Everton 2 - 2 Watford
It's back again after a very short close season and with the addition of a couple of signings as well as a couple more players having contracts renewed – plus the interest in Stones by Chelsea, which our present manager has a few words to say but the most important for Blues are that Stones is not for sale and the club have no need to sell. The Room of Nonsense is split about 60/40 on him staying. We shall see.
The weather was at its most kind for our opener and the walk up was a pleasure. It must be like this for Spanish fans most of the time – in fact with a little imagination we could have been in Barcelona. Spellow Lane was our Las Ramblas and the Old Lady our Camp Nou. Street eateries were provided by the Fat Van, Blue Dragon chippie and the CafÃ©. The fan zone provided the street type entertainment and the walk down Goodison Road provided evidence of everyone having fun in the sun as big waste bins overflowed with chip trays and paper wrapping. Into the ground and our turnstile had run out of fixture cards! One explanation I heard was that the turnstile staff were handing them out in handfuls to those first there. Not a good omen I thought.
Z-Cars blared and both sets of fans felt the familiarity as Watford use it too. As the teams were read out by our new matchday caller, Stones was given quite an ovation but his acknowledgement was rather understated (ammo for conspiracy theorists). Our ref today was Mike Jones, a Welsh lad who resides in Chester so he qualifies to ref in the English league – or so I am told – and he got us underway dead on 3.00pm. Lukaku was fit so started but Baines was missing and we heard he is out for three months with a bad ankle problem so young Galloway deputised.
From the off we set the pace and looked quite sharp and early doors we won a corner when Barkley had the ball slid from him by a defender. Mirallas took but such was the pushing and holding melee in the box it petered out. We then went into familiar mode as players played nice football from the back through midfield but on reaching the opposition eighteen yard line, we were either too eager or to heavy or wayward with passes causing groans in the sunshine from a good many in attendance. Watford seemed to sense we did not have much up top so pressed harder and quicker which resulted in Galloway having to produce good defensive work and deny Deeney by sliding the ball for a corner which we dealt with. It was a bit flat now the game but the travelling fans were having a ball and offering to sing a song for us.
Coming up to the fifteen minute mark Watford were having more play than they should and were pressing in numbers and it paid off when we left a bit flat-footed down our left and allowed a cross to be made which seemed to bounce off Jags. A Watford player fairly whacked it home leaving Howard only to fish the ball out of the net. Our new announcer informed us his name was Layun.
Now the Watford fans roared, they welcomed fun in the sun whilst we were left flat. Just a quarter of an hour gone and we are a goal down at home and only Barry looking anything like a player who knew his job and was carrying it out. Some of our touches and passing was poor, certainly not fully joined-up. The rest of the half was nothing to write home about, with the standouts being Coleman showing electric pace and geting a cross in that was put behind for a corner which Barry headed well but the keeper tipped over. It was hard to watch at times, with only Barry trying to mix it up by alternating with short and long balls; a couple of the long ones to Lukaku looked promising but the big man had little luck with his touch and a tendency to stray offside.
Cleverley did well on the left and created a bit of space for Barkley who hit a fierce cross shot that the keeper did really well to tip away for a corner which came to nought.
Watford seemed to go into defensive mode to ensure they kept the lead and had many men back to repel us. Yet on closer scrutiny we were the architects of our own downfall by over-passing and allowing Watford the few seconds they needed to form the barrier. I found myself willing half time to arrive as Coleman again went down the wing but alas his cross was not the best and eluded Lukaku who had made up ground.
Half time whistle and a chorus of boos from quite a few gathered. A bit harsh I thought as it may not have been the best of halves but in the first game proper it would do nothing to lift the players and, in my opinion, we fans can do some good with at least encouragement as it’s a long season.
H/T chat brought calls for a couple of subs to be made but it was as-you-were when the players re-emerged.
Second half and we began at a higher tempo but that last third was again squanderland. However. Barkley put in a great cross that beat the keeper for height and seemed to be falling on to Lukaku’s head and all he had to do was guide it into the net, but somehow he seemed to get his timing of jump plus head and neck movement wrong and a cert goal barely reached the front row of the Gwladys. I will look forward to seeing that again in slow-mo; I may be doing him a disservice.
Barry was still doing his best to pull the strings but was not getting the response some of his passes deserved and attacks broke down. Watford seemed to note this and defended in numbers and drew us on knowing we would break down in the final third and were hitting us on the break with a bit of pace. From one of these breaks the Watford man was away but the pace of Coleman helped to catch him but his tackle, although winning the ball was from behind so yellow it was.
Watford were no great shakes but, although we looked a better outfit ourselves, anything good produced floundered mainly with unforced errors. Just an hour gone and the manager made an attacking change when Kone was introduced and Galloway given a good reception as he left the field, Barry going to left back. Also the formation changed from what looked like 4-2-3-1 that changed as required to 4-3-3 to the old 4-4-2
Almost immediately Cleverley, who was having a steady game, put in a great cross that Kone got to but at the vital moment had a touch of the Lukaku’s and the ball dropped wide. "Goal!" was in the throat at that moment but alas never left. More bad news arrived for the Blues as a Watford player seemed to put his foot on Mirallas’s ankle and he went down and didn’t move. The physio came on and a clutch of players stood around him while a stretcher party moved at snail’s pace around the perimeter. All ended well when he limped off, did a couple of runs and came back on.
With Kone playing up with Lukaku and Barry still leading the way in getting passes up to them more quickly we started to look more dangerous and, with less than a quarter of an hour to go, Kone took a pass in the area and stroked it to Barkley on the edge who hammered the ball home into the roof of the net. "We can win this now," I opined to my mate and the manager thought so as well as he gestured more forward as well as replacing Mirallas with Oviedo. We pressed hard, Oviedo got a good cross in that could not find a home head and Watford looked comfortable with a point as they wasted time at every opportunity, much to the annoyance of the crowd.
With less than ten minutes to go, Watford come down our right and fed Deeney who sashayed into the area with Jags and Stones diving around him like Sunday morning players and the big man was able to get the ball to Ighalo (what a cracking name) who netted with ease. He also had what must be the longest celebration, lying under a mound of his team-mates and still stayed there when the others had left causing the ref to have words but he just stood there both arms aloft before slowly walking to his own half). Many Blues left, many groaned and not one was happy.
Just a few minutes later in our next real attack we saw the best piece of play in the whole match. Kone with good control found Lukaku who held the ball whilst Kone ran into space in the box. The big man turned and found Kone with a great pass with just the weight on it and Kone slotted with ease leaving the keeper nowhere.
Five minutes of added time went up and Naismith replaced Lukaku but the time was played out with mainly Watford keeping us on the back foot. So yet again we draw 2-2 on opening day to a newly promoted side.
Overall a good day out in the warmth and sun dampened a little by our performance and the proey has gone up 50p. It was like we had learned very little from the last campaign as, whilst watching, it was easy to think we were still in last season. The next games coming up don’t look anything but difficult and may be too difficult if we don’t address our play and have a strategy that at least plays to the strengths of individual players in an effort to make a coherent team.
At times today a lot of our play broke down due to player error with passing, either miss-passing or playing a ball into the area where a team-mate should be but hasn’t made the run. Still, I am just a fan so I need to rely on the manager and the coaches to at least mould a team that gives fans some pleasure on visits to Goodison.
I think the walk back to our watering hole – and indeed in the Room of Nonsense which is never short of opinion – summed up the game perfectly. No one was talking about it!
Still onward and upward and hope St Mary smiles upon us.
UP THE BLUES