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Watford 2-3 Everton

Walcott winner as Delph sees red and Mina bags a brace.

An eventful afternoon for the Blues saw them fall two goals behind before mounting what looked an unlikely fightback in the dying moments of the first half, and then despite losing Fabian Delph to a red card, they snatched a late winner to round off a crazy game.

Eleven days after an entertaining and frustrating 2-2 draw with Newcastle at Goodison, Everton travelled south to Vicarage Road to take on a resurgent Watford. The Hornets are still in the bottom three but since appointing Nigel Pearson, have closed the gap on the teams above them by taking 14 points from the 24 available since the former Leicester manager arrived.

Given the situation he took on at Watford and despite them still being in relegation trouble, Pearson has made an impressive start to his time at Vicarage Road, and a victory over the Blues could see them clear the bottom three places. However, he was also well aware his side not getting ahead of themselves when he commented, “Every game is vitally important, but to put too much emphasis on any one game builds unnecessary pressure. We’ve had a decent run of games and had a couple of setbacks recently but, generally speaking, I am very pleased with the application of the players. We have to recognise we have a long way to go. There are a number of teams involved in the relegation battle and we have to make sure we take care of ourselves and not worry about what others are doing.”

Pearson was delighted to have former Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck confirmed fit and available for selection after a three-month absence with a hamstring injury when he said, “I’ve had a good chat with him and I’m delighted that he’s overcome the problem he had. He’s had a few injury issues to deal with but he’s worked exceptionally hard and it’s great to have him available. We just have to make sure he’s back and stays available. That’s the most important thing.”

He was also boosted by midfielder Will Hughes being fit again, but the game against the Blues came too early for former Everton player Tom Cleverly, Kiko Femenia and Ismaila Sarr. This eventually led to him naming his starting eleven: Foster, Mariappa, Kabasele, Cathcart, Masina, Chalobah, Capoue, Pereyra, Doucoure, Deulofeu and Deeney (c).

For the Blues, Carlo Ancelotti looked relaxed and calm in his pre-match press conference as he advised the media that Richarlison, Alex Iwobi and Gylfi Sigurdsson had all recovered from injury and were available for selection. He also enthused about the progress Andre Gomes is making as he outlined that together with the club medical staff and the player, the aim is for him to return to first team action against Arsenal at the Emirates on February 22nd.

The news on J-P Gbamin was less encouraging with our Italian maestro advising that he doesn’t expect to see the Frenchman playing again until the end of the current season. Asked about activity in the January transfer window, he re-iterated that “We have a big squad, I’ve had time to look at everybody and I don’t see any late moves. We said that if the right player became available, we’d see what could be done, but I’m happy to work with the squad we have now and look at things again in the summer.”

Asked if the loan of Morgan Feeney to Tranmere might leave the side stretched at centre back in the event of any more injuries, Ancelotti advised he’s relaxed about going with the three available players, Holgate, Keane and Mina. He also confirmed that there had been no offers for either Cuco Martina or Oumar Niasse.

Looking ahead to the game at Vicarage Road, he noted, “Watford are motivated and will be tough, we need to be ready and prepared, need to play well and nullify their counter attack. Their manager is doing a very good job, they were as good as relegated and he’s won them a number of games and they’re playing better. They have good players and they’re strong on the counter attack, we will need to be ready and control the game. We have more possibility to win if we play well. The squad is good, we can improve, we can play better and we can have a good final period of the season.”

He duly named the Blues starting line-up: Pickford, Sidibe, Mina, Holgate, Digne, Walcott, Sigurdsson (c), Delph, Iwobi, Richarlison, and Calvert-Lewin.

On a breezy, sunny afternoon, our referee for the first game of February was Craig Pawson.

An early long ball from Mina saw a poor touch by Richarlison when he looked to have split the Watford defence, the Blues second attack saw Iwobi turn well to make space on the left for a cross towards Richarlison, his first time effort going way over the crossbar. Watford were trying to use Deulofeu to create but good pressing by the Blues saw the home side go all the way back to Foster.

Watford won the first corner and Kabasele climbed well but saw his glancing header go well wide, but it was the home side who opened the scoring in the tenth minute, Capoue spreading a ball wide right for Deulofeu whose superb control saw him them feed Masina to fire a volley beyond Pickford and inside the far post.

Even in the opening twelve minutes, Watford were looking stronger and more competitive in midfield and having grabbed the early lead, they’d thrown down the gauntlet that Everton had to react to. Delph was lucky not to see a yellow card on the quarter hour for a clumsy challenge on Pereyra.

Pickford was quick off his line to race out of his area to win the ball and try to set Digne away down the left eventually leading to Richarlison going down in the Watford area, with the referee ignoring half-hearted penalty claims.

Holgate to Iwobi who spread the ball wide to Sidibe for a decent cross but the header from DCL wasn’t powerful enough to trouble Foster in the home goal. A quick counter from Watford led to Sidibe bringing down Deulofeu that saw Chalobah completely waste the free kick opportunity. A good ball from Holgate set Delph going forward to drive deep into the Watford half before a poor ball intended for Walcott saw the home side regain possession. Everton were seeing more of the ball, but Watford were looking the more direct and effective passing the halfway mark of the first half.

