Former Blue Tom Cleverley was the Everton hero today as he missed a 100th minute penalty to gift Everton a famous 3-2 comeback victory. Oumar Niasse, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Leighton Baines cancelled out Richarlison and Christian Kabasele’s opening goals for Watford FC as the Blues fought back to win in the most dramatic of fashions.
It was certainly a scrappy affair in the first period, Everton were static and slow when attempting to attack and Watford just lacked that final bit of quality when in the final third. There may have been an equal lack of quality in the final third but the visitors were notably more confident and very much the more threatening of the two sides. All in all it was a drab first half, with Watford getting forward well in the early stages, exploiting the massive gaps in the wide areas as Jonjoe Kenny and Leighton Baines struggled to cope with the lack of any wide midfielders to support them in defence. A number of early Hornets crosses were less than convincingly cleared by the Blues as the visitors tested the stormy waters in the Everton defence early on.
Everton’s main issue in attack is the complete lack of movement. The ball carrier has little to no options when moving forward with static team mates being easily marshalled by the opposition defence. I watched the Manchester City vs Arsenal game today and as much praise as City receive, they actually play quite a simple game in attack. It’s a merely a case of good movement and intelligent runs. A moving player is much harder to deal with than a static one and City have opened up almost every team they’ve faced this season playing in such a way. Now I’m not saying we should be playing like Man City but a simple bit of movement and energy in attack is not only easy to do, it also makes the opposition defence’s job all the more difficult. The players are either to lazy or being poorly coached, and both need to change significantly if we are to start turning this poor form around.
Everton’s best chance of the first period came after the Blues made a rare quick and direct attack as Tom Davies slipped through the energetic Oumar Niasse. He cut back for Wayne Rooney who made an intelligent first time reverse pass for the onrushing Baines. He had the time and space to pick his spot and give the Blues the lead but he over thought his effort and side footed it right down the throat of Heurelho Gomes.
Just 5 minutes before the break Watford stepped it up a gear as the rock bottom confidence of the Toffees was beginning to show. Phil Jagielka was easily turned by Andre Gray as he naively committed himself. Gray slipped through the young Brazilian forward Richarlison who was one on one with Pickford. The Everton keeper came rushing out a bit too quickly and the spritely forward rounded him and should have slotted into a empty net, but instead found the side netting of the Gwladys Street goal, a big let off for Everton. Minutes later Abdoulaye Doucoure whistled one at goal but it was straight at Pickford and he claimed easily in what was the last action of the first period.
If the first half was one to forget then the 2nd half was the complete polar opposite. Buckle up your seatbelts, it doesn’t get much more ‘Everton’ than this. Just 40 seconds into the second period Watford were ahead. Everton may as well have stayed in the dressing room as Watford simply exploited them, with Andre Gray dinking a ball through for Richarlison who calmly rounded Pickford and poked home, really poor defending from Everton. The Blues had a chance to reply shortly after as man of the match Niasse bounded forward and wouldn’t give up on a hopeful ball through, something he did brilliantly all game. He squared for Sigurdsson who smashed one towards goal but Gomes got across well and saved at full stretch. In the aftermath the Brazilian stopper was injured and had to be replaced with Greek number one Orestis Karnezis, who would play a part later on.
There was a six minute stoppage for Gomes’ injury and shortly after the restart the Everton rearguard was once again exposed by the pace of Gray. He left Jagielka in his dust and crossed for the unmarked Will Hughes, but the ball was a whisker to high for him on his first start for the visitors. The ball eventually ended up behind for a Watford corner and from it, the Hornets doubled their advantage. Christian Kabasele headed past Pickford after effortlessly beating Jagielka to the ball and looked to have given Watford just their second win over the Blues in the last nine meetings. For the Toffees it felt like we had hit a new low. Another dreadful performance and a two goal deficit, Goodison was stunned as the Blues alarming form looked set to continue.
However three minutes later and hope was renewed by that cult figure, Oumar Niasse. I criticised his quality in last week’s defeat at Leicester but what he lacks in quality he more than makes up for in sheer passion and determination and once again it was those qualities which helped him to halve the visitors lead. Substitute Ademola Lookman sent a hopeful through ball over the top for the Senegalese to chase which he did with ferocious tenacity, getting the better of Miguel Britos before getting past the onrushing Karnezis, who needlessly committed himself. Niasse was brought down as he approached the open goal but managed to bundle it home anyway and suddenly hope was restored for Everton.
In the aftermath of that goal Dominic Calvert-Lewin replaced Rooney and he was another of the substitutes who would have an impact later on. He worked himself some space and delivered a cross which came all the way through to Kenny who lashed a volley goal bound but Holebas did well to block it out for a corner. The ball was hung deep to the back post from the corner and there was Calvert-Lewin to plant a header past Karnezis and give relief to Evertonians everywhere. It was an unlikely comeback after the performance that led to us being 2-0 down but the drama had only just begun.
Watford defender Kabasele went down after colliding with Pickford’s knee and he received treatment for around four minutes, added to the long stoppage for Gomes’ injury and we were facing a large chunk of stoppage time. With just over a minute remaining in normal time, Kabasele’s replacement Adrian Mariappa almost mirrored his team mate by out-jumping Jagielka from a set piece and sending a header goal bound, but it flashed just wide of a relieved Pickford’s goal.
With fans waiting with bated breath to hear how much stoppage time would be added, substitute Aaron Lennon got into the box and was cleared out by Holebas. The Greek international claimed he had slipped, which he had, but he had still taken out Lennon and referee Graham Scott rightly awarded the Toffees a penalty and the chance to complete an unlikely comeback. Baines stepped up after a short delay and sent Goodison into raptures as he coolly slotted past Karnezis and made it 3-2. What a comeback it was but just as the Blues began to celebrate, the fourth official indicated 12 minutes of stoppage time. Everton FC are famous for giving their fans a rollercoaster of emotions and 12 minutes was more than enough for them to execute “Operation Heart Attack”.
The Blues held firm for 9 of the 12 minutes as fans began to dream that maybe, just maybe, Everton could avoid the trademark drama, but alas it was not to be. In the 100th minute of the game Richarlison smartly shifted the ball past Pickford and made sure the keeper’s trailing leg made contact, Watford penalty. Tom Cleverley bravely stepped up against his former side and took the responsibility to dispatch the pressure kick and give Watford what would have been, on the whole, a deserved point. He stepped up and smashed the kick low to Pickford’s right and more importantly, wide of the mark!
Goodison Park erupted as relief and emotion spilled out, Everton had won their first game since 23rd September at home to Bournemouth. Oumar Niasse was the man of the match that day and he was again today as his fighting spirit and effort proved the catalyst for the most unlikely of comebacks.
It may serve to only paper over the cracks or it may be a turning point in this torrid campaign but that boost just before the international break could be priceless and if a new gaffer is put into place promptly we could begin to get this season back on track. One thing is for sure....nobody does it quite like Everton!