Ross Barkley scored the only goal as Everton signed off their home fixtures for 2016-17 with victory over Watford.
The 23-year-old had been a topic of much discussion in the lead-up to the game after Ronald Koeman reiterated his stance on his need to sign a new contract or be sold this summer and he stole the headlines with a fine strike 11 minutes into the second half.
It was his fifth Premier League goal of the season and he was given a standing ovation when he left the field with 10 minutes to go to make way for Gareth Barry.
Barkley was named in the starting line-up after being left out at the Liberty Stadium last weekend and he came close to justifying his recall when he finished off a nice passing move with a one-two exchange with Idrissa Gueye. Heurelho Gomes was equal to his left-foot shot, however.
And the Brazilian had to be at his best from a Leighton Baines corner that was met by Phil Jagielka at the near post but Gomes got down quickly to make the save.
It was a slip in midfield by Barkley that paved the way for Watford's first sight of goal as Stefano Okaka, Everton's nemesis in the return fixture at Vicarage Road last December, romped through but bounced a shot wide of Joel Robles's goal early in the second period.
Barkley capitalised on a similarly open midfield for his goal as the Hornets' defence retreated in front of him and he was allowed to line up a shot from 23 yards that he successfully guided past Gomes to put the home side ahead.
Romelu Lukaku, in search of his first goal in four games then had a strong claim for a penalty waved away by referee Kevin Friend as he tumbled under a clumsy challenge by Daryl Janmaat.
Morgan Schneiderlin, another player returning to the starting XI, headed narrowly over from another Baines corner before Robles made a good save to deny Okaka as Watford tried to find an equaliser.
The Spaniard was back in the side following an injury to Maarten Stekelenburg and he made a reflex stop as Okaka half-volleyed goal-wards from close range.
Half-time substitute, Enner Valencia, had a great chance to double the advantage in the closing stages as Gueye led a quick counter-attack following a Watford set-piece but he was edged out by a defender as he prepared to shoot and Gomes successfully closed the angle to block his effort.
The win means Everton finish the season with an impressive 13 home wins from 19 and the restoration of Goodison Park as a fortress under Koeman bodes well for next season.
Everton's penultimate game of the 2016-17 season sees Robles and Schneiderlin return to face Watford at Goodison Park.
Joel Robles is back in goal and Ross Barkley, who's contract situation has been a hot topic of conversation this week, starts with Morgan Schneiderlin returning to the side after injury. Mo Besic is on the bench after playing a few U-23 games to complete his rehabilitation from a long-term injury layoff.
No Tom Cleverley for the visitors — despite him agreeing to join Watford on a 5-year deal for around £8M back in March, but that doesn't take effect until 1 July, so he is technically still an Everton player on loan and therefore ineligible to play this one.
Watford got things going in the pouring rain, with a series of throw-ins. Mirallas eventually ran across the front of the Watford area but could not shape a shot and Barkley lost the ball.
Excellent movement into the Watford area and a smart exchange between Gana and Barkley saw Barkley shot but too close for Gomes to save easily enough when he should really have done a lot better. Watford went up the other end and won an early corner that was scooped away but all 11 back and so no counter-attack, and more Watford corners followed, Watford coming very close on the third as the ball pinged around in front of Robles.
Barkley won a corner, taken by Baines and cleverly fired in by Jagielka but saved well by Gomes. Okaka was allowed to run and lashed one just wide with Robles static. Another Everton corner, this one from the left, well in by Mirallas but headed away.
Holebas tried to catch out Robles with a free-kick given away by clumsy contact from Mirallas. Baines overhit another cross, deep to Gomes. Barkley set Davies off and he fired in a fabulous shot but close enough for Gomes to paw away for another corner. At the other end, Doucouré fashioned a shot at Robles.
The tempo of the game flagged considerably, a real end-of-season feel to it from two sides who had both forgotten how to score goals. Not helped by a failure on Referee Friend's part to play the advantage.