Everton pinned Watford in their own half switching the play first right then left but couldn’t force a meaningful opening, Walcott see a shot blocked. A high boot from Sigurdsson gave Watford another free kick that saw Doucoure put an overhead kick effort over the bar as Everton didn’t exactly clear their lines effectively. Sidibe then did well to find Walcott and a quick ball intended for DCL saw a timely interception by Cathcart. Everton kept the pressure on but again, were unable to create an opening to really trouble Foster.

VAR reared its ugly head on 35 minutes as a challenge by Digne on Pereyra saw the Watford player go down and a possible red card review was rightly rejected, Digne having taken the ball first. Two minutes later and Pereyra collided into Digne with several Blues players unhappy at the challenge, and VAR was again called into action with the same outcome.

Inside the final five minutes of the half and a dreadful giveaway by Delph fell nicely for Deeney to control and then feed Pereyra to beat Pickford to double the Hornets lead.

But the half wasn’t over as in a bizarre replay of the Newcastle game, Everton hit back in added-on time before the break. A late in-swinging corner from the left by Digne saw the ball fall for Holgate, his close range effort was blocked and the ball scrambled home by Yerry Mina to give the Blues a lifeline, and then incredibly, a second corner this time from the right saw Sigurdsson swing it to the back post where Yerry Mina bagged his second in two minutes with a free header.

Half Time: 2-2

No changes by either manager for the second half that saw the Blues attacking the end where the travelling fans were probably still rubbing their eyes in disbelief at the way the first half had ended.

An early foul by Deulofeu gave the Blues a free kick that saw Sigurdsson cause panic in the home defence, conceding a corner that again saw the Hornets defence pressured before clearing. Everton were looking much brighter and a good ball for DCL from Walcott saw Watford concede another corner that was defended unconvincingly.

Good defending by Mason Holgate foiled Deulofeu after he’d dispossessed Delph and the Blues were quickly down the other end with Digne on the end of a ball from Delph but unable to direct his effort of target and Watford scrambled clear. Mason Holgate was having a good game at the back, looking calm and composed as the Blues looked to take control of the game.

Mina trying to block Deeney went down ahead of Danny Welbeck being the first change replacing Chalobah in the 57th minute. A poor ball then by Digne played Delph into trouble and his foul on Pereyra saw the first yellow card of the game brandished.

A ball into the Watford area from Delph reached Walcott and his ball intended for DCL was blocked with the Blues fans claiming hand ball to no avail. Deulofeu got forward and away from Sidibe, but Delph got back to block his cross out for a corner. Everton cleared and had a good chance for a break that came to nothing ahead of Moise Kean replacing Alex Iwobi on 65 minutes.

The introduction of both Welbeck and Kean suggested both managers were keen to chase a winner, only for two minutes later Morgan Schneiderlin to replace Gylfi Sigurdsson in what was surely a less than attacking change.

An Everton attack saw poor challenges on both Sidibe and Walcott before the referee finally gave the Blues a free kick for the third challenge on Richarlison that saw Masina booked. Digne saw his free kick hit the wall and then he was penalised while trying to regain possession.

Into the final twenty minutes and it still looked like a game that either side could win before a foul by the already booked Delph on Capoue saw him see a second yellow card and the Blues were down to ten men. The loss of Delph saw Carlo Ancelotti look to tighten things up, withdrawing DCL to send on Michael Keane to play alongside Mina with the impressive Holgate moving into midfield for the departed Delph. The changes continued as Watford then Pereyra for Success with a little over fifteen minutes to play in an eventful game.

A Doucoure foul on Holgate gave the Blues another free kick opportunity that came to nothing and when Watford tried to get forward, the newly-arrived Success was booked for a foul on Sidibe. Both sides were still looking for a winner, Watford to ease their relegation worries, Everton to keep their hopes of European football next season alive. Watford made their final change on 82 minutes, Deulofeu replaced by Pussetto.

Digne headed a Watford corner out only as far as Doucoure but his first time volley flew well wide of the target. Mina then got into another wrestling match with Success, Pickford punching the free kick clear and another volleyed shot flying wide of the Everton goal.

Mason Holgate picked up a yellow card for a foul on Doucoure and Everton got into a scramble defending the set piece. Watford were now coming on strong in the closing stages but some good work from Digne saw him dispossess and then draw a free kick from Pussetto.

Holgate got back to help Keane out as Deeney tried to find a way into the Everton area and that helped launch a late counter with Richarlison racing clear to find Moise Kean and his miskicked shot rolled sweetly into the path of Theo Walcott to score from a narrow angle.

Five added minutes were signalled and given the events of the Newcastle game and the first half today, no Blues fans were leaving early as strains of “Carlo Fantastico, Carlo Magnifico” rang around Vicarage Road. Watford couldn’t find a way back and the travelling Blues celebrated long and loud at the final whistle.

Full Time: 2-3

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