A Sting in the Tale

By Darren Arnold 02/02/2020 7comments  |  Jump to last
Watford 2 - 3 Everton

Prior to this fixture, the last 45 minutes of football we’d played ended with the score being levelled thanks to a stoppage-time brace from a defender who hadn’t netted since Moses was young. With an almost eerie symmetry, the first half of this fixture ended in exactly the same manner. Fortunately, this time around it was Everton who dished out the cruel blow to a disbelieving home crowd. And by the end of the second half, things had improved further for the boys in blue and their travelling fans. And I thought we didn’t do comebacks?

Watford have been on the up since Quique Sanchez Flores’s second spell in charge ended after just a dozen games. Enter Nigel Pearson, an acquired taste whose spot of touchline wrassling with Palace’s James McArthur ranks as one of the strangest episodes in Premier League history. Whatever he’s done in the past, he’s certainly got the Hornets moving, and they seem newly energised as they bid to climb out of the bottom three. I actually think they will be quite safe this season, which is remarkable given that a mere matter of weeks ago they seemed nailed on for a return to the Championship.

For one reason and another, we don’t get along to too many games, but Vicarage Road isn’t too bad a trip for us: a train to St Pancras followed by a tube journey, then a walk to the ground which takes roughly the same time as Kirkdale to Goodison. We arrived at the stadium in plenty of time and were able to sample the very decent pies and pasties on sale inside the ground; both the menu and the service have greatly improved since our visit there last season. It’s not a bad ground, and the home fans we encountered were all fine — now that the manufactured rivalry over Marco Silva seems to be a thing of the past... whoever sold those inflatable snakes will have to look elsewhere for their retirement fund.

The conditions were actually slightly less than ideal for a football match, with a swirling wind coming and going throughout the first half, not to mention the dazzling sunshine which would frequently break through the clouds. As the game got going, it was all a bit scrappy, but in truth, the unsettled weather could only shoulder part of the blame. Less than 10 minutes had elapsed before Everton were behind, and it looked as if we were in for a long afternoon.

There wasn’t a great deal between the teams but, just over half-an-hour on from the first goal, Watford had doubled their advantage. The difference chiefly lay in the home side’s willingness to have a go when they got the chance; Everton continually overplayed it, always looking to shift the ball on to a team-mate when in the final third, instead of simply taking on the shot. Yes, we all groan when an attack culminates with the ball being blasted into the stands, but it’s much less frustrating than seeing promising openings fizzle out into dead ends.

From an Everton perspective, there were three events of note in the first half: Fabian Delph made a fine surging run through the middle and seemed to have the momentum to unleash a shot, yet somehow decided that a pass was the better option; Lucas Digne put in a quite brilliant flying tackle — exactly the sort which gets fans out of their seats — which went to a needless VAR check thanks to the codding of the dispossessed Watford player; and Jordan Pickford made a great call in racing out of the box to eliminate a dangerous situation yet, rather than hoofing the ball into touch, he decided to keep on playing and looked to set up an attack on the left. It’s the sort of thing you normally see on the lower difficulty settings on a console game such as FIFA.

Of course, the above covers what happened in regulation time, but it was only in first-half stoppage time that the travelling fans had something to cheer about. As a corner was lined up, I found myself thinking: “Nick one here and we might just have a game”. And nick one we did, with a goalmouth scramble concluding with Yerry Mina stabbing the ball over the line. Even from the other end of the stadium, you could see how scrappy it was, but it was just the sort of lifeline that was needed before the whistle blew to end the half, which would presumably happen immediately after the restart.

Or so we thought... But, just a couple of minutes later, another corner was pinged across and Mina easily shrugged off his marker to nod the ball in. It was hard to know which set of fans were the more stunned by this development, but the Blues contingent were undoubtedly the happier camp as the whistle finally blew for half-time.

The second half saw Everton come tearing out of the traps, and this hungrier, more urgent team were roared on by the visiting fans. But, not for the first time this season, Everton failed to make their superiority count and Watford eventually weathered the storm. Still, the game looked like it could go either way, with neither team looking like they wished to settle for a point.

Yet, with just under 20 minutes to go, a red card changed all that, and the pendulum once again swung Watford’s way. The largely ineffective Delph was the recipient of the card which was the result of two yellows; from where we were sitting, it was impossible to see exactly what had happened but, having seen both incidents on TV, it seems like he did manage to take the ball on both occasions. But that’s the sort of game it was — we were given very little by the match officials, and it started to feel as if Pickford couldn’t even take a goal kick without it being referred to VAR.

From this stage on, preserving the point was paramount, and Michael Keane was brought on in an attempt to shore up the back. His near-namesake, Moise Kean, was now up front, with the sub-par Calvert-Lewin having made way in the defensive reshuffle. Watford, as expected, started to turn the screw, but the 10 men held firm — although there was one horrible goalmouth scramble which put hearts in mouths in the away end.

