d followed on a phone screen extrapolated to what seemed to be beginning in front of us, the prospect of Daughter 2 finally deciding that this is all a bit of a pain in the backside.  “It’s going to be a long season” said the bloke behind me;  I was more focused on a long afternoon, reflecting that the forlorn possibility of a positive outcome could have lasted a little longer.

The only thing that could realistically have made the situation more miserable was the Doughnut Chorus chirping up from their infiltrated positions above and behind us.  Gleefully leaping at the possibility of gallows humour, “How sh*t must you be, it’s only one-nil” descending into songs about Gylfi Sigurdsson and, if in admittedly tamer numbers, telling Ben Foster where to stick his go-Pro.  That’ll be Ben Foster who, still Watford’s top keeper or otherwise, ill-judged sharer of tickets or otherwise, has been part of some of our best days over 16 years, 200-odd games, ex-Player of the Season.  We’ve not reached the tenth minute yet. Pitiful.

3- So the next development was hugely significant both in its timing and outcome.  I was reminded of that VAR decision at Wembley in 2019 , the VAR decision upon which the outcome of the semi-final against Wolves seemed to hang.  The last minute penalty is denied and surely the gig is up… but it was given, Troy was never missing that penalty, the inevitability of ultimate victory was sown in that moment.

The VAR delay to the confirmation of Josh King’s equaliser after he gobbled up a knock-down from a right wing cross wasn’t perhaps quite as decisive, but it felt pivotal.  We went through the charade of celebrating, then being derided by the home stands for celebrating, then the home stands simmering down as the ongoing precariousness of the situation became apparent.  Then the verdict,,, the veracity of which, the likely outcome of which, we had no basis to judge beyond increasing confidence in a favourable outcome as it dragged on.  The direction of travel of the game, for all that we’d reacted positively to going behind, was dramatically arrested, the negative sentiment in the away end quelled (although the Sigurdsson chants would resurface, inexplicably, in the closing celebrations).  Game on.

It was 1-1 for quite a long time, on reflection; the crazy denouement would distort any subsequent recollection of time and space.  The remainder of the first half was one of those periods with mood phases, like a piece of classical music.  I’m guessing.  Buoyed by the equaliser, we continued to play on the front foot and here’s the biggest contrast from last week.  We could easily have lost this game, in many other universes we do lose this game, but the aggressive, pushy, bolshy in-your-faceness of our defiance was a world away not just from the Liverpool performance but from those that immediately preceded it.  There’s been much criticism of our defending, but the midfield has been the bigger issue for me, the bit that we’ve spent so much time trying to get right since promotion in 2015, the bit that’s helped us look so convincing once it’s been sorted.  A midfield that can be relied upon to either protect the defence or fuel a threat in the other direction takes the pressure off of that defence;  too often ours has been doing neither.

But here we’re getting a boot in and had we lost this game 2-1, say, then this would have been the very large consolation to take from the performance.  We look like a team.  We’re fighting for each other, we’re moving the ball around.  It’s not perfect, it’s not finished, and it’s not entirely consistent – Ozan Tufan occasionally needs encouragement to track back – but there’s a plan.  Sissoko punched in a low shot that flew wide but might have felled the goalpost had it connected. Cucho cut in from the left and slung a ball in with his right foot;  it’s deflected but not kindly enough for the onrushing red shirts.  

Everton reasserted themselves.  This is a flimsy and understrength Toffees side… two goalkeepers on an eight-man bench, a manifestly unfit Allan trundling around in midfield in the absence of Doucs, Rondón toiling on like an ageing seventies rocker churning out the old hits to keep himself in beer money.  We’re not Brazil 1970 ourselves though, and in passing should probably acknowledge the contribution of referee Graham Scott.  Having oft cursed Peter Walton for his appalling misjudgement here that got Aidy Boothroyd’s Prem season off to the worst of starts it’s only fair to acknowledge the hard line which Scott took with Everton’s increasingly desperate attempts to win themselves a penalty.  Anthony Gordon was the first, a foolish challenge in the box gave him a leg to throw himself over and this he did but Scott, mercifully, told him to get up and stop being so silly.  In the second half Allan would be booked for similar optimism at the far end; an increasingly sassy Daughter 2 meeting this with the derision it deserved – “I could see that was a dive from here”.  This ranks just below “Why is there an Everton player playing for England?” and “Why isn’t he (Gordon) doing his GCSEs?” as her most acidic of the afternoon.