Lukaku did well to cut inside but has the ball taken off his toe and Watford went on the attack. Kabasele went down and was eventually replaced by Zuñiga. Things were enlivened by a bit of mass display of handbags after Berhami fouled Davies, who reacted a little miffed. Barkley's delivery from the free kick was really poor, not beating the first man.
Barkley played a lovely through-ball for Mirallas that won a corner but he then slipped on the wet turf trying to play in the second ball. Williams was called for climbing over Okaka, but nothing came of the free kick. Mirallas had a chance to play in Barkley but chose to overhit his pass for Lukaku instead and any chance was gone, ending a rather fruitless half of distinctly mediocre football.
A change from Ronald Koeman after the break: Valencia on for Holgate, and a switch to right back for Tom Davies, whose first ball to Valencia was brilliant, the cross less so. Some fantastic skill and sense from Davies, trapping a wet crossfield ball dead, then playing in Valencia for a cutback from the byeline that didn't come off
Far more invention and desire from Everton, which saw Davies and Valencia coupling with Lukaku, but the final crosses were too deep and no clear chances. Gomes punched across from Mirallas out to Schneiderlin who hit his earlier strike well over, but at least he too take a shot.
Nervy at the other end, when it looked like Deeney would poke home as they broke through but he drove the ball wide under pressure from Jagielka(?). Out of nothing, Barkley with space, off a great ball from Jagielka, a simple shot curling away from Gomes, fine goal!
A Watford corner followed, overhit, and Mirallas with a chance to run... but then overrun the ball. Watford tried to respond but Yanmat was offside. Mirallas got wide but a superb tackle from Mariappa.
A great move started by Barkley saw another interesting cross from Lukaku, with Mirallas then firing hard at Gomes, Lukaku going for the punched ball and being clearly tripped, but throwing his arms up a little too dramatically as he went down... no penalty, said Kevin Friend.
Barkley tried a chipped cross from a stalled position but it was too clever. Valencia overlapped but his cross only won a corner, delivered well by Baines direct to Schneiderlin on the near post but incredibly he headed inches over. At the other end, Okaka looked to pull the trigger but Schneiderlin in in an instant to deny him.
Mirallas set Lukaku off on a run but he was stopped too easily. Valencia than lashed in a fierce cross that could have created an own-goal but it spun wide off the defender for a corner. Play was halted while another little scally scampered across the hallowed Goodison turf... what is it with pitch invasions at every game now?
Watford had a spell of getting forward but with limited effect, Okaka almost getting the better of Williams, who did very well. Barkley got a great round of applause as he was replaced by Gareth Barry with 10 minutes left.
Gueye gave away a silly foul wide right that Holebas swung in but Lukaku powered it away. Kept attacking, trying to find a weakness in Everton's defence.
A final appearance of Arouna Kone, set to leave at the end of the season, who came on for a final farewell to the Goodison faithful, in place of Kevin Mirallas. Watford attacked with spirit and almost scored but for intervention by Barry, and at the other end, Valencia in with a glorious chance that he fired into the body of the advancing Gomes, when a delicate chip was called for...
More dangerous attacking from Watford, a fabulous ball in from Amrabat, defended superbly by Gareth Barry as Everton clung on into the added last 5 minutes of the season before the customary Lap of Appreciation.
Scorers: Barkley (56')
Everton: Robles, Baines; Jagielka, A Williams, Holgate (46' Valencia); Gana, Schneiderlin, Davies; Mirallas (87' Kone), Barkley (80' Barry); Lukaku.
Subs: Hewelt, Pennington, J Williams, Besic.
Watford: Gomes; Kabasele (37' Zuñiga), Prödl, Mariappa; Janmaat, Doucouré, Behrami (70' Amrabat), Capoue (81' Niang), Holebas; Okaka, Deeney.
Subs not Used: Success, Watson, Pantilimon, Eleftheriou.
