Everton came back from 2-0 down to execute a stunning recovery and lead Watford deep into injury time where Tom Cleverley missed a crucial penalty to ensure David Unsworth oversaw his first win since taking over from Ronald Koeman.
The Blues were heading to a disastrous sixth successive defeat when they started the second half in calamitous fashion, falling behind to goals by Richarlison and Christian Kabasele.
They halved their deficit shortly afterwards thanks to the alertness and determination of Oumar Niasse which sparked a brilliant fightback that yielded an equaliser from Dominic Calvert-Lewin and a penalty in front of the Gwladys Street that was converted with aplomb by Leighton Baines.
Three precious points were almost spurned 10 minutes into time added on for lengthy stoppages for treatment to Huerelho Gomes and Kabasele when Pickford tripped Richarlison in the six-yard box and the visitors were awarded a penalty of their own.
Cleverley missed the spot-kick, however, allowing Everton to close out the final two minutes and secure a priceless win.
David Unsworth named another changed line-up, with Phil Jagielka, Baines and Wayne Rooney all returning to the starting XI and Michael Keane available again following his recovery from an infection in his leg.
Tom Davies was also back in midfield, Niasse started up front with Gylfi Sigurdsson also in the lineup but there was no place in the squad at all for Nikola Vlasic, Kevin Mirallas or Morgan Schneiderlin, the latter two having been dropped, apparently for" "lack of effort" in training.
A cagey first 20 minutes eventually yielded the first real chance, when Niasse linked with Davies, Rooney fed the ball on to Baines in oceans of space but his attempted placed effort was fired too close to Gomes who parried it away.
A Sigurdsson free kick almost broke to the feet of a Blue jersey 10 minutes before the break but genuine chances remained at a high premium.
The best chance of half fell the visitors' way, though, when Richarlison drove forward, Pickford was caught in no-man's land but the Watford man could only find the side-netting from the angle with the open goal gaping.
Richarlison made amends just 30 seconds into the second half, however. Everton were carved wide open again and the forward was able to take it wide to the left around Pickford once more and slam it past Kenny on the line to make it 1-0.
The Blues had a great chance to level things up seven minutes later when Niasse rolled the fullback and squared it for the advancing Sigurdsson but once again Gomes came to the Hornets' rescue, diving across his goal to block the shot.
The Brazilian was injured in the aftermath of the chance, however, as Niasse caught him in the head with a knee which eventually necessitated his substitution with Karnezis coming on in his place.
Unsworth withdrew Baningime in favour of Lookman while Gomes was down getting treatment but he found his side 2-0 down shortly afterwards. Kabasele rose highest from a corner having lost his marker and powered a header home.
Everton grabbed a lifeline three minutes after that, though, when Niasse toed the ball past the keeper who had come flying out of the his area and despite being tripped as he charged through to put it into the empty net, he scored.
Rooney was replaced by Calvert-Lewin and the striker was involved in a good move that ended with Kenny's drive being deflected behind for a corner. Baines swung in the corner and Calvert-Lewin was there at the back post to head home and send Goodison into bedlam.
Unsworth's final change as the clock moved into the last five minutes saw Sigurdsson replaced by Lennon but Everton remained vulnerable from set-pieces and Mariappa came within inches of restoring Watford's lead, his header dropping wide.
But when Lennon was felled by Holebas in the final minute of the regulation 90, the Blues were handed a great chance to take the lead. Baines stepped up to take the spot kick and, despite a short run-up, he placed it perfectly past the keeper to complete a stirring comeback.
Watford piled on increasing pressure and sunk Evertonian hearts when they earned a penalty 10 minutes into stoppage time. Richarlison looked odds-on to score his second as he neatly side-stepped Pickford in front of goal but the 'keeper tripped him trying to make a last-ditch tackle.
Cleverley stepped up with the chance to drive a stake into his former team's heart but screwed his kick wide to spark more wide celebrations around the Old Lady and the Blues held out the final couple of minutes to claim a crucial victory.
This was only the second time since the relegation-defying win over Wimbledon that Everton had come back from 2-0 down and it could not have come at a better time. 10 minutes into the second half, the club was staring a long battle against relegation firmly in the face but a brilliant fightback not only lifts Everton out of the relegation zone, it offers hope that this collection of players has the stomach for any fight to survive in the top flight.
Everton kickstart their heart amid rollercoaster contest against Watford
Where there is life there is hope and Everton put the defibrillator paddles to their season today with an impressive recovery from a seemingly impossible position to beat Watford in what eventually became an adrenaline-fuelled encounter at Goodison Park.