A decent point seemed to be within our grasp, and a rare moment of respite occurred as, on a quick break, Richarlison tore off to the other end of the pitch; while it looked as if the odds were against the Brazilian achieving anything other than shaving a few seconds off the clock, he played a killer pass across to Kean, who scuffed it into Walcott’s path. The angle was acute, but Walcott — who’d ran himself into the ground for 90 minutes — slotted the ball past the despairing Foster. This moment was nearly — but not quite -— as surreal as the close of the first half, and how the away fans celebrated after a real rollercoaster of a game. Everton saw out the 5 minutes or so of stoppage time, and a rare away win was in the bag.

While Everton weren’t great for long stretches of the game, and gave themselves a mountain to climb in trailing by two pretty soft goals, they certainly impressed with their spirit and work rate. For the first time in a while, I had the sense that they were really playing as a team, and the victory was largely down to the effort most of the players put in.

They definitely did it the hard way — and too many players were off the boil — but there was much to enjoy in the way that the team got properly stuck into a tricky side, thereby inflicting Watford’s first home defeat of the Pearson era. It’s a handy three points, and we’re now just a few wins away from certain safety; soon, we’ll be able to look towards next season, which will hopefully bring a lot more consistency as our new manager puts his own stamp on the squad. COYB.

Man of the Match: Mina. He worked very well with the excellent Holgate, but Yerry edges it on account of his goals. He also kept Deeney quiet, which was always going to be a key ingredient of getting a result at Vicarage Road.

Reader Comments (7)

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Derek Knox
1 Posted 02/02/2020 at 06:19:53
Good post Darren, always interesting to hear an away fan's perception of the game. Only managed to watch via IPTV which is usually about two to three minutes behind real time.

I also generally join the Live Forum, which I may hasten to add is not for the squeamish, and can get heated at times, there are some personal ongoing mud-slings, which I regard more as a source of humour although some find it offensive.

However the majority are 'watching it live' so it can be a spoiler when they post that either we, or they have scored two minutes before it has happened on my feed. That can be annoying, especially if we don't respond with goals of our own.

I must admit that again for the possession we enjoyed in the first half, our lack of resistance which led to two well-taken goals by Watford, exposed the frailties we have both in midfield and defence.

However all was redeemed in an extended extra time period, the first of Mina's goals, the scramble in their box, I was convinced would be over-ruled by VAR, especially with Jon Moss as the head invigilator.

To my surprise, and I would imagine all other Blues, the goal stood, and before we could digest that, a well taken corner resulted in Mina making up for prior misses this season, by scoring another on the stroke of half time.

It was like the Newcastle game in reverse, but at least we had the added bonus that we still had another 45 minutes plus, to ensure all three points, which at that point I still believed we could achieve.

I think the double whammy at the end of the first half more or less demoralised Watford, but again the Yellow/Red Card incident with Delph, which I don't think was deserved, almost dented any hopes of a watching Evertonian, that a win was doomed again.

Maybe things are certainly looking up, and Carlo has instilled that 'never say die attitude' and instead of the fact we were down to ten men, galvanised us as opposed to weakening us.

Another week to recover and hopefully come back stronger at home against Crystal Palace, another win and three points, will have us in the right place in the Table to kick on and maybe a Europa League spot IS possible!

Sean Callaghan
2 Posted 02/02/2020 at 09:27:21
Great report, Darren, thank you. I hope you manage to get to a few more games and chronicle your day on these pages.
Dave Williams
3 Posted 02/02/2020 at 10:59:09
Very good report Darren- the more of these we get the better as there are such different opinions. Many on the live forum ( I echo Derek here- not nice reading at times but with Everton radio being so difficult for me to get this season it is sometimes the only way to follow the game) heavily criticised Yerry whereas you had him MOM. Deeney is a very difficult customer as he is so strong and intimidating and to keep him quiet is no mean feat.
Does Vicarage Road still have a stand which doesn’t extend to the length of the pitch?
Brent Stephens
4 Posted 02/02/2020 at 11:25:24
"the very decent pies and pasties on sale inside the ground" - yes, a big improvement at Watford thankfully as I got there later than I wanted so needed some scran. Had hardly digested the pie when we went behind and I thought "here we go again", and more so when we conceded the second. But Carlo has got this team more resilient than in recent times and to come back to win from two down is oh so sweet. Ecstasy.

I suppose if you score two goals you have to be in with a shout for man of the match.

Steve Carse
5 Posted 02/02/2020 at 17:44:48
The pies and pasties at the ground may have been very decent but the absence of booze was a unwelcome surprise. Are Watford the only PL club with an alcohol ban?
Brent Stephens
6 Posted 02/02/2020 at 17:50:03
Steve. The advance efc info does give the lowdown on no alcohol. I think that’s why the queues for food are so short.
John Raftery
7 Posted 02/02/2020 at 18:10:25
A good point, Darren, about Walcott running himself into the ground. I was delighted he finally got the goal his effort deserved. Some described him as the worst player on the field. He wasn’t by any stretch. He always puts a shift in, tries to play towards the opposing goal and follows the instructions of the manager. That is why all four of our managers in the last two years have included him in the team when he has been fit.

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