Referee: Kevin Friend
An end-of-season jolly
With the season as good as over, I was hopeful, confident even, of Everton putting on a good show for their fans at home to struggling Watford. So confident of a big score, I even put a bet on us winning 5-1 at 40-1. I'm not much of a betting man, but back in 2004 I had it in my head that we'd beat Manchester City away 1-0 with a Tim Cahill goal, but didn't put a bet on. The prediction came in of course. With that in mind, whenever I have an inkling of a certain scoreline or goalscorer, I put the bet on. It's only ever come through once, but I still keep putting the bet on a couple of times a season. I needn't have bothered this time of course.
With Gaz picking me up just a little after 5pm, we were all set to be around Goodison Park in good time, and would have been if not for a break down in the Birkenhead tunnel. This held us back considerably and it was about 6:15pm when we finally arrived. We met the others in the pub for a few drinks and raided a bit of the buffet. When we arrived at the pub, it was nice and sunny. When we left, it was pouring with rain and those of us who were hood-less got rather soaked.
I was a bit disappointed with the team news. With the U-23s just winning their league and nothing riding on the game at all, it seemed a good opportunity to reward some of the players with a starting birth. What did Ronald Koeman learn for example by playing Leighton Baines instead of Antonee Robinson, or by bringing on Gareth Barry instead of Joe Williams in the midfield? Ronald knows a lot more than me of course and maybe already has more of an idea on who he feels will make it moving forward and who will not, but I would have liked to have seen a few of them feature in addition to Tom Davies and Mason Holgate, even though a few of them are away for the U-20 World Cup.
We arrived, soaked, at Goodison Park in time for kick-off. With the fixture changed to a Friday night only a smattering of Watford supporters made the journey north with the stadium otherwise full. The atmosphere was a little flat which was reflective of the way the game was played. It felt a bit like exactly what it was - an end-of-season wind-down and I quickly realised I was well off the mark with my 5-1 prediction.
Ross Barkley and Phil Jagielka both forced good saves from Heurelho Gomez early on and, had one of those chances gone in, who knows what might have happened. Watford's striker Stefano Okaka, who was menacing against us at Vicarage Road, was presented with a good opportunity afterwards but slotted wide when he should have done better. From one of numerous first-half corners Watford may have scored when Adrian Mariappa headed over the crossbar, and at the other end Tom Davies's distance drive was well beaten away by Gomez.
If you're reading this having not seen any of the game, this may seem pretty entertaining but it really wasn't and I made the unusual step of going down a little early for a half-time beer. Down there, I saw on the monitor perhaps the most entertaining part of the first half, when a bit of a melee broke out resulting in Daryl Janmaat and Jose Holebas being cautioned.
Back up for the second half and, though it still had a strange sort of feel to the game, the introduction and pace of Enner Valencia improved the game quality somewhat. Tom Davies did well filling in at right back also. The winning goal came when Ross Barkley collected an excellent first-time pass from Phil Jagielka. Ross charged at goal and shot from distance past the awfully positioned Heurelho Gomez. Ross celebrated and was mobbed by his teammates. Everton 1-0 ahead, and that was enough to win the game.
Morgan Schneiderlin twice came close, once with a spectacular attempt from distance, the other with a near-post header before close, but at the other end Stefano Okaka again came close but was this time thwarted by a sharp save from Joel Robles as Everton closed the game out. We departed quickly at full time, leaving before the lap of appreciation and beating the traffic home.
Overall, you have to say it's been a satisfying season. Our home form has been tremendous with clear need for improvement required on our travels. It should be an interesting summer, but European qualification is important to us Evertonians and I'm already excited for a European trip or two in our next campaign, even if it does mean starting the season in July.
'Til next time, Blues. Have a great summer.
