Take nothing away from Lucas Digne’s first goal in English football, an exquisite free kick that bent its way beautifully inside Ben Foster’s right-hand post six minutes into stoppage time, but has a last-gasp goal at Goodison Park ever felt quite as anti-climactic?
Put it down to the realisation that Everton had salvaged an undeserved point but there was none of the elation in this Blue heart that should greet a goal of such precision, both in terms of placement and its timing. Digne should savour it — and, hopefully, it’s the first of many from a player who is, last Wednesday’s dip notwithstanding, proving to be a quite brilliant signing — but there is no question that it papered over some glaring cracks in the Toffees’ performance, their organisation and their focus, not to mention the tactical response of their manager.
After the shock to the system that was that 96th-minute Divock Origi goal at Anfield eight days ago, Everton needed a response in the two home games that followed. Take maximum points from Newcastle and Watford at home and the pain of yet another derby defeat would be diminished; it could be compartmentalised and consigned to the history books as staying above Manchester United and at least keeping the top five within sight became the priority.
Instead, the Blues have largely regressed and a grinding but ultimately guile-less display against the Barcodes that yielded just one point was followed this evening by a more galling outing against the Hornets in which Silva’s men ceded the initiative and momentum to the visitors for all but the first and last 20 minutes and escaped with an undeserved point. It prevented Watford from picking up their first ever win at Goodison Park and their mocking, rubber snake-wielding travelling fans from getting one over their former manager but it all felt massively disappointing.
As predicted, after resting a couple of players in midweek and handing opportunities to Cenk Tosun and Ademola Lookman, Silva reverted to what has been his trusted formation and line-up by recalling Bernard, Theo Walcott and Michael Keane and there were signs in the early going that they were the right decisions. The two wingers were looking lively and, after an untidy start, Everton started to probe Watford’s defence with a couple of interchanges hinting at what was to come with a quarter of an hour gone.
That was when Idrissa Gueye began a flowing move from inside his own half by sliding a pass forward to Walcott and after some neat footwork, the winger slipped the ball through two opposition players to meet Coleman’s run on the overlap. The Irishman eventually worked his way inside, found André Gomes who danced around the nearest defender with one touch, collected the ball off Walcott’s foot (offside as it turned out) and centred for Richarlison to bury it past Ben Foster.
That should have been the platform from which Everton turned the screw but they allowed Watford to take control of the game and for a large stretch of the remainder of the contest, they were out-fought and out-played by a side that hadn’t won in five Premier League matches. To Javi Gracia’sa credit, his charges were first to the ball, inventive and incisive while the hosts toiled and generally struggled to live with the Hornets as the likes of Roberto Pereyra, Isaac Success and Abdoulaye Doucoure began to shine.
Pereyra glanced a free header wide later in the half that should have brought Watford level earlier than he eventually did, albeit via the unwitting Seamus Coleman, but another delightful Everton move just before the break almost made it 2-0.
A flick by Bernard released Sigurdsson into space and when he played a one-two with Digne, it took a superb, last-ditch tackle by Craig Cathcart to deny the Icelandic international.
At the other end. Watford reminded the Blues of their threat when Troy Deeney almost poked a deep ball past Pickford but it bounced wide while Yerry Mina, already on a booking for an intentional handball as he tried to convert Sigurdsson’s cross earlier in the half, was probably lucky to avoid giving away a free kick and collecting a second yellow for a tackle on Success in which he didn’t appear to make contact with the ball.
Yet, a goal to the good at half-time and with an excellent record this season of winning games at home when scoring first, the table was set for Everton to raise their game again after the interval and press home their superiority. As was the case against Newcastle, however, there was little evidence of any inspirational half-time team talk from Silva – what followed was the worst second-half performance of the season so far – and no response from the manager to the fact that his side was looking mis-matched in midfield.
It took Watford’s equaliser to rouse the first change from him but he wouldn’t get the chance to make it before the visitors grabbed a second goal and took a surprise lead. Pereyra had already lashed a free-kick into the side-netting 10 minutes after the restart, Mina had had to make an excellent block to deflect a Doucouré shot behind, and Jordan Pickford had pushed away a low drive by Christian Kabasele by the time Watford levelled in the 62nd minute.
