By Kevin Affleck
How many more sucker punchers are this lot going to take?
Pitched against former coach Marco Silva, ex-striker Richarlison and at the ground where it went so horribly pear shaped last season, the Hornets looked set for their first ever win in this half of Merseyside when Lucas Digne curled in a stoppage-time equaliser. It was a hammer blow, almost as gut-wrenching as when Tom Cleverley missed a late penalty here last season but not quite.
The Hornets looked to have done all the hard work, recovering from conceding an early goal to Richarlison (who else?) to lead thanks to two goals in three blistering second-half minutes. It would have been a sweet, sweet victory. They would have just about deserved it, too, but we know by now you don't always get what you deserve in this game. The Golden Boys are finding that out the hard way.
Once the disappointment dies down, and it might take a while to get over this one, Javi Gracia will again find plenty to admire about the performance, not least the way Domingos Quina scrubbed up in midfield on his first Premier League start, the way the team attacked so cohesively and how Roberto Pereyra rediscovered the spring in his step. The signs were encouraging ahead of the hectic Christmas period and the team will win more than they lose playing like this.
Yet again, though, there were grounds to wonder when exactly they might get a key decision go their way. Still reeling from the assortment of refereeing calls against Tottenham at Milton Keynes, Southampton, Liverpool and Leicester, the Hornets were on the receiving end of another couple of dubious ones here.
Theo Walcott was offside in the lead up to Richarlison's 15th-minute opener and then, just to rub it in, a free-flowing Isaac Success was sent crashing by Yerry Mina on the stroke of half-time. Success slammed the turf in frustration and the usually mild-mannered Gracia came marching out of his technical area. He was still ticking at the break and walked onto the field to, erm, greet referee Kevin Friend. These were big decisions that shaped the outcome of yet another game and Gracia must be sick and tired of having to field questions about the performance of the referee.
On the plus side, the Hornets did not start like a side who had only won two of their last 11. They settled nicely into the pace of the game and looked like a team who had been drilled hard into how they were going to line up. They fashioned the first chance of the game when Troy Deeney played in Roberto Pereyra, but the Argentine was slightly off balance as he tried, not for the first time this season, to steer one into the far corner.
The signs were promising, the Goodison Park crowd was subdued and the Hornets were full of life. Everton had barely thrown a punch and were still getting to grips with things when, out of nowhere really, Richarlison slammed in the opener after 15 minutes. Yes, Walcott was offside in the build up but the cut back from Andre Gomes was of the highest order and the finish from Richarlison was even better.
Everton were now in their stride, they now had the confidence of a goal and it was Watford who had to chase the game. The Hornets were not overly fluent but they did respond well to the goal and posed the odd problem.
Quina saw a cross-cum-shot deflected over by an offside Deeney; Pereyra felt he should have got more purchase from an in-swinging cross from Ken Sema; Deeney had a goal-bound shot blocked and then poked one just wide near the end of the half after a lofted, defence-splitting pass from Quina.
The chances flowed both ways, though. José Holebas made a fine covering tackle to prevent Richarlison from scoring a certain second while Cathcart, on Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Quina, on Walcott, made telling interceptions to prevent Ben Foster from being called into action.
The Hornets started the second half on the front foot. Pereyra curled a free-kick into the side-netting and then Doucouré had a shot, that was definitely on target and possibly going in, blocked by a tackle from the grounded Mina that fell into the category of last ditch. Deeney then tried to curl one into the far corner following a deft one-two with Kabasele, but Jordan Pickford was equal to it.
The Hornets needed a break, they needed one to go in off somebody's backside and they got their wish of sorts on 63 minutes. Gerard Deulofeu had only been on the pitch for a few minutes when he played in Kiko Femenía down the right. His cross was met by Pereyra, who hit the inside of the post with a first-time shot. The ball bounced out and hit Coleman, who had no time to react, and the ball rolled into the bottom corner. Game on.
Not content with being on level terms, the Hornets struck again two minutes later and Pereyra was involved again. He stood up a cross that Doucouré rose to meet with a towering header that gave Pickford no chance. The away fans went wild.
Kabasele then suffered a moment of madness when he needlessly bundled over Mina in the box, but Foster spared his blushes, saving his side's bacon for the umpteenth time this season.
You expected Everton to throw the kitchen sink at the Hornets in the last 20 minutes, to really test their mettle, yet it never really materialised and the Hornets thought they were about to win here for the first time in 13 attempts. But there was to be one further twist and yet more heartbreak on this ground for the Golden Boys. Kabasele conceded a free-kick on the edge of the box and Digne did the rest. Football can be a cruel game sometimes.
HORNETS | Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Sema (Deulofeu 59), Quina (Mariappa 90), Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney (c), Success (Chalobah 74).
Subs not used | Gomes (GK), Masina, Wilmot, Okaka.