Following an extensive warm weather training camp in Dubai, Everton returned to the somewhat rather cooler climes of Hertfordshire and the trip to Watford. Following the draw between Leicester and Stoke, Everton had a chance to move up to the heady heights of eighth with a win over the Hornets.
Watford head coach Javi Gracia who replaced Marco Silva a month ago left it late in selecting his starting line-up before deciding against returning Heurelho Gomes to the starting line-up. He eventually handed in his team sheet that read: Karnezis, Janmaat, Proedl, Mariappa, Holebas, Pereyra, Doucoure, Capoue, Deulofeu, Richarlison and Deeney (c).
With Man City loanee Eliaquim Mangala possibly out for the rest of the season and Seamus Coleman struggling, Sam Allardyce made minor adjustments to his back four and opting for a 4-5-1 formation that could quickly morph to a 4-3-3 to take the game to the home side. He duly named his starting eleven: Pickford, Martina, Williams, Keane, Kenny, Gueye, Rooney (c), Davies, Sigurdsson, Walcott and Niasse.
Leading both sides out to the Z-Cars theme was the baldy-headed referee, Anthony Taylor.
A foul by Proedl on Walcott gave Sigurdsson an early chance to flight a curling free kick to the back post where Niasse was unable to get anything on it, in Watford’s first raid, Deulofeu won a corner off Cuco Martina that saw a shot from the edge of the box ballooned high over the crossbar.
A quick counter attack started by Davies saw Niasse win a corner as the Watford defence uncomfortably dealt with his cross-cum-shot that came back off the outside of the post with Walcott waiting at the back post.
Referee Taylor had a quiet word with Tom Davies for a slightly mistimed, but certainly not malicious tackle on Holebas on 18 minutes.
A nice break that saw Niasse find Walcott saw his first cutback blocked and Deulofeu – of all people – get back to clear, the second headed attempt aimed for Rooney, for a corner.
Michael Keane with a stiff challenge on Doucoure drew boos from the home crowd, but again referee Taylor used common sense as his only sight of the challenge looked a perfectly good one.
Rooney made amends for giving the ball away to Deulofeu with a good chase back and perfectly timed tackle to regain possession.
Deulofeu with a drop of the shoulder got away from Martina, but Keane was on hand to block and clear the low cross, and Watford on their next attack saw Capoue not causing Jordan Pickford and issue by firing high over the bar.
A foul by Gueye on 35 minutes gave the home side a free kick about 22 yards out but Deulofeu fired harmlessly into the Everton wall before Niasse took a tumble and needed treatment for a knock on the head.
Martina with an excellent challenge foiled Pereyra as the former Juventus man tried to outwit him down the Everton left before the ball of the half came from Pickford racing off his line to find Niasse perfectly, but he was unable to do anything with it in what was a rather scrappy, nondescript 45 minutes.
Half Time: 0-0
Neither side made changes during the interval and the opening moments of the second half saw a succession of misplaced passes leading to Pereyra putting Deeney into the box, but a well timed challenge by Kenny saw the home side get an early corner that came to nothing.
Rooney to Walcott to find Davies bursting into the box saw Capoue give away a corner that similarly came to nothing. Cenk Tosun appeared on the sidelines barely five minutes into the half with many Evertonians hoping he’d feature sooner rather than later.
A lofted ball into the Watford box from Gana Gueye saw Michael Keane climb to win the header that went wide with Tom Davies unable to react quickly enough to get a telling touch.
Watford had their first effort on target on 54 minutes as Rooney gave the ball away and Pereyra crossed for Deeney, but his header was no threat to Jordan Pickford.
A double change by Watford saw Pereyra and Richarlison replaced by Okaka and Femenia respectively on 56 minutes, and Everton immediately countered sending Cenk Tosun on for the ineffective on the day Niasse.
Tosun’s first involvement was to outmuscle Deulofeu on the right flank with a good old fashioned shoulder charge, but rush and overhit his cutback for Sigurdsson. The Spaniard subsequently went down with an ankle strain and limped off to be replaced by Carrillo.
Gana Gueye was booked in the 64th minute for hauling down Okaka as he tried to break free in midfield.
Pickford with another timely dash from his line beat Okaka to the ball as he got away from Williams, the England goalie staying calm and clearing downfield.
A right wing cross from Walcott was nodded back into the path of Rooney by Tosun, but the ball just wouldn’t sit down enough and the rising shot cleared the bar.
The game was still lacking any real quality, neither side seemingly able to find a killer pass to open up a defence and increasingly as we entered the last twenty minutes, it looked like one goal would be enough for either side to take all the points.
Pickford with a good stop denied Femenia after he pounced on a clearance that cannoned into Deeney, but the incident sparked Watford into life and when Okaka spun to cross for Deeney, he controlled it first time, turned and lashed home high at the near post with 12 minutes to play for his first goal from open play this season !!
Yannick Bolasie and Dominic Calvert-Lewin replaced Rooney and Sigurdsson in the 82nd minute in a double throw of the dice as Everton looked to rescue the game.
Okaka again drew a decent stop from Pickford diving to his left as the home side looked to press home their advantage.
A last gasp corner saw Pickford go forward and win the header but nobody could get on the end of it and once again, the travelling fans left an away ground disappointed and understandably angry at what they’d witnessed.
Full Time: 1-0
If this was Sam Allardyce’s idea of going for a win on the back of a warm weather training camp in Dubai, then heaven help us.
A win today and Everton would have been eighth and thoughts of getting dragged back into the lower half of the league largely dispelled however there was little in this display for Evertonians to take any heart from whatsoever.
Too many misplaced passes, too much possession coughed up, a lack of genuine quality in midfield and no cutting edge at all up front.
This was an ugly game and an even uglier outcome, and with games against Manchester City and Liverpool looming on the horizon, ugly might be the best we can hope for as they could become downright X-Certificate.