Robles: Commanded his penalty area well and made a good save at the end. Will be interesting to see who starts next season between the sticks. 7
Baines: A good, solid and professional effort from Leighton Baines as always. 7
Jagielka: Good and solid. Nice assist also. 7
Williams: For two thirds of the season I haven't thought much of Ashley Williams but I feel he has settled and improved and is now looking decent. If he can carry on where he left off, he could be a key fixture in the team next term. 7
Holgate: Not quite at his best and was substituted at half time. 5
Gueye: Put in his usual shift. 7
Schneiderlin: Very good from Morgan. He needs to stay fit, he's missed some key games for us with injury already, but should he be able to do so he can be a key player for us for a long time. 7
Davies: Just for energy and willingness to exert some interest in the game I would make him man of the match. He coped well at right back also. Man of the Match. 7
Barkley: Played well and got what many say could be a 'farewell' goal. For my money, which as already proven in this report isn't worth much, I think he will still be with us at the start of the new season. 7
Mirallas: Had a busy game. I'm pleased he signed his new contract. He has his short-comings but I'd rather have him than not and if we go well in the Europa League next season he will be needed. 7
Lukaku: Worked quite hard without really getting any chances against a robust defence. 7
Valencia (for Holgate): Made an impact. I like Enner. He might possibly be worth keeping on to bolster the squad a bit for the Europa League, but we can also probably do a little better. I'm interested to see who we bring in. 7
Barry (for Barkley): Helped see out the game. 6
Kone (for Mirallas): Kept himself busy albeit with no end product. His farewell game at Goodison Park and though we wish him well, it hasn't been a successful spell on Merseyside for Arouna. 6
Everton's penultimate game of the 2016-17 season sees them face Watford this evening in what will be the last game of the campaign at Goodison Park.
The Blues are already guaranteed a seventh-place finish thanks to the points gap they had established over West Bromwich Albion below them and Arsenal's return to form following their wobble around their Champions League humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich last month.
It means that there is no pressure on Ronald Koeman's men other than the need to end the home fixtures on a high after the heavy 3-0 reverse at the hands of Chelsea a fortnight ago and there will be changes to the team sheet given some additions to the absentee list this week.
As the manager explained in his pre-match press conference yesterday, Maarten Stekelenburg has picked up a groin problem and none of the young Blues selected by England for the U20 World Cup will be involved but Morgan Schneiderlin is fit again and will likely start.
“It's a long list of players who are not available for tomorrow. Stekelenburg is not fit — he has a groin problem. Seamus and Funes we know, McCarthy we know, Lennon we know, Bolasie we know, and I took the decision about the young boys to leave them to [play for] the Under 20s.
“Of course, the game tomorrow is important because we'd like to finish strong and show the fans what we can bring to them and to get the 13th win of 19 at home and that's really strong.
“But young players need experience and that was the decision taken because they will play world champions and that's really good for the development of young players like Kenny, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Mola Lookman.”
Most eyes will inevitably be on whether Ross Barkley is picked, not only because he was dropped from the starting XI at Swansea last weekend but also because of Koeman's phlegmatic inference yesterday that the midfielder must make a decision over his future in short order or be sold to make way for planned new signings in that part of the side.
It's possible that the 23 year-old will be named among the substitutes again unless Koeman decides to give him an opportunity to shine in front of his own fans again before making a decision in his future.
Failing that, Enner Valencia could be handed one last chance to shine at Goodison and earn a permanent deal in a two-striker formation with Romelu Lukaku who has been prolific at home this year but hasn't scored in any of his last three games.
There is little riding on the game except pride but you can add some interest to the contest by checking sports spread betting odds.
There is also the chance to atone for a poor display against the Hornets in December, of course. The home faithful will be expectant of a good performance, and a victory to see them into the summer where hopes will be high for some significant activity to back up the ambition espoused by the leadership in recent months.
Kick-off: 7.45pm, Friday 12 May, 2017
Referee: Kevin Friend
Last Time: Everton 2-2 Watford
Predicted Line-up: Robles, Holgate, Jagielka, Williams, Baines, Gueye, Schneiderlin, Davies, Mirallas, Valencia, Lukaku