Afterwards, Leighton Baines remarked, rightly, that it wasn't anything to get carried away by but, by the same token, this was a momentous result and a potential turning point in the season. Had Everton lost this game it would have represented a sixth successive defeat in all competitions and dealt another crushing blow to morale.
It's hard to escape the feeling that despair might have started to really tighten its grip on both the fanbase and the players and, perhaps, hastened a panicked move by the hierarchy for someone like Sam Allardyce to try and bail the club out through a protracted fight against relegation.
Indeed, the ingredients for chaos, instability and a death spiral down the drain into the depths plumbed by Sunderland last season and Aston Villa before them were already there — unforgivably incomplete business during the transfer window, long-term injuries to key players, a disastrous start to the season, the manager sacked, and, now, two experienced players having to be disciplined for their lack of commitment to the cause.
Throw in a 2-0 deficit an hour into a must-win home game and it's a wonder that Everton didn't implode on yet another occasion this afternoon as Goodison was silenced just eight minutes into the second half.
But there is a defiance and a determination about Everton Football Club when the chips really are down that persists and it emerged in that second period, typified by a gangly former outcast who handed them a lifeline and sparked life back into a home faithful that would roar the Blues on to a thrilling victory.
Oumar Niasse is unlikely to ever become the prolific successor to Romelu Lukaku that many doubted he was when Roberto Martinez purchased him from Lokomotiv Moscow last year but what he lacks in raw talent he makes up for in heart and a never-say-die attitude.
The Senegalese striker ran himself ragged chasing defenders, lost causes and forward balls all afternoon and it was he who made the most of what looked to have become a 50-50 ball from Ademola Lookman to score and halve Everton's deficit just three minutes after Christian Kabasele had put Watford into what looked to be an unassailable lead at 2-0.
As the Blues grew in self-belief, it was a 20-year-old bearing an outsized burden for his tender years who levelled when Dominic Calvert-Lewin headed home at the far post seven minutes later and an older head in the form of Leighton Baines who despatched a perfectly-struck penalty to win it stoppage time.
Fittingly, fortune favoured the brave — and the sprited — on an afternoon of high drama under the early-evening lights of the Grand Old Lady. Heurelho Gomes had saved what little Everton had thrown at him prior to the 53rd minute but he was forced from the field looking dazed after several minutes of treatment in his goalmouth after being pole-axed in an accidental collision with Niasse's knee.
The incident that handed Baines a match-winning spot-kick owed much to Lady Luck as well. Jose Holebas lost his footing as substitute Aaron Lennon drove past, upending the Blues' winger and leaving referee Graham Scott with little option but to award a penalty.
And when Jordan Pickford's attempted last-ditch tackle on Richarlison conceded a penalty at the other end, the young goalkeeper wasn't even called upon to be the hero deep into 12 minutes of injury time. Instead, Tom Cleverley dragged his kick from 12 yards wide of goal. When results aren't going your way, sometimes the little things go against you so Everton won't be complaining too much about a little rub of the green.
Not surprisingly, this wasn't a good Everton performance; when you're one place off the bottom and winless in six weeks they rarely are. With an over-reliance on the long ball for extended periods, it was a game that Unsworth's men never really had control of but, having named another questionable team that omitted Nikola Vlasic and Sandro Ramirez completely, featured Niasse (who hadn't covered himself in glory at all in the defeat at Leicester) up front with Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson and sacrificed any natural width, the stand-in boss was rewarded for positive changes after half time.
In a first half almost entirely bereft of genuine goalscoring chances, the hosts struggling to impose themselves on the contest in any meaningful way. Understandably nervy but generally toothless, they were let down by a poor display from Rooney who was a mix of partially successful link-man and, after one successful slide tackle, occasionally aimless aggression. He gave the ball away more than he did any good with it and it was no surprise that he was the one who made way for Calvert-Lewin midway through the second half.
He was, however, involved in Everton's best move of the half. Niasse and Davies combined down the right channel and Rooney helped the ball square across the Hornets' box where Baines was arriving. The full-back evidently had too much to weigh up his options and elected to a placed effort that was at easy height for Gomes to beat it away.
At the other end, Richarlison really should have broken the deadlock when Andre Gray easily shrugged off Phil Jagielka and the Brazilian forward raced away, drawing Pickford too far off his line and opening up the goal once he had gone around the ‘keeper. Thankfully, he could only find the side-netting.