So Everton finished the half on top, but the character of the reaction to going behind and the vastly more credible performance earned the Watford team and staff a suitably persistent ovation as they paraded off into the corner in front of us at the break.

4- The hat-trick and the backdrop to it gets the plaudits of course, but there was far more to like about Joshua King’s performance than these details, a five star showing even without the goals.  The start to his Watford career has been in fits and bursts;  this was only his third full ninety minutes, niggles and fitness have interrupted his progress.  Nonetheless, we’ve looked far more credible as an attacking unit with him in the side, the glue that holds it all together.  

At Goodison Park, whether fuelled by indignation at his treatment here last season or otherwise, all those encouraging signs came together in a magnificent centre-forward’s performance.  He battled for the ball, He held it up, he held people off.  He orchestrated our attacking play. He brought players into the game.  Oh yes, and he scored a hat-trick.

He could have scored more.  Early in the second half Sarr wriggled away down the right and sent a low, firm ball into the centre; King attacked it well but shouldn’t have given the unwitting Pickford, who benefitted from the speed of his reactions but didn’t know much about the save, a chance.

Instead it was the home side that took the lead, following the first of a number of significant substitutions.  Transparently Benítez is on a hiding to nothing at Goodison.  His successes will be celebrated, but he has a very steep and possibly endless hill to climb before he can get away with anythingThe simmering anxiety at his charges’ failure to roll us over culminated in booing at his replacement of livewire Gordon with the returning Richarlíson;  Rondón would have been a more popular exit.  From our point of view Gordon’s early vim had faded, and Benítez does like to retain a big man up top – Digne, Townsend and Gray loading bullets from the flanks provides at least a theoretical threat.  In any case, it was a significant change in tone from the very flat atmosphere that Tony had warned us of pre-game.  

And of course Richarlíson scored three minutes later as his movement surprised Cathcart and he met Keane’s fine cross to leave Foster stranded and helpless.  Tempting to mock the hypocrisy of the Everton celebrations, were it not for the Doughnut Chorus’s own comparable volt-face earlier on.  Every support has its idiots.

5- There was an inevitability about Richarlíson doing us again from a Watford perspective, but this never felt like the death-knell that Davies’ opener had.  The tone of the game, the fragility of both sides, was long evident.  This wasn’t over until it was over, and it wasn’t yet.

The next substitutions were equally striking, however.  João Pedro is indisputably a force for good, and knowing quite where and how to use him the only issue.  Expectation was that either a tiring King or a willing but volatile and erratic Cucho would be pulled.  Instead, Sarr was removed along with Tufan, with Emmanuel Dennis moving into the attack and the Brazilian at the apex of the midfield.   Risky stuff – Ranieri wouldn’t have gotten credit for his bravery had it backfired.

It didn’t, though the breakthrough wasn’t immediate.  You’ll have seen the stats by now, so no need to emphasise them….  but the corner that provided the pebble that set off the avalanche didn’t arrive until the 78th minute.  Our vantage point – as previously, low and looking down the goalline – afforded us a perfect view… Cucho’s bomb of a corner swung over the masses at near post and dropped for Juraj Kucka.  The Slovak had had one of his more assertive, irresistible days – in my mind’s eye he rises in front of us with the sun behind him, leaping impossibly, hovering high and craning every neck muscle to power a header past Pickford.  A bit like the Pele scissor-kick in Escape to Victory, a theatrical moment.  Match of the Day suggests it was a bit more prosaic than that but a fine header nonetheless and the point at which the destination of the game was definitively determined.  Kucka thundered towards us with a delirious, fist-clenched roar and the rest of the team followed. 

