Watford 0-0 Everton

Blues take a point but, no redemption for October debacle

Another vital point was gained on Wednesday evening but, this was not the night of redemption that Everton and their hordes of fans had hoped for as Watford goalie Ben Foster, whilst the busier of the two was rarely troubled.

Back in October, Watford earned their first ever win at Goodison as a Benitez uninspired Everton collapsed from leading with under a quarter of an hour to play to concede four goals, a 2-5 outcome, a hat-trick for Josh King and it all led to a stinging rebuke from Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster.

Speaking on his own podcast, Foster commented, “One thing I will say is, if you can get on top of Everton early doors, the Everton fans are horrible to Everton players. They get right on top of them. For sure they get into the players’ heads. All we said before the game is, ‘right lads, we need to start fast and get on top of them’. We won the game 5-2 and we make a point of saying it, the Everton fans are horrible. If it looks like we’re overrunning them, they get on the Everton players like crazy.”

Nearly seven months later and Everton, having dispensed with the rotund Iberian waiter, are under a new, exciting, modern and progressive manager, one who truly, truly gets what Evertonians are about, and if ever there were inspirational words for him to recount to this re-invigorated squad, it’s those of Ben Foster.

Under Frank Lampard who, unlike his predecessor, has bought straight into being a Blue, the team has pulled together but perhaps more importantly, so too have the fans – manager, players and fans are now as one – determined, driven, focussed, passionate, loud and proud, straining every sinew and exuding the Spirit of the Blues from every pore… or so we hoped.

Let’s take our customary look at the opposition and begin with wishing their manager Roy Hodgson a long, happy and well deserved retirement come the end of the season. He might have once managed the RS but, was never accepted by their fan base into their cult ways and fair play to him too for not falling for their blinkered, myopic view on football, he’s got more class, dignity and humility than 99.9% of kopites.

Heading into his penultimate home game as the Hornets manager, with the club already condemned to Championship football next season, his task wasn’t helped one iota as he advised his pre-match press assembly that no fewer than ten players – including Ismaila Sarr, Kiko Femenia, former Blues, Tom Cleverley and Josh King – were unavailable either through injury or sickness, and defender Hassane Kamara suspended following his red card last weekend.

Nevertheless he tried to remain as positive as possible when he said, “I was hoping to play a similar team, but we’ve lost so many players that we find ourselves in the middle of an injury crisis. There’ll be an opportunity for some players to come in and make their case that perhaps I should have been picking them.” He continued adding, “The attitude in training has been fine, I can’t make any criticisms in that respect. We haven’t been fortunate in our efforts to stay up. We’ve lost games in recent weeks without playing particularly badly, more by circumstance than a lack of effort, so I have no criticism of the squad.”

Winless at home since thumping Manchester United 4-1 way back in November, Watford were looking to salvage some pride and stall the Everton revival, and Hodgson entrusted that task to his starting line-up that read: Foster, Ngakia, Kabasele, Samir, Masina, Sissoko (c), Kayembe, Gosling, Sema, Pedro and Kalu.

Having secured back-to-back victories over Chelsea and Leicester City, Everton had climbed out of the bottom three but, still needed points to ensure they wouldn’t be joining Watford into the dreaded drop. Accepting that despite these most welcome results, there was still hard work to be done, Blues boss Frank Lampard noted, “The only message for us – although we enjoyed the weekend and it was a game that got us out of the relegation zone – is that it is very dangerous to relax. As much as we can talk about the fans and great atmosphere, for the players and staff, the only message is that we have to finish a tough job. We have to expect the worst elsewhere, everyone else [direct rivals Leeds United and Burnley] can win their games. We can control ourselves and there is no way we can relax. That is the biggest message.”

Super Frank continued adding, “There is a good feeling in the group from winning back-to-back games and in terms of confidence we are ready to go again. All the players need to do, is continue with the mindset they have at the moment. Every game in the Premier League is dangerous – especially away from home, we found that out for a while. It changed at Leicester but the minute you think you’ve cracked it, you’ll struggle. To underestimate Watford would be our biggest danger.”

The Blues boss was also keen to acknowledge the support of the fans as he said, “They’re amazing and what they did for us yesterday [at the training ground] is not the norm… I have never experienced anything like it. The support from the warm-up, right until the end of the game was incredible. I went back out there because they are incredible and they need to know how we feel about them. They push you over the line, we don’t take it for granted. But we know it’s not done, we are not celebrating anything but three points and we have work still to do.”

As to the squad he will select his team from to face Watford, Lampard advised that Vitalii Mykolenko, who left the game at Leicester with cramp, will be fit to play but, Yerry Mina has sustained another calf strain and won’t play, perhaps until the final game of the campaign, away at the Emirates. He duly named his starting eleven: Pickford, Coleman (c), Keane, Holgate, Mykolenko, Iwobi, Doucoure, Delph, Gordon, Gray and Richarlison.

Our referee on a warm Hertfordshire evening was Mike Dean.

Plenty of empty seats amongst the home fans sections of Vicarage Road indicated the disappointment of the Watford fans to their sides relegation and poor form and their much changed side got off to a decent start enjoying some early possession and pushing Everton bak in the opening moments. A poor clearance from Pickford saw him get lucky as Watford couldn’t make anything of it and Keane was able to steer the ball back to the ‘keeper. And Watford put together another attack before Everton finally crossed the halfway line only for the raid to break down short of the Watford area.

