Match Report: Everton 2-0 Watford
By Kevin Affleck
The focus can now entirely shift to plotting a route away from the foot of the Premier League table after a rejigged team bowed out of the Carabao Cup tonight, beaten fair and square at Goodison Park but not in a manner that will alter the belief too much in the bigger picture.
Given the way Quique Sánchez Flores has recalibrated this team, placing a huge emphasis on being solid at the back, there was never going to be much in this game, probably just one or two goals either way. And so it proved, Mason Holgate getting the all-important first strike in this nip-and-tuck match 18 minutes from time and then Richarlison (it just had to be him, didn't it?) confirmed the result in injury time. The defeat prevented the Hornets from reaching the last eight of this competition for what would have been the first time in 11 years. But everybody connected with this club would sacrifice a cup run if it means a sixth year successive season of Premier League football is secured. Nobody, after all, grumbles too much about the early League Cup exit at Preston in Sánchez Flores' first season.
There won't be too many complaints at this departure from the competition as the Hornets only mustered five attempts at goal, one of which forced Jordan Pickford into a save. Sánchez Flores knows he has some major work to do at the other end, with just one goal in five games, and he will be hoping the returning Troy Deeney can help to solve that. But games are likely to be like this for a while: very much in the balance, on a knife edge and likely to be decided in one or two key moments in both boxes.
There were positives to glean if you look hard enough, particularly in the midfield performance of Nathaniel Chalobah. The way he changed direction with a drop of the shoulder to switch the ball was reminiscent of how he first played when he first returned to the club. The defence was pretty solid for 70 minutes and Kiko Femenía looked much more like the player who patrolled the right flank with such confidence when he first joined from Alavés.
Sánchez Flores made eight changes to the side that played out a goalless draw with Bournemouth, but the game plan was still the same and executed to the letter for large parts. They suffocated the life out of the confidence-shy hosts at the break, limiting them to just three shots at goal and reducing the space between the lines to a bare minimum.
A perfectly-timed interception from Femenía, playing out of position on the left, on Seamus Coleman on the right-hand edge of the box around the half-hour mark summed up the way the team went about their defensive work, with both alertness and alacrity. The Spaniard had earlier cut out a one-two between Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, showing promising signs he was back to his busy and bright best.
He wasn't the only one to impress with his reading of the game and decisiveness of his defensive play. There was a smart interception from Sebastian Prödl, a key toe from Dimitri Foulquier on Richarlison, a couple of good blocks from the redoubtable Craig Cathcart and then two pieces of safe handling from Heurelho Gomes. Everton were very much being kept at arms' length.
Don't be mistaken, though. This was not a rearguard action or backs against the wall in the first 45 minutes. The Hornets mustered just as many shots on goal as the hosts, despite feeding of a third of the possession, finding time to play neatly in the more open spaces available in the Everton half. Roberto Pereyra was the outlet, the Argentine carrying the ball down the left and turning defence into attack. He engineered a nice opening for Domingos Quina and another for Chalobah but the ball just didn't roll for either.
Marco Silva sought to find a different way through this organised Watford defence and sent for Theo Walcott at the break. The flying former England winger was in the thick of the action straight away, attempting to run onto a reverse pass from Alex Iwobi but Gomes was quickly off of his line and bravely dived at his feet. Andre Gray has a pretty lively turn of pace and ten minutes after the break, he accelerated into a bit of space and unleashed a rising dive that Jordan Pickford had to parry away for a corner. It turned out to be the visitors' best chance of the match.
The game was starting to open up and Gomes was called into action next, saving a a header from Michael Keane from point-blank range with his feet. It was a good job the header was straight at him otherwise he would have had no chance from that distance. The experienced Brazilian was grateful soon after for a goal-line clearance from Adrian Mariappa and then the right-hand upright, which took the full weight of a strike from Iwobi. Lucas Digne then hit the top of the bar with a deflected free-kick.
Sánchez Flores needed to stem this mini wave of pressure from Everton so he threw on Christian Kabasele to fortify the defence and Gerard Deulofeu to give the home side something extra to think about at the other end. It failed to prevent what felt like the inevitable goal, Holgate heading in a cross from Walcott from close range.
As hard as they tried, and you couldn't fault the effort, the Hornets never really looked like getting back into it and, as they pushed harder for the equaliser, the space opened up in the Hornets defence and Everton took advantage to seal it through Richarlison with virtually the last kick of the game. That was rough. The result was about right but the scoreline was a touch harsh.
HORNETS: Gomes (C); Foulquier, Prödl (Kabasele 64), Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Chalobah, Quina (Doucouré 37), Hughes; Pereyra (Deulofeu 67), Gray.
Subs not used: Bachmann, Janmaat, Masina, Dalby