Match Report: Everton 1-0 Watford
By Kevin Affleck
The Hornets launched a record-breaking season last time out on the back of four straight wins. They are going to have to show they can mount one on the back of a tricky opening to this campaign after Everton left the Golden Boys still searching for their first goal let alone their first point.
The table might not make for pretty reading and the winless run at Goodison Park now stands at 14 matches, but this wholehearted performance on the blue half of Merseyside was definitely a step in the right direction, much more committed than the showing against Brighton. They played with more intensity and more rhythm and this team will be just fine if they play with this sort of spirit on a regular basis. This was more like a Javi Gracia side.
They took a while to get going and it looked like it might be a long afternoon after Bernard scored after just ten minutes, but the visitors stopped the rot, restored a bit of order than arguably played the better stuff for the last 55 minutes. Craig Dawson hit the bar, Jordan Pickford made two more saves than Ben Foster in keeping out Étienne Capoue - and then, more impressively, Troy Deeney - while Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deulofeu, the two match-winners, showed signs of getting closer to full fitness and top form. There was also a debut for Danny Welbeck and he will only kick in now after what was his first football of any sort in nine months.
The Hornets had led in three of the previous four fixtures at Goodison Park but not this time. Bernard put paid to that with a goal after ten minutes. The situation looked harmless enough when he scooted down the wing, but he then cut suddenly inside on his favoured right foot, got half a yard on Kiko Femenía and then fired a low shot through his legs and under the dive of Ben Foster, who was hugely disappointed to have been beaten by a slight from Dawson. Bang went the hopes of a first league clean sheet since the home win over the Toffees in February.
The Hornets needed to batten down the hatches and prevent a swift second as then they would have been really up against it. They did it well and almost got an equaliser on 22 minutes Dawson, running at and full stretch, crashed a far-post header against the bar from a José Holebas free-kick.
Dawson was then involved in the thick of things at the other end, Everton fans baying for a penalty after he tangled with Dominic Calvert-Lewin after a swift counterattack between the two sides. Referee Lee Mason thought about it but eventually decided it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. Phew.
Restored to a more familiar central role, Deulofeu was a livewire, popping up on the right, on the left and in the middle in a bid to create something out of nothing. He looked the player most likely to make something happen. There was one free-kick towards the end of the half that fizzed wickedly across the face of goal and really should have had someone on the end of it.
He also petitioned strongly for a penalty of his own following a challenge from Yerry Mina, a player who arrived at Barcelona just as Deulofeu left. Several players surrounded the referee convinced there was contact, but VAR agreed with Mason that the Colombian had got the ball and a corner was award. That came in the Hornets’ best spell of the half, their most fluid spell and it almost yielded something tangible when Capoue tried to bend one in the far corner but Jordan Pickford read it and palmed the effort away for a corner. This was more like it.
There was a Richarlison header just before the break that was a bit too close for comfort, but Gracia would have headed down the tunnel feeling his side got better as the half wore on, a belief backed up by the fact they enjoyed slightly more possession and more corners. The second period started well, too, with Holebas flashing a corner dangerously across the goalmouth. In fact there were three corners inside the first three minutes for the visitors.
The shift in momentum continued and should really have resulted in an equaliser just before the half. Capoue sparked off the counter-attack with a delightful nutmeg in the middle of the park on Andre Gomes and the ball eventually found its way to Deeney. He was one-v-one with Pickford and although he was slightly off balance, he would have fancied himself from there. Pickford, though, should be credited for a brave save, taking one full in the face from close range.
The ante was being upped and there were a few lively exchanges. Holebas took a yellow for a foul on Richarlison and picked a fight with the Brazilian. Pereyra was booked for going over too easily, and then Mina took exception to the way he went over in the box soon after. Things were starting to boil up rather nicely. Richarlison headed a free-kick over at one end and then Pereyra did the same at the other end.
Neither coach could be accused of not going for it. Marco Silva threw on Theo Walcott and then Moise Kean, while Gracia went for broke by taking off Will Hughes, shifting Deulofeu to the right and Welbeck charging through the middle. Later on the Watford Head Coach really went for broke and threw on Andre Gray for a midfielder.
There has been late, late drama in each of the last two fixtures here, but there was none this time and the finale was a bit anti-climatic if we are being honest. It wasn’t for the want of trying, though, and that bodes well for the game at Vicarage Road with West Ham United next weekend.
HORNETS: Foster (GK); Femenía, Cathcart, Dawson, Holebas; Hughes (Welbeck 67), Doucouré, Capoue (Gray 83), Pereyra; Deeney (c), Deulofeu (Cleverley 79).
Subs not used: Gomes (GK), Janmaat, Quina, Kabasele.