This was to be a recurring theme.  Emmanuel Dennis, fitfully effective in recent weeks, enjoyed a brutal cameo; two minutes later he combined with João Pedro down the right and fed King, alone in the centre.  A gorgeous left foot touch set up a right foot shot, giving us the lead for the first time.  In the away end the response was restrained, dignified and contemplative.

everton

In reflecting upon what followed, it’s tempting – natural even – to focus on Everton’s defensive collapse which was both striking and comprehensive.  Nonetheless.  As noted previously, “in football, everything is complicated by the presence of an opponent”.  We were pretty terrible last week.  But we were playing an exceptional side, who played a significant role in us looking terrible.  Comparable themes here.  Everton fell apart; obsessed with the outcome that was generally anticipated they overcommitted forwards in panic and seemed incapable of defending…  but only in the face of a counter-attack executed with merciless precision.  I was later reminded of the 3-0 win at Newcastle four years ago – few more accommodating challenges for a side in need of a win than a trip to a blunt opponent burdened by the pressure of expectation of an easy victory.  

Dennis’ sharp turn and shot forced a fine save from Pickford low to his left.  Minutes later Cucho’s surge down the left concluded in a clumsy lay-off that Everton proved comically incapable of dealing with.  The ball broke to Dennis who fed King, criminally onside and growing in composure with every goal, like progressing to higher levels on a computer game.  An icily controlled touch wrong-footed Pickford and sealed the hat-trick.  In the dying minutes of a dizzy denouement Emmanuel Dennis added to his two assists by rounding off the scoring in a touching tribute to his compatriot Odion Ighalo, reprising Iggy’s goal here in 2015 with Seamus Coleman in John Stones’ “hapless sliding idiot” role.  

6- It was a glorious drive home, punctuated with more service station stops than strictly necessary and exchanges with the plentiful shirts of other clubs travelling up and down the country.  Dave left Sandbach in a state of some disquiet, civil – even friendly – exchanges with not one but two Wolves fans confirming that football was broken, there was something very weird about the whole day.  We got in at 10pm, Daughter 2 declaring herself more than satisfied with her 100th game.

We weren’t a lost cause after Liverpool a week ago.  We’re not world beaters, or even a solid mid-table side, after this one.  But we have proven ourselves capable of smashing down the doors of a a so-so team on a bad day.  That might be enough.  It’ll certainly do for now. 

But today wasn’t about the wider context.  Today, for all its scruffy imperfections, was a gem in it’s own right.  A day on, I’m still grinning my stupid face off.

“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.”

BHaPPY report, Everton 1 Watford 0, August 2019

Yoooorns.

Foster 3, Ngakia 3, Masina 3, Troost-Ekong 4, Cathcart 3, Sissoko 3, Kucka 4, Tufan 3, Sarr 3, Hernández 3, *King 5*
Subs: Dennis (for Sarr, 64) 5, João Pedro (for Tufan, 64) 4, Nkoulou (for Ngakia, 76) NA, Sema, Cleverley, Fletcher, Gosling, Louza, Bachmann

Comments»

1. John Parslow - 24/10/2021

Great piece as ever Matt. And I’m smiling more having read it.
3 thunks on your thinks

1. I had thought the same thought in the lead up to the game – that we were owed a win at some point and without Doucoure I was really hopeful that we’d get some kick.

2. Your thunk 3 is spot on. Even if we’d lost it was a massive progression. The doughnuts keep only looking at results and some scapegoat to blame. Now Deeney and Gray have gone they have to find someone else . Truthfully they should consider Sarr who was poor . But they are not brave enough for that . Luckily Ranieri knew it was Time to pull him.
I tweeted at 72 mins that whatever the result we’d seen massive progression. And should be happy . I didn’t realise 8 mins later I’d be tripping over myself with excitement.

