It’s not often that Theo Walcott completes 90 minutes these days. Indeed, before today he hadn’t managed it since the final day of last season at Tottenham — also the last time he had scored — and had it not been for Fabian Delph’s dismissal in the 72nd minute of today’s game, it’s possible he would have been hooked again well before the end.
Such are the quirks of fate that meant that the winger, a rival to Delph for worst performer in Blue on the day, remained on while Dominic Calvert-Lewin was sacrificed for the introduction of Michael Keane to shore up the back and was there in the final minute of regulation time to score a dramatic winner that capped an equally stunning Everton comeback from 2-0 down.
If Carlo Ancelotti’s men needed to get the final minute or so of that Newcastle game out of their system, this certainly did the trick and they managed to exorcise a few other demons in the process, not least Marco Silva’s failure to engineer victory from a losing position during his stewardship of the team. The last time an Everton side had come back from being down before today was in December 2017 and the last time they’d overcome a 2-0 deficit away from home was under Roberto Martinez when they beat West Bromwich Albion in 2015.
This Everton team also doesn’t score from corners and yet today, thanks to Yerry Mina goals that come around like buses, they bagged two and then stymied Watford enough when they were a man down to allow for the counter-attack that led to Walcott becoming the unlikely hero of what was ultimately an unforgettable afternoon.
There’s no glossing over the fact though that this was a poor game and a poor display overall, one that, at 0-2 and 2-2 with Everton a man down, turned the mind towards the summer and the rebuilding work that needs to be done under the new boss. But after a thrilling conclusion, Evertonian eyes are now low looking up the table again and pondering what is possible abetween now and May.
Given the season they had to endure prior to mid-December and the misery the travelling Blues have experienced this season — that heart-breaking reverse at Brighton uppermost in mind — you can’t begrudge Everton the finalé they were able to savour and the result that lifts them back into the top half.
With Richarlison fit after missing the last two games with a knee complaint, Ancelotti had a dilemma in attack over whether to restore his most effective strike partnership and drop Moise Kean back to the bench immediately after he had finally opened his account or try and find a way of playing all three in the same starting XI.
The manager opted for the former and also brought Gylfi Sigurdsson back instead of Morgan Schneiderlin while Alex Iwobi, fit again after six weeks out with a hamstring injury, came in for Bernard whom Ancelotti appears to regard as being more effective at home than away. The fact that the Italian no doubt anticipated a robust midfield battle against a big, physical Watford side might also have influenced his decision.
A stern test in midfield is what Everton got in a first half where they largely most the battle in that area of the park. Watford, much improved over the past couple of months under Nigel Pearson, were quicker to the ball and hungrier going forward and it wasn’t a complete surprise when they went ahead after just nine minutes.
And it was that void that frequently opens up behind Djibril Sidibé on Everton’s right into which Etienne Capoue dropped a diagonal ball to Gerard Deulofeu who brought it out of the air deftly and laid the ball to Adam Masina who had driven forward completely untracked by Walcott. He fired a shot into the ground, past Pickford’s left glove and inside the far post to score .. of course.. his first ever goal for the Hornets.
Eight minutes later, Jordan Pickford came haring out of his box to collect a long ball dropped in behind the visitors’ defence and did well to get his body behind it and pass it to a team-mate down the left flank.
For their part, Everton were generally struggling to get things going after a promising early move that ended with Iwobi squaring a ball to Richarlison which the latter scooped disappointingly over. Truth be told, the Brazilian looked decidedly rusty throughout until he produced a terrific run on the counter to lay on the pass that led to the winner but he wasn’t alone in being out of sorts.
Sigurdsson was struggling to cope on the defensive side in midfield, particularly against Abdoulaye Doucouré and even some of Mason Holgate’s early passes forward searching out Walcott went well astray. Delph, meanwhile, couldn’t provide much inspiration, although he did embark one excellent jinking run straight through the centre of Watford’s midfield with four options ahead of him and ended up wasting it with a horrendous pass that went straight to a yellow jersey.
At the back, despite enjoying a five-inch height advantage over his opponent, Yerry Mina battled to cope with Troy Deeney and won just one aerial duel with the Midlander before Ancelotti switched strategies and employed Sigurdsson to jump with him allowing Mina to mop up the second ball.
However, it was a dreadful error from Delph that led to Watford their second goal when he gifted the ball straight to Deeney outside his penalty area and the striker paused before playing Roberto Pereyra in to drive a shot past Pickford three minutes before half-time.