Watford were playing with a freedom and no shortage of pace with Pedro and Kalu combining well and not letting the Everton back line have an easy start to the game, and through the opening ten minutes, the relegated side looked much more comfortable than the side looking to avoid joining them in the second tier.

Everton put together a decent attack that saw Iwobi cross towards Richarlison and Gray, the former taking the header that might have been better left to the latter, and Watford smuggled the ball to safety. A great dummy and turn by Gordon took him clear of his marker and gaining the Watford area, his cross was blocked for a corner that led to Richarlison seeing a short range effort deflected behind, and former Blue Dan Gosling cleared the threat from the second corner.

Holgate was harshly booked on 17 minutes by referee Dean for a tackle on Sema when it appeared he got the ball first. Pickford punched the free kick out of his area and Kalu blazed a shot miles over the bar. Twenty minutes gone and Everton were still to impose themselves upon the game and Watford, a lack of intensity and tempo to their play certainly encouraging Watford to chance their arm whenever they had the ball – a concern for Frank Lampard.

A quick long clearance from Pickford saw Gordon race away on the right to pull the ball back towards Gray but, Watford managed to get back and deny him a clear shooting chance. Keane fed Richarlison and he released Iwobi down the right flank to win a corner when he could and perhaps should have been bloody-minded and taken the shot on. The corner came to nothing and Gordon switched to the left flank as we passed the midway point of the half.

Richarlison with a nice feint to take him away from his marker and collect a pass from Iwobi and he raced away only to be caught by Sissoko on the edge of the Watford area, no foul and Watford cleared. The next Everton foray saw Delph spread the ball wide and eventually to Iwobi to cross for Gordon to put his volley well over the crossbar and pose no threat to Ben Foster at all.

Passing the half hour mark and Watford wasted a free kick and Everton tried to exert some pressure through Gordon and Richarlison, the latter winning a free kick on the edge of the Watford area but again, the set piece produced nothing and Frank Lampard must have been quietly seething to himself on the touchline about the lack of quality in his sides play.

Watford won a free kick wide on their right that led to Gosling hitting a desperately wild shot high and wide of the target. Everton got forward quickly through Gordon only for Doucoure to be caught in possession. Watford saw another shot from Kalu fail to trouble Pickford and the half petered out with Roy Hodgson probably the happier of the two managers.

Half Time: 0-0

No changes of playing personnel for the second half as Everton defended the end where their sold-out travelling army of fans were massed and again lending lusty and noisy support. Everton won an early corner on their left and again, it failed to produce. Pickford needed to be quick off his line to clear before Pedro could reach a ball from Sissoko and Keane conceded a free kick as Watford came again quick, and Sissoko couldn’t get up high enough to make anything of the cross.

The Blues fans were trying their hardest to lift the players into a better and more cohesive performance and the first real chance saw Foster with an excellent save to push a slightly deflected Richarlison shot behind for another Everton corner that was easily cleared. Everton really do need to put some serious work in on set pieces.

A long ball from Delph for Richarlison saw him win a corner that was luckily cleared out for another from the right that saw Delph try a volley that was blocked and Keane pressured the home defence into conceding a third corner in quick succession and again, Watford were able to clear. Passing the hour mark and the game was still goalless and despite news coming through that Leeds were trailing to Chelsea, we still needed Everton to show some quality and earn three points.

Gray and Iwobi combined from midfield with Gray taking the return pass only to screw his shot across the face of goal and wide of the far post. Mykolenko went down holding his left shin but got up quickly to carry on without the need for any attention. Another decent build-up led to Iwobi pulling a cross back towards Richarlison and win a tenth corner that saw Keane climb and head straight into the arms of Foster.

Referee Dean booked Seamus Coleman for a collision into Gosling and the free kick led to Watford winning their first corner off the head of Richarlison, and like Everton, they completely wasted the set piece. A good tackle from Delph regained possession and set up Gray for a shot that he blazed hopelessly wide.

Three quarters of the game had now passed us by and Everton really needed to find something to reward the fans who’d travelled in substantial numbers and kept up a barrage of support. Good play by Richy saw him send a low cross through the Watford six yard area and when Mykolenko crossed in from the left, Iwobi saw a shot blocked.

With fifteen minutes to play, Everton were in danger of becoming the first visiting team all season not to score at Vicarage Road, a fact not lost on Frank Lampard who was clearly urging his players to get forward and pressure Watford.

On 76 minutes, Demarai Gray was replaced by Dominic Calvert-Lewin, a move that saw Richarlison move to the left ahead of Gordon hitting a 25-yard shot that Foster gathered easily. Masina was lucky not to see yellow for a foul into the back of Gordon but, he put the set piece far too close to Foster who claimed it under no pressure.

On 80 minutes, Allan replaced Fabian Delph and a decent move involving DCL, Gordon and Iwobi ended with Doucoure getting no power on a shot that Foster gathered. Time was ticking away and the makeshift Watford side, looking good for a point, made their first change, Cathcart replacing Kalu as we entered the final five minutes.

Everton forward again saw Gordon try to find Doucoure, the ball going left for Mykolenko, his low ball into the six yard area gathered by Foster. Four added minutes were signalled, could the Blues find a winner? Watford got forward and Iwobi brought down Cathcart with a clumsy challenge to give the home side a free kick wide left that Pickford gathered and launched an attack that saw a Gordon cross put behind for a late corner that led to another from the left and time expired on a disappointing nil nil draw.

Full Time: 0-0

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