Digne lost his footing trying to close down substitute Gerard Deulofeu and the Spaniard exploited the space, threading Ferminia in on the overlap behind Bernard and though Pereyra could only turn the resulting cross onto the post, the ball hit Coleman on the knees and bounced into the empty net.
It was 2-1 just two minutes later. Gomes was harshly adjudged to have fouled Success near the touchline by referee Kevin Friend but Everton switched off as Watford took a quick free kick, Pereyra got to the byline to swing in a deflected cross that looped into the six-yard box where it was always going to be advantage Doucouré as he powered in untracked to leap above Coleman and head home.
Silva responded by hooking Bernard and Walcott in favour of Lookman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin but it was Mina who was involved in a potentially pivotal incident in the Hornets’ box when he was clumsily flattened by Kabasele and Friend pointed to the penalty spot.
Sigurdsson, stepped up confidently enough but drove his spot-kick in the same place as Luka Milivojevic did for Crystal Palace earlier this season and Foster made the save with his foot.
What followed was a lot of increasingly desperate huff and puff from Everton and a couple of “nearly” moments for Richarlison, the best of which coming from Coleman’s cut-back but the ball got stuck under his foot and he was closed down before he could dig it out.
It looked as though the Toffees were going to be handed a chastening defeat until a last hopeful ball was lofted to the edge of the Watford area, Kabasele handled it as he challenged Michael Keane and Digne did the rest with a sweet finish to rescue a point while registering a personal milestone with his first goal in Everton colours.
With all the mounting optimism among Evertonians at the visible progress made at Goodison under Marco Silva, the past three games have served as something of a reality check and this evening, in particular, highlighted that the new manager has a way to go before some lingering traits can be worked out of the Everton system.
Everton were, perhaps, complacent after scoring the opening goal, lacked focus at crucial moments and found themselves unable to compete with a robust and quick-witted opposition midfield. Having delighted the home faithful with some sublime examples of his poise and distribution at times, Gomes had arguably his most testing game since joining; his pass for the first goal notwithstanding, Gueye’s erratic distribution was occasionally exposed and the partnership of Keane and Mina at the back looked less sure than at any time thus far, the former’s midweek break seeming to disrupt his flow.
Out wide, none of Walcott, Bernard or Lookman look capable of performing consistently or reliably for anything close to 90 minutes. All three had some nice moments but much more is required if they are to play week in, week out. Up front, meanwhile, Richarlison weighed in with his obligatory goal but his tendency to drift from the centre or to drop deep leaves the team without a focal point in attack.
Overall, it was one of those nights where you had to retain some perspective and to keep the bigger picture in view. While Everton are better in a raft of respects than they were last season, Silva and Marcel Brands have plenty of work left to do and it won’t all be solved overnight. There will be more games like this while the manager works through the issues he inherited, continues to bed in his new players and highlights areas that still need to be strengthened.
The derby has flattened us
Gaz, Ste and I set off in good spirits, the mood then somewhat dampened by very busy traffic in the Birkenhead tunnel. Still we were in the pub in ample time to enjoy a few beers, Nic and Dan already there.
It was nice to see Marco Silva revert to his trusted XI after making a few changes against Newcastle United. Watford featured Gerard Deulofeu on the substitutes bench. Prior to the game a lot was made of Watford supporters angst at Everton’s pursuit, and ultimate acquisition of Marco Silva, so much so that the wacky funsters even brought along inflatable snakes to goad him with. I’ve seen much sparser crowds for a Monday evening trip, but I’ve also seen much better, and given the supposed hostility for the game I did expect more Watford supporters to be in attendance. Nevertheless, those that did travel made themselves heard and can be proud of how their team performed in what was a good honest effort from the Hornets.
Everton attacked the Park End in the first half but it was Watford with the earliest opening when Roberto Pereyra shot tamely at Jordan Pickford. We soon got in the swing of things though and though we weren’t exactly fluid we did get on the scoresheet on 15 minutes when Andre Gomes showed admirable composure when behind the Watford back line to pick out a good pass for, it had to be, Richarlison to smash home. We hadn’t exactly started well but you hoped the goal could give us a bit of a kickstart.