3. Qashqai ! I work for Nissan . Next time you are up for A new car – speak to me first as I can sort you out Watford friends and family discount !!

Matt Rowson - 24/10/2021

Many thx

2. Jeff Lloyd - 24/10/2021

This was my first away league game in about 30 years – a good time to break the drought.
Excellent observations as ever, Matt. I’d add: the substitutions were not Xisco subs. He’d have brought Clevs and Ken on whilst JP10 twiddled his thumbs. Taking Sarr off was brave in the sense he’s our best player but I thought he and Tufan weren’t quite at the races.
My son felt that was the best centre forward performance by a Hornet he’d ever witnessed – and he made that observation on about 70 minutes. King’s impact can’t be underestimated, he was immense. Won all balls, strong with back to goal, getting flick ons etc. There was that one flick he got to a lost cause near our section that was fabulous.
I’d end with a small observation that Nkoulou came on a minute late for rating but it was 2-1 at that point and we never looked in trouble again. He won everything in the air and looked comfortable on the ball.

Youorns!

Matt Rowson - 24/10/2021

Thanks Jeff. Yes I should have mentioned Nkoulou… lots to squeeze in, not a deliberate omission

3. John Ford - 24/10/2021

The Chris Powell penalty has rankled with me over the years almost as much as THAT Reading ‘goal’… Over them both now!
Like many, I’d correctly anticipated the two Everton goals, just not our five! The glorious unpredictability of the ‘beautiful game’ was exemplified yesterday.
P.S. The icing on the cake was spotting your look of unbridled joy on MotD!

Matt Rowson - 24/10/2021

I think you’ll find that I looked thoughtful and restrained.

4. lukefairweather - 24/10/2021

Thanks Matt. I missed you last week. After that horror show I really needed a calm and more measured evaluation instead of the shrieking and howling. Love your work. Win, lose or draw, my Sunday is incomplete without your words.

Matt Rowson - 24/10/2021

Cheers Luke

5. Chris Bell - 24/10/2021

Great report as always and nice to see the joyous faces in the away end on motd.

6. Robin - 24/10/2021

Just a note that that puts us 1 point ahead of the “par” for safety of winning the 13 games against non top 6 (we can argue about who are 5th and 6th) and losing the rest. Another reason to be thoughtful and restrained.

Matt Rowson - 24/10/2021

Yes, had noted that. And between now and Brentford we can’t drop lower than a point below. Tho I suspect that the collateral damage of that eventuality would be significant.

7. Tadcaster Hornets - 24/10/2021

Excellent report, thanks. OK, horror show last week (not there, etc…) but seeing LFC score 2 in the first 13 minutes away at Ath Madrid in the week and 2/3/losing count in 40 minutes away at ManUtd today at least keeps us in good company. Yesterday was just blinding tho’. Was exhausted at the end. And how nice to go somewhere and not fear for your personal safety afterwards – imagine if we’d done that at Elland Road a few weeks back…

8. paullbaxter - 24/10/2021

Glad you are back, Matt, as some insight last week might have help sooth the pain. It’s games like these that make up for the two and half years I went recently without seeing Watford avoid defeat which included the 3-2 defeat at Goodison where we had been in complete control. I thought that King’s leading of the line was the best by a Watford player that I had seen since Deeney’s return at Huddersfield in the 3-2 win in 2012.

9. Kevin Shanahan - 24/10/2021

Are Watford the first PL club losing at the half way point in the second half to win by 3 goals?

Matt Rowson - 24/10/2021

First to win by three goals after being behind with 15 to go. No idea about 7.5 mins earlier

Jeff - 24/10/2021

I saw a similar stat in the paper. First PL team to be losing at 75 mins and win by 3 🙂

10. iamthesunking - 24/10/2021

I was so looking forward to reading this! Well done for such a monster win!