Just as they did at West Ham a fortnight ago, however, Everton pressed in the dying phases of the first half and were rewarded when Masina headed behind under pressure from Calvert-Lewin and Lucas Digne stepped up to take the Blues’s first corner of the game in the first minute of time added on. His flighted ball towards the back post was met by Mina who out-muscled two defenders to get to it, the ball dropped to Holgate who couldn’t force it past the man on the line but it finally broke nicely back to Mina who prodded home.
That would end up being more than just a fillip to take into the dressing room because to minutes later, Everton would score from their second corner after Pereyra had blocked Digne’s attempted cross. Sigurdsson took the honours this time from the opposite side and he swung his delivery over everyone except Mina who easily stepped in front of Craig Cathcart to plant a downward header into the unoccupied side of Foster’s goal to make it 2-2.
Suddenly the whole complexion of the game had changed and with fresh instructions from Ancelotti ringing in their ears, the Blues emerged for the second half with much more intensity and tempo about their game. An early free-kick from Sigurdsson almost yielded a goal when Calvert-Lewin’s header bounced off Cathcart and flew narrowly over but despite the overall improvement from Ancelotti’s men, chances were few and far between.
And they were still prone to potentially damaging mistakes like Digne’s ill-advised pass inside for Delph that led to the latter over-stretching and bringing Pereyra down, earning himself a booking in the process just before the hour mark.
Nevertheless, with it being a much more even contest and Kean and Schneiderlin having been introduced in place of Iwobi and Sigurdsson, the feeling was that Everton had enough to win against a side that had started the day in the bottom three.
The prospect of victory appeared to evaporate in the 71st minute, however, with the latest of Delph’s bone-headed lapses in judgement. The midfielder had Capoue safely up against the touchline and going nowhere but elected to stab a foot in to try and tackle him and ended up chopping him doing to concede the free kick. As stupid as the supposedly experienced midfielder’s challenge was, it was a ridiculously soft decision by referee Craig Pawson to book him but in making the challenge, Delph had given the officials a decision to make, one heavily influenced by Capoue’s theatrics and the urging of Watford’s players and the crowd, and it ended with Everton finishing the game with 10 men.
Ancelotti sacrificed Calvert-Lewin for Keane, moving the excellent Holgate into midfield alongside Schneiderlin and the move proved to be an inspired one, giving Everton the defensive solidity to ensure that Watford were held at bay despite their late pressure and the platform from which to spring the decisive counter-attack.
Masina couldn’t bring Holgate’s defensive header from Mariappa’s long throw under his spell and Kean nipped it off his toe into the path of Richarlison who raced off down the left with two yellow jerseys in tow while his strike partner and Walcott sped forward with to his right. The Brazilian delayed he got within 10 yards of the box before slipping it in to Kean who, depending on your point of view, either missed his kick or helped it on to Walcott who arrived at the back stick in time to steer home a composed finish and win the game for the Toffees in the 90th minute.
The release of emotion, perhaps pent up from that frustrating conclusion to Everton’s last game, was palpable as all the players and substitutes mobbed Walcott near the corner flag in front of the delirious away fans.
Indeed, this was the perfect, albeit slightly mad, antidote to the utter emptiness with which Toffees fans greeted the final whistle against Newcastle. Whereas that draw with the Magpies had seen Everton throw away two points at the end of arguably their best performance of the season, today they first looked to have retrieved a point from a seemingly lost situation and then they grabbed all three just when it looked as though a draw would have to be enough after they were reduced to 10 men.
It means that they will finish the weekend in at least 10th place and at most just four points off fifth place with a home game against Palace to come before a fortnight’s break and then a series of fixtures against last season’s top six that present real opportunities for further upward progress. If this is the Ancelotti effect, long may it continue!
Everton returned to action in faltering style with a trip to Watford only to go behind by 2 goals before Yerry Mina scored a brace off corners minutes before the break. With Delph shown a second yellow card, 10-man Everton held out until stoppage time when Richarlison broke forward and Walcott finished in unrecognizable style to win a hotly contested game.
Carlo Ancelotti was buoyed by the return to fitness of Richarlison, Sigurdsson and Iwobi who all started at Vicarage Road. Moise Kean, Bernard and Morgan Schneiderlin, who played in Everton's draw with Newcastle United 11 days ago, were dropped to the subs bench with Coleman, Baines, Keane and Stekelenburg.
Watford kicked off and Denny came closest with a header, drifting wide. Watford then went ahead after good work by Deulofeu feeding Masina who scored with ease, Everton torn apart far too easily down their right side and Pickford beaten far too easily.