We seemed to do OK for a little while but Watford gave as good as they got and were clearly up for the game. I think Isaac Success got behind us and shot at goal. I’ve no idea if the ball was going into the goal or if he was offside but Troy Deeney skied over from close range at the far post. Later in the half, as the break closed in I think Pereyra flashed a header wide of goal when well-placed. We hadn’t been too bad but not too good either and you felt it had to get better in the second half. Kevin Friend, the match official, left the pitch to boos but I thought at the break that he had done generally OK. He’d given Watford a couple of soft decisions but I felt he was pretty fair in the half and wasn’t fooled by play-acting from either team, especially from our Brazilian Richarlison. What the referee then lacked in the second half was consistency in what was a tough half to take in.
Watford began well on top and it felt like only a matter of time before they levelled the scores. We’d already had a let off when Pereyra’s free kick hit the side-netting (humorously the Watford supporters felt it was in for a moment) and it was a surprise to nobody that Watford finally equalised, Pereyra again was the man involved after substitute Deulofeu played in Kiko Femenia who found the Argentine. His effort hit the post and then bounced back at Seamus Coleman and into the goal. I’ve just had a quick look at it again on the TV and I feel Seamus could have reacted better.
1-1 then but momentum was with Watford and the locals were restless…even more so only two minutes later when Pereyra, yes…again, crossed deep and the galloping Abdoulaye Doucoure headed down and into the goal. Jordan Pickford got something on it but couldn’t keep it out. It occurred to me at the time that Pickford may have claimed the cross and having now seen it again I concur with that original thought. The ball was in the air for a considerable amount of time and I felt could have been dealt with.
Everton had work to do then and Marco rang the changes, hooking Theo Walcott, Bernard and Idrissa Gueye for Ademola Lookman, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun. It must have been on around 70 minutes, I think before Cenk was added, that Everton were awarded a penalty for Kabasele’s clumsy lunge on Yerry Mina. Chatting to Ste as Gylfi readied himself to take the penalty, we both agreed that we’re never very confident in Gylfi when he steps up to take penalties. I don’t like his run up. I never feel he’s going to score, whereas when he took them for Swansea City you always felt he was going to score. His accuracy was incredible. I don’t know how he’s lost his way from the spot but it’s a situation Everton need to amend. Had he have scored Everton might have ran away with the game, as it was we were lucky to scramble a draw. His effort was well saved by Ben Foster, but the penalty wasn’t a good one and maybe we should be looking for another candidate.
unspectacularly Everton ploughed on albeit without creating much. Gylfi arched backwards to head a Seamus Coleman cross at goal but it was easily saved by Ben Foster. There were a few little moments in the penalty area which all came to nothing and as stoppage time ticked on we felt the game was gone and even considered leaving, but on we stayed, as you just never know when a Congolese centre back may panic handball and give you a last opportunity.
Lucas Digne and Gylfi Sigurdsson both shaped to hit and it looked like it would be Gylfi, but Lucas must have seen the gap and the moment it left his boot you knew it was a goal. “It’s in” I said to Ste instantly. A splendid strike from the impressive Frenchman to save our bacon on the night. Gylfi was quick to ask Kevin Friend how long was left in the game, and he looked disappointed before signalling to Marco that we had just one minute left. This was enough time for both teams to launch an attack, though neither were successful and it ended honours even. Watford unlucky, but then we did miss a penalty.
Two games you may ordinarily have labelled home bankers have ended in disappointing draws, but at least we didn’t lose either game and have come from behind in both to get something. You never know, the points may be critical come the end of the season. What is the reasoning behind our dip inform these last two games? I blame the Merseyside derby. I think that cruellest of endings has flattened our players and they’ve gone from buoyant to befuddled.
They need to get it out of their system quickly, and maybe a “free hit” game at the Etihad against the champions is just what they need to get back on track. A good performance there, result regardless, could just get them ticking again, and we’ll need to be before the festive fixtures really come thick and fasdt.