Matt Rowson - 24/10/2021

Thank you sun king. Sorry our game is now a Friday night. Did you enjoy the Cure reference early on – that was kinda for your benefit.

iamthesunking - 24/10/2021

I got it but I didn’t think it was for my benefit! Thank you! I was a bit miserable today but I feel a bit better after the Man Utd result. 🤣🤣🤣

11. heftiehornet - 24/10/2021

Matt, reading your report from my hospital bed, it is pleasing to get a balanced view that helped add flavour to John Marks and Tommy Mooney’s radio commentary. Like many on here, I was more interested in how we would react to last week’s performance and was pleasantly surprised. The result was a bonus that, hopefully, gives the players the belief to move up to the next level. Finally, congratulations to the manager who influenced the game in Watford’s favour with astute and timely substitutions.

Matt Rowson - 24/10/2021

Thanks heftie. Hope things are ok. Yooorns.

12. Harefield Hornet - 24/10/2021

Great result to lift the spirits after last week and certainly long overdue at Goodison. I too picked you out celebrating on MOTD. Good to see today that Liverpool only beat small clubs 5-0. Is King the first player to score a hat trick for us in the premier league ? My memory has deserted me!?

Matt Rowson - 24/10/2021

No… Deulofeu at Cardiff

Harefield Hornet - 24/10/2021

Ah yes thanks – on the Friday night !

13. Ben - 25/10/2021

Sadly, I missed the game this week. What did people make of the Sarr substitution? Was it a surprise? Did he have a knock? Was it a statement from Ranieri? Did it help the rest of the team cohere in his absence? It is something that has niggled me for some time that he appeared to be untouchable. My first reaction was that it was a big call that paid off and that Dennis looks really good on the right as he did against Palace.

Matt Rowson - 25/10/2021

Muted surprise in the away end I think but he hadn’t played particularly well. No suggestion of an injury. Significant as a statement of confidence in the rest as much as giving Sarr a kick up the backside… as you imply, there’s been a suspicion that he HAS to stay in as he’s the only get out of jail free card. No longer.

Ben - 25/10/2021

Excellent

14. Ray Knight - 25/10/2021

Lots of jumping around at home as those late goals went in, but quite jealous Matt not to have there. Luv the anecdotes from past games. I would happily buy a ‘Tales from the Vicarage’ volume of your best reports as you provide the atmosphere that only true fans can appreciate.

Matt Rowson - 25/10/2021

Thanks Ray

15. NZ Hornet - 25/10/2021

Thanks Matt. I thoroughly enjoy your reports.
The one thing that I thought was interesting was bringing on Nkoulou and moving to a back three. This changed the complexion of the game and opened up better attacking opportunities. It made the introduction of Dennis and Joao Pedro more effective. Ranieri. outthought Benitez because he made the Everton defence panic.

Matt Rowson - 25/10/2021

It looked to me as if Cathcart went right back rather than a back three but those closing minutes were… a little hazy….

16. Ben - 25/10/2021

What do people feel about the Richarlison goal? Haven’t watchthe build up in details but I’m pretty sure that allowing a centre back to stride forward and clip a ball straight over the top taking the centre backs and keeper out of the game isn’t supposed to happen. Can we find a scapegoat for that one or was it a collective thing?

Matt Rowson - 25/10/2021

“Can we find a scapegoat”….?

Harefield Hornet - 25/10/2021

Just the defence getting caught out collectively during that particular passage of play? Shit happens !

17. Brian Goldsmith - 25/10/2021

I have to say I wasnt expecting that, I assumed it would be at least Christmas before we pulled off a result like that. When we went one down I was resigned but began to perk up as the game progressed. Also pleasing to see that Liverpool beat Man Utd 5-0 and 7-0 in the previous game against Norwich. It makes our 5-0 loss to Liverpool appear less of a bad result.

18. Edmund - 25/10/2021

Love the last 15 minutes stat. Another one, according to my friend Tim, which admittedly plays into some WFC stereotypes, is that our last 5 away wins in the premiership have been under 5 different managers. I’m hopeful that Ranieri can break that sequence.


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