This was more like it.
The result may not have been what Watford wanted but importantly the performance was. The Hornets’ energy and desire, both chronically lacking during the last two games, were back against Everton this afternoon.
Watford could have won the game but, after four straight defeats, a draw will do and was probably a fair result. Jose Holebas feels he hasn’t been treated fairly but he stated the strongest possible claim for an extended run in the side with the equaliser, cancelling out James McCarthy’s opener seconds before. He played remarkably well for someone playing for the first time since the home defeat to Leicester. The clocks hadn’t even gone forward when he last wore a Watford shirt.
Watford’s side needed freshening up and Quique Sanchez Flores again showed you can never second guess his team selection. In from the cold returned Juan Carlos Paredes and Holebas. Miguel Britos, Valon Behrami and Jose Manuel Jurado also came into the starting XI. The biggest shock was Nathan Ake and Ikechi Anya being omitted from the squad entirely. Some of the players must wonder if they are coming or going.
Etienne Capoue was restored to his favoured central berth and, with him pulling the strings, Watford came inches from breaking the deadlock when Jurado made space for himself on the edge of the area and fired towards goal. His left-footed shot was destined for the top corner but Joel Robles saved excellently.
Everton’s main threat came on the counter. Heurelho Gomes was forced to save from Gerard Deulofeu and, minutes later, Ross Barkley after both had made room in the box.
But Watford carried the greater threat. Capoue came agonisingly close to scoring his first Hornets goal with a half-volley from 20 yards that deflected just wide. Holebas headed the resultant corner past the post from close range.
It was a good half for Watford. They’d performed well. But then, on the stroke of half time, came a mistake from one of the Hornets’ most consistent performers. Britos inexplicably tried to bring the ball under control on the edge of the penalty area. His touch was poor and McCarthy was instantly on to him. The Everton midfielder won the ball, turned and his shot found the bottom corner. Watford’s centre-back crumpled to the turf in dismay.
However, John Stones quickly went one better. A hopeful punt into the Everton half was chased down by Ighalo but the England international