He wouldn't have to wait much longer to make the breakthrough, however, because the second period was just 32 seconds old when he scored. Gray was involved again near the half-way line, rolling Jagielka's central defensive partner Michael Keane with what looked to be an illegal shove and with three red shirts bearing down on just two blue, the forward passed to Richarlison who rounded Pickford again and slammed a shot inside the near post to hand Watford the lead.
Everton's response looked to have yielded an equaliser just seven minutes later and Sigurdsson may still be wondering how he didn't manage to notch his first Premier League goal in royal blue. Excellent work by Niasse took him inside the fullback on the Toffees' right and he picked out his Icelandic team-mate in the centre but Gomes dived to his right to parry the shot away.
Rooney chipped it back into the six-yard box, Gomes was there again to bat it away but was caught by Niasse, sustaining a nasty cut to the eye and an almost certain concussion that required his replacement by Osteris Karnezis.
That unwanted change for Marco Silva looked to have been rendered insignificant just a few minutes after the match restarted, however. Watford won a corner on their right and when the resulting set-piece was swung in, Kabasele rose effortlessly above Jagielka to head powerfully down past Pickford.
Everton needed something quickly and got it through Niasse who stole in ahead of Holebas, toed the ball past the on-rushing Karnezis and was set to roll it into an empty net when he was taken out by Kabasele. His fall onto the ball carried it over the line, though, and Unsworth's men were back in it.
Rooney was immediately withdrawn with Calvert-Lewin coming on and within six minutes he had made the second breakthrough. Kenny's attempted drive was blocked behind for a corner and with the Gwladys Street End roaring him on, Baines lofted a deep corner to the back post where Calvert-Lewin, Zorro mask and all, nodded accurately home to score his first League goal of the campaign.
It was to Unsworth's credit that, no doubt sensing that the tide was now with Everton, he made one final bold move with 85 minutes on the clock but a significant amount of added time to come. Off went Sigurdsson and on came Lennon and just five minutes later he won the all-important penalty.
It was a moment that was so nearly cancelled out 10 more minutes into injury time as Watford piled on the pressure and forced a save from Pickford that was immediately followed by his foul on Richarlison. Thankfully, an awful miss from the spot by Cleverley ensured that this was to be Everton's day.
Whether it's a result that buys Unsworth a bit more time remains to be seen. It seems unlikely — on the basis of those first three defeats since Ronald Koeman was sacked, the board may already have assessed their shortlist and made the decision to appoint someone else in short order over the international break. Regardless, “Rhino” deserved to finally oversee a victory, especially one as stirring as this.
And whoever gets the role on a full-time basis will at least be able to point to a benchmark in terms of performance and attitude now and know that despite there being a number of young and inexperienced players in the ranks, there is talent and desire there that just needs to be harnessed and deployed in the right way.
At the very least the stomach for a fight was in evidence in a game that will live long in the memory and, hopefully, act as a line in the sand in a season that was threatening to descend into unthinkable calamity. Remember, remember the 5th of November, indeed.
I, fortuitously as it turned out, took ill before our beleaguered encounter with Arsenal, and following three additional defeats on the road, and David Unsworth’s battle cry in his press conference, I wasn’t surprised to see Goodison Park was pumped under the lights for our must-win fixture against Watford.
With a 4.30pm kick off time, and Gaz picking me up at 1.30pm, I was conscious of getting some food down me before setting off and had a German bratwurst before getting in the car. Had I have known the pub was giving out free hot dogs I might have chosen differently for my lunch. Anyhow, it was good fun in the pub with a few of us congregated at the bar watching the Manchester City vs Arsenal match, with nobody decided on who our next manager should be. Though we were pretty unanimous in that it shouldn’t be Sam Allardyce or Sean Dyche.
We were clearly having too much fun in the pub and left it a little late getting to the game, bundling through the turnstyle and taking our seats about 30 seconds into the game. On the way in someone was giving out promotional packs of Peperami’s…sausages were becoming the order of the day!
As the sky darkened Everton pressed Watford back early doors and forced a few panicked clearances though Watford did settle. Leighton Baines wasted a great opportunity, shooting tamely straight at Heurelho Gomes when you would have expected him to do better.
Once Watford were firmly settled into the game they were knocking the ball around nicely and playing some good football, though we did nearly gift them the lead when they went a bit more direct, Phil Jagielka getting caught out trying to win the ball on the half way line and Richarlison was away. Jordan Pickford came running out to clear the ball before realising he wasn’t going to get there so he did the next best thing - force Richarlison wide. Leighton Baines also did a good job of making it difficult for the Brazilian who regardless, will have been disappointed not to have scored.