Everton were very poor in response, unable to put together anything approaching joined-up football, the game becoming very scrappy. Richarlison tried but failed to get past Chalobah, who barged him over. A better ball in from Sidibe was headed in that annoyingly neutral fashion by Calvert-Lewin, taking all the pace out of it for an easy catch by Foster.
Sidibe gave up a poor free-kick that was kicked straight out by Watford. Everton worked it out well from the back until Delph passed it straight to a defender as the shockingly inadequate football continued from the players in Blue.
With a quarter of the game gone, the Everton players started to control the play a little more without producing any end product, the final ball sailing over Calvert-Lewin. If anything, Everton we're now overplaying it, not shooting as the opportunities arose.
A high kick by Sigurdsson was too close to Deeny, and Watford twice came close to adding to their score from the ensuing free-kicks. Walcott put a decent cross in for Iwobi but Sigurdsson took it off his toe and played it backwards.
Digne went in with his studs showing, but it was never a red card, despite the unwarranted interrogative from VAR. Richarlison mishit a forward ball and got annoyed with himself, as he was struggling to get into the game. Another ridiculous red-card check by VAR was called on Digne's clearance where he inadvertently followed through onto a Watford player.
Amdist a sequence of poor defending in midfield, Delph shockingly gave the ball to Deeny and Pereyra skipped through to finish with consummate ease past a bewildered Jordan Pickford to put Watford firmly in control. Shameful stuff.
But from a corner, Yerry Mina scrambled the ball in after it appeared to hit him on the arm/shoulder before Holgate got a vital touch to play it back in his direction amidst the falling bodies... however, it was ultimately vindicated by VAR and Everton were hopefully back in the contest.
Another corner for Everton, this time from the other side, and a nice clean header from Yerry Mina at the far post off Sigurdsson's cross incredibly made it 2-2 on the stroke of half-time.
Everton resumed, with Deulofeu fouling and a fantastic ball in from Sigurdsson causing panic, hitting Calvert-Lewin on the head and deflecting just over the bar for a corner, with Mina threatening again. Good running from Walcott and a fine ball almost found Calvert-Lewin, for another Everton corner.
Holgate needed to defend strongly as Delph ran into trouble. The Blues attacked with gusto but the ball wouldn't run for them. Walcott had a great chance to play in Calvert-Lewin but overplayed it poorly. Mina and Deeny clashed as Chalobah was replaced by Welbeck.
Delph felt obligated to foul Pereyra, earning the first yellow card of the game as Watford got a chance to apply pressure, winning a corner that was cleared.
Everton built a decent attack, the ball screwing the wrong side of Calvert-Lewin's Head. At the other end, Deulofeu got a chance to run in on goal but it was defended well as Iwobi made way for Kean. Then Sigurdsson made way for Schneiderlin, with Ancelotti still concerned about Everton's vulnerability as two fouls on Delph, Sidibe then Richardson finally earned The Blues a free-kick, powered into the wall by Digne.
Delph then tackled Capoue near the touchline, catching his toe, and the Watford players and fans smelt blood, screaming for a ridiculous second yellow, duly granted by Pawson. Ancelotti then looked to shut up shop at 2-2 with Keane replacing Calvert-Lewin.
However, Everton continued to attack, spoilt only by that man Walcott, who again played an awful ball at a crucial point to terminate the attack prematurely.
With 10 minutes left, Pussetto replaced Deulofeu as Doucoure lashed a shot well wide from a corner. Yerry Mina then tussled with Success and stupidly picked the ball up, expecting the foul to have been called. It was... but on the Colombian for deliberate handball – utter madness!
Everton were then under self-imposed pressure, Holgate booked for a foul as Doucoure came close and the 10 men of Everton rocked back on their heels.
But Everton suddenly broke at pace, Richarlison breaking at pace, Kean missing his shot but Walcott, coming in wide right, slotted home from a narrow angle to finally earn his crust.
In a seething atmosphere, with the incredibly faithful travelling Blues in fine voice, 10-man Everton showed much better game management to play out the final minutes and take all three points back to Merseyside.
Scorers: Masina (10'), Pereyra (42'); Mina (45+1', 45+4'), Walcott (90')
Watford: Foster, Mariappa, Kabasele, Cathcart, Masina, Capoue, Chalobah (57' Welbeck), Pereyra (75' Success [Y:78']), Deulofeu (82' Pussetto), Doucoure, Deeley.