Pickford: I think he could have done better with Watford’s second goal and his distribution was wayward. 5
Digne: Kept on going throughout and popped up with the crucial late equaliser. A splendid goal. I like his long throw quality also. 7
Mina: I thought he did well. I’m not sure if he can be blamed for either of the goals and he carried the ball out of defence multiple times. More than most if not all in the team, you felt he did not want to be denied and his presence up top did cause a bit of havoc late in the game when we found an equaliser. My man of the match. 7
Keane: A bit more like the Michael Keane of last season - slow and hesitant. Keep him in the team though. He’s been doing well and I back him to bounce back next game. 5
Coleman: Was doing very well until the own goal but then lost his way a bit. I think he could of reacted better for the own goal. He didn’t seem to anticipate at all. 6
Gueye: He really needs to work on his passing, it’s sometimes particularly poor. His tackling is great, but his passing can be a liability and is something you can ill-afford in the Premier League. When you see a player like Doucoure who can do both your mind does begin to wander. 5
Gomes: Great at times but not quite at the races for long periods of the game. 6
Sigurdsson: I thought he started the game well but faded and fluffed his lines with the penalty. Perhaps hasn’t quite been at the races since the injury he sustained at Chelsea. 5
Bernard: Worked hard but we didn’t get enough flair from Bernard. 6
Walcott: Worked hard and had a few good moments but his end product is usually lacking. 6
Richarlison: Took his goal well and offered a few good moments but largely frustrated otherwise. Can do better. 5
Lookman (for Walcott): Didn’t make a big contribution. 6
Calvert-Lewin (for Bernard): Didn’t really make an impact. 5
Tosun (for Gueye): Did OK and got into a few good positions. 6
Everton look to bounce back from two hugely disappointing results and get back to winning ways tomorrow night when Watford come to town.
Marco Silva and Richarlison face their former club while Gerard Deulofeu could play his first game back at Goodison Park for the first time since he left 18 months ago in a game that could have an extra edge to it on that basis but which does not rise to the level of a modern rivalry as some have been trying to pitch it.
The two clubs are still locked in a legal dispute over Everton's courting of Silva just over a year ago when they were looking for Ronald Koeman's replacement and if there is any acrimony, much of it seems to be coming from the Watford faithful who have branded the Portuguese a snake for his role in the affair.
The Hornets' loss has been the Toffees' gain thus far, with the latter coming into the game looking to reclaim sixth spot on goal difference from Manchester United if they can win what would be their fifth at Goodison in six games, although Watford could draw level on points with Everton if they can grind out a win.
It would be their first victory in six attempts, though. Despite starting the season strongly, Javi Gracia's men have fallen away in recent weeks and they come to Merseyside on a three-game losing streak (although two of those were against the current top two teams in the Premier League).
Silva, meanwhile, will be trying to get more out of players than was the case in Wednesday's hiccup against Newcastle where, despite enjoying 74% of the possession, they only managed three shots on target and one goal. Watford promise to be more ambitious going forward than the Barcodes were, however, and that could work in the home side's favour, hopefully freeing up space for the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Richarlison to work in in the final third.
Given that a couple of the Everton manager's changes on Wednesday didn't set the world alight, it will be interesting to see what starting XI he opts for this time around. Cenk Tosun largely failed to convince on his return to the central striker's role while Ademola Lookman put on a hot-and-cold display that suggested he might still be suited to the role of impact substitute for the time being.
Silva could, therefore, either revert to the formation that was working at home by moving Richarlison back up front and recalling Walcott and Bernard to the flanks. Or he could try Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the centre-forward position and only bring one of the afore-mentioned wide men back.
In central defence, the usual conundrum of which two to pick from three in-form defenders will be vexing Silva and he could plump for more rotation by recalling Michael Keane to partner Yerry Mina having fielded Kurt Zouma in midweek.
Hopefully, the extra couple of days off afforded by this Monday night kick-off will have provided some of Silva's jaded-looking stars time to recuperate and refocus ahead of this game and the gruelling festive season that lies beyond.
While the top five are pulling away from the chasing pack, there are plenty of points on offer over the next four weeks that could see Everton consolidate their position in the top six and capitalise on any continuing uncertainty at Old Trafford where Manchester United under Jose Mourinho still lack conviction and consistency.
A home win would get the feel-good factor back among the Blues and the Goodison faithful in time for next weekend's daunting trip to the Etihad.
Kick-off: 8pm, Monday 10 December 2018
Referee: Kevin Friend
Last Time: Everton 3 - 2 Watford
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne, Gueye, Gomes, Sigurdsson, Bernard, Walcott, Richarlison