That was the best chance of the half, but such has been our timidness of late, we really went into our shells as half time approached and Watford searched for the half time lead. Thankfully it didn’t come but it was an uncomfortably nervy few minutes before the break.
Into the second half we couldn’t quite believe what we were seeing as some 40 seconds into it we were a goal down. Ste, Duncan and I had enjoyed a pretty good natter at half time of which we were still finishing when all of a sudden Richardlison was through on goal. He showed incredibly good composure and intuition to get around Jordan Pickford and finish smartly past a few defenders on the line. It was a well taken goal and we found ourselves a goal line…that crushing feeling returned.
We rallied briefly and, unbeknown to us at the time, there was a key moment in the game when Heurelho Gomes had to come off injured with a gash to his head following a collision with Oumar Niasse. During this incident Gylfi Sigurdsson really ought to have scored when he drive at goal was too weak to really trouble Gomes.
The game was really clicking into life and Watford weren’t content to just sit on their lead and really began to turn the screw. I believe we were already warned when someone else headed wide with a free header from a corner, but when Christian Kabasele headed in from close range following a corner kick to make it 0-2, you really couldn’t see a way back. Indeed a stunned friend of mine text me later on in disbelief as he had left at 0-2.
We were a bit stunned really, sedate, gutted, but then, out of nothing, a hopeful ball from substitute Ademola Lookman had Oumar Niasse chasing what seemed to be a lost cause. Huge indecision between defender and substitute goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis, plus great tenacity from Oumar grabbed us a lifeline.
The momentum pendulum shifted straight to us. The players suddenly had their tails up. Goodison Park became a bear pit. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, only on the pitch for seven minutes at this point rose highest to cushion home a header at the back post from a Leighton Baines corner, and it was 2-2. Amazing.
With Watford missing another good opportunity from a corner kick also, while we willed the players on, escaping with a point having been 0-2 down didn’t seem quite so bad, but thankfully David Unsworth had other ideas and threw on Aaron Lennon who got straight to work down our right hand side, pressuring, pressing and forcing mistakes. Aaron got free down the right and with Jose Holebas losing his footing and bundling Lennon over, it would have taken a brave referee to not give us the penalty in front of a passionate Gwladys Street end.
With Holebas doing his very best to take up as much time as possible before the penalty was taken, Leighton did well to keep his cool and find the corner. From 0-2 down, we were now 3-2 ahead...but with an agonising, unbearable 12 minutes of stoppage time remaining.
You knew a big chance would come for Watford, and given how we’ve been, you expected Watford to take it. I don’t entirely recall how somebody got free, but somebody did and all of a sudden Richarlison, who had been a thorn in our side all afternoon, showed great feet to get away from Jordan Pickford, who took him down. A penalty to Watford and no complaints from anyone at all. Just that gutting feeling.
Could Pickford bail us out? Up stepped ex-Blue Tom Cleverley, and to a huge, emotional outburst of joy throughout the ground, he scuffed his penalty well wide. A real let off for Everton.
We thankfully managed to keep the ball up at the other end of the pitch for the remainder of the game, and got over the line in the most unlikely of circumstances. At full time a vividly proud David Unsworth congratulated all his players before saluting all four corners of the stadium. You had to be delighted for him.
Leaving the ground there were a few slapstick moments. Some bloke spontaneously picked up a traffic cone just outside St. Luke’s church and shouted “BARRY HOOOOORRRRNNNEE” down it as loud as he could, and as we walked towards County Road somebody opened up hid car window and played, of all songs, Orinoco Flow by Enya at full blast!
I then met Gary back in the Medlock Hotel for a quick pint and then jumped on the train into the city centre to meet a mate Dan, a Watford fan, for a few drinks at the Ship & Mitre. It was a nice way to finish the evening with a few ales, and before getting on my bus home I went the Lobster Pot and got, you guessed it…fish and chips.
A splendid day out at the game. Them fun days only ever happen about once or twice a season so I was glad to make the most of it, even if I paid for it a bit in work today.
It’s great to go into the international break out of the bottom three, and whatever happens now in terms of manager - thank you David Unsworth. We were certainly all proud to be Blue yesterday.