Subs not Used: Gomes, Holebas, Hughes, Gray.
Everton: Pickford, Sidibe, Mina, Holgate [Y:83], Digne, Walcott, Sigurdsson (67' Sigurdsson), Delph [Y:58'; YR:72'], Iwobi (65' Kean), Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin (73' Keane).
Subs not Used: Stekelenburg, Baines, Coleman, Bernard.
Referee: Craig Pawson
VAR: Jon Moss
A Sting in the Tale
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.
With a welcome 10-day hiatus out of the way, Everton return to action this weekend with a trip to Watford as they look to move past the calamitous end to their last Premier League outing.
The Blues threw away two points in 60-odd poorly-managed seconds at the end of the home game against Newcastle United and had to settle for a 2-2 draw but a visit to Vicarage Road offers the opportunity to make amends and also put right what has become a forgettable record on that ground.
Everton have lost each of their last three away games at Watford and haven't actually won in this part of Hertfordshire since 2007.
This is the Carlo Ancelotti era now, though, and there is growing satisfaction with the way the Italian has his new charges playing a month into his tenure. The first 93 minutes of the match against the Magpies was as well as the Toffees have played all season and with more players returning to fitness, particularly in midfield, there is hope that things can only continue to get better.
Ancelotti has been boosted by the availability of three potentially key players ahead of this game with Richarlison (knee), Gylfi Sigurdsson (groin), and Alex Iwobi (hamstring) all having recovered from their recent respective injury problems.
It means that only long-term absentees André Gomes and Jean-Philippe Gbamin are ruled out, although with the Portuguese now training with the first team, he could add to the manager's options further by making an earlier than expected return to first-team action.
Those options will, by Ancelotti's own admission, make picking a team that little bit more difficult. The side has largely picked itself in recent weeks but as the boss told evertontv: “Richarlison and Iwobi are available. Gylfi Sigurdsson is available so it will be difficult to choose my line-up.”
Richarlison being available presents Ancelotti with perhaps his biggest conundrum — does he pair his two top scorers together in the striking duo that has easily proved to the most potent thus far and drop Moise Kean to the bench in the first game after he finally got off the mark?
Or does he try and deploy all three together, perhaps using Richarlison wide on the right instead of Theo Walcott and preserve the partnership between Kean and Dominic Calvert-Lewin that was so brilliant against Newcastle or going 4-3-3 and perhaps sacrificing Bernard's inventiveness but at the potential expense of Lucas Digne's best partnership down the left?
Then there's the question of how to deploy Alex Iwobi, a player who has really only looked effective playing in a central role behind the strikers in Marco Silva's 4-3-1-2 system, although given the former Arsenal man's lack of fitness — he hasn't played in well over a month — that might be a moot point this weekend.
As far as central midfield goes, no one has really offered much consistency but Fabian Delph and Morgan Schneiderlin was as good as any pairing this season in the Newcastle game and they might have done enough to persuade the manager to persist with them, particularly against what is a robust Watford midfield.
Mason Holgate's impressive cameo as a central midfielder against Manchester United last month does offer Ancelotti one further option, of course, now that Michael Keane is fit again and able to partner Yerry Mina if needed.
For their part, Watford have undergone a remarkable revival of fortunes under their own new boss, Nigel Pearson. The Hornets were rock bottom of the Premier League and seemingly doomed when he took over from Quique Sánchez Flores on 6th December and he has guided them to within two points of safety.
They have benefitted from having Troy Deeney back in the team but will be without one of their main attacking threats in the form of Ismaïla Sarr who is out injured while former Blue, Tom Cleverley, isn't match fit and will sit this one out.
Kiko Femenía is also ruled out but Danny Welbeck is fit again and could start while Will Hughes, another important member of their midfield, has trained this week and should also be available.
Everton have, of course, beaten Watford twice already this season, both times at Goodison Park and on the second occasion, the League Cup tie in late October, the Blues were by far the better team and deservedly ran out 2-0 winners.
Again, Watford are a different proposition under Pearson who has stiffened their resolve and made them much harder to beat and they will also have the advantage of home turf this weekend.
Another impotent attacking display like the one Ancelotti's men turned in at West Ham in their last away game would make this a difficult one to win but if the Italian can inspire something akin to or better than the display against Newcastle then another three important points could be theirs.
Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday, 1st February, 2020
Referee: Craig Pawson
VAR: Jon Moss
Last Time: Watford 1 - 0 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Sidibé, Mina, Holgate, Digne, Delph, Sigurdsson, Bernard, Walcott, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin