Laugh or cry?
That was the choice facing Evertonians at the final whistle at Brighton on Saturday.
This side has come up with some inventive ways of losing games in recent years, and their late capitulation at the Amex is a new, painful addition to the list.
What made it all the more galling was that they did not deserve to lose. The Toffees have been terrible in recent months but they got their gameplan right on the south coast. And when Dominic Calvert-Lewin slotted with 10 minutes left you got the sense a corner was about to be turned and a huge cloud was ready to lift from the club.
Instead they found themselves on the end of a questionable VAR call from which they did not recover.
There had not been a single penalty decision overturned by VAR this season until Brighton’s on Saturday. Trust Everton to be on the end of that depressing statistic. After a few questionable calls last weekend the Premier League obviously decided to lower the threshold, but how low did they want to go?
The team seemed to implode after the penalty was scored, which is a concern. Though I do have a degree of sympathy for them in the circumstances, with Lucas Digne’s late own goal merely salt in the wounds.
Unfortunately for Marco Silva he used up all his reserves of sympathy from the supporters a long time ago. They are right to question the character of his side and their failure to at least dig in and take a point despite the controversial nature of Brighton’s penalty. And the reality is this is yet another defeat, leaving the club floundering in 16th.
I fear we have already past the point of no return with Silva – how often do you see a manager turn a situation round like this? But a sustained cup run may just keep him in a job. Given it has been a quarter of a century since Everton’s last trophy the fans would probably take a lower mid-table season if it meant silverware.
If Everton can win here and be handed a kind draw at the quarter-final stage, who knows what may happen? A sustained cup run could also help revive their spluttering league form as well as boost the morale of a flagging fanbase who have had enough of disappointment.
But given what I have witnesses over recent seasons, I’m not getting my hopes up.
Things haven’t exactly gone to plan for Watford since our last meeting with the Hornets in August.
Javi Gracia was sacked at the start of September after taking just one point from their opening four matches, with Quique Sanchez Flores returning for a second spell in charge.
His first game back in the dugout saw the Hertfordshire side fight back from 2-0 down to draw with Arsenal, but there has been precious little to cheer since.
His only victory was against Swansea in the previous round of the Carabao Cup, a run that includes an 8-0 thrashing at Manchester City.
Quite where the Carabao Cup sits on their list of priorities therefore remains to be seen. But you can bet the fans would love to finish off Silva’s Everton career given the manner of his departure from the club 18 months ago.
Everton 1-0 Watford – August 17 2018 - (match report)
Ahh, happier times, back when we had some optimism. Bernard’s first half strike gave Everton a first win of the season at a sunny Goodison. Not much has gone right since.
Brighton (A) Lost 3-2
West Ham (H) Won 2-0
Burnley (A) Lost 1-0
Manchester City (H) Lost 3-1
Sheffield Wed (A – Carabao Cup) Won 2-0
Bournemouth (H) Drew 0-0
Tottenham (A) Drew 1-1
Sheffield Utd (H) Drew 0-0
Wolves (A) Lost 2-1
Swansea (H – Carabao Cup) Won 2-1
Everton were dealt a blow when it was confirmed Bernard suffered knee ligament damage against Brighton on Saturday. That could mean a recall for Gylfi Sigurdsson or a rare start for Moise Kean.
Yerry Mina is also likely to miss out again with a hamstring injury with Mason Holgate set to continue alongside Michael Keane.
Silva could opt to freshen things up but given the importance of the game I expect he will name as strong a side as possible.
What they said
Everton boss Marco Silva: “It is our obligation [to lift the players] and I already gave my first feedback,” said Silva.
“The mood is really low. It is difficult when we put in a big effort and did everything we should – and scored twice.
“It is difficult for them [players] to understand why it happened to us but you have to respect the decision and keep going.
“The next game is a different competition and if we have an ambition to go to the final we have to win.”
Watford coach Quique Sanchez Flores: “I am confident and I am realistic too. I know we have to work really hard and I know we are working really hard. I know how the players are training every week. They deserve to win. We are creating something solid for the future. I believe that.
“The feeling in the team is growing, every single week. I can feel it. We go with a passion to win and I can feel it’s close. We try to keep with this feeling.”
Given our desperation for a trophy this game has taken on monumental proportions. Our league form is of course a concern but you do at least have more opportunities to dig yourself out of a hole. Defeat here and that’s it for another year. And if that proves the case, I would be surprised if Silva survives the fallout with his job in tact.