Pickford: The odd rush of blood to the head aside, he did well. He’s a very good goalkeeper. Very imposing and confident in his ability. 7
Baines: Sluggish at times but stepped up when it mattered: 7
Jagielka: Had a bit of a struggle but I think he and Keane are the best bet at the back. 5
Keane: A bit at fault for Watford’s first goal but coped well otherwise. 6
Kenny: While he may lack in quality in attack, his tackling ability in defence was outstanding. Reminded me a bit of Tony Hibbert. He did very well, especially after a difficult couple of games on the road. Well done. 8
Gueye: He’s not quite at his best currently but it’s not for lack of effort. 6
Baningime: He was sacrificed early in the second half as we sought to get back into the game, but he did pretty well on his Goodison Park bow. Looks a great player for the future and shows remarkable composure for his age. Well done. 6
Sigurdsson: Missed a good opportunity but he did show good quality and does put the work in. I think he’ll really click into gear sooner or later…hopefully sooner. 7
Rooney: Faded after a promising first half. 6
Davies: Struggled but what I like about Davies is that he never loses faith in his ability and doesn’t let things get him down. He keeps on going. Jonjo Kenny, Beni Baningime, Tom Davies, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ademola Lookman, and Mason Holgate should all learn a lot from this hastening experience we’ve endured this season. 5
Niasse: My man of the match. He worked their defence throughout and showed neat touches and good link up play. He thoroughly deserved his goal and it sparked the turn around. Well done Oumar. Congratulations. 8
Lookman (for Baningime): Influenced the game with his assist for the our first goal and put in a decent contribution. 6
Calvert-Lewin (for Rooney): Took his goal well and brought an extra attacking dimension. Well done Dominic! 7
Lennon (for Sigurdsson): On for the shortest time of all the substitutes but made arguably the biggest contribution. His pressing put Watford on the back foot and he got his reward with the penalty award. Well done Aaron. Another nice story to see him back in the team after the 2017 he has had. 7
Everton host Watford this weekend in a fixture that has grown in importance with the need for a confidence-boosting win has grown following the Blues' latest European disaster.
The 3-0 defeat in Lyon on Thursday confirmed that the club cannot progress to the next stage of the Europa League, leaving all focus on the Premier League where they haven't won since 23rd September.
Everton will kick off the match sitting second from bottom thanks to Bournemouth's win at Newcastle but would close the gap to mid-table safety with three points if David Unsworth is able to gather his players together and find a winning formation.
His approach will be different to Thursday evening, with a number of rested players likely to return, Oumar Niasse eligible again and Michael Keane possibly in contention after overcoming a leg infection brought on by a badly gashed foot.
Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Wayne Rooney and Tom Davies were all left out of the Lyon game and could all feature in the starting XI depending on how Unsworth wants to set his team up.
Two players who won't be involved are Cuco Martina who will be sidelined for two weeks by the neck injury he sustained in that awkward fall the other night while James McCarthy is dealing with his latest soft-tissue problem, a hamstring strain that will also keep him out until after the international break.
Unsworth has already used a wide selection of players and varying permutations, including Thursday's surprising striker-less line-up but he could go back to a more orthodox team for this one, with Rooney and Dominic Calvert-Lewin as forwards and a three-man central midfield unit.
Beni Baningime's latest star turn is likely to earn him another start but Morgan Schneiderlin, overlooked in the last league game and sent off again in Lyon, could find himself back on the bench again, if only for his lack of discipline.
The visitors have been in impressive form under new manager Marco Silva it's no surprise that the Portuguese has been heavily linked with the Everton job as a result.
The Hornets were as high as sixth place in the table and have dropped to ninth on the back of successive League defeats and the weekend results so far but can close the gap to the top seven again with a win. They have already won at Swansea, Southampton and Bournemouth and will be fancying themselves against a struggling Blues outfit.
Unsworth has couched this match and the next few after it as being akin to cup finals in terms of the approach Everton need to take, a reflection of how quickly the team could get bogged down in the quagmire of a relegation scrap.
He has also highlighted the need for the players to circle the wagons after they have conceded goals to avoid the collapses that have characterised many of the Blues' heaviest defeats this season.
That speaks to a need for mental fortitude and more unity and team spirit than has been in evidence in recent weeks. Unsworth's temporary tenure had been expected to provide it following what appeared from the outside to be a less-than nurturing environment under Ronald Koeman but thus far, an upturn in morale hasn't materialised.
Now would be the time…
Kick-off: 4.30pm, Sunday 5th November, 2017
Last Time: Everton 1 - 0 Watford
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Kenny, Jagielka, Williams, Baines, Gueye, Baningime, Davies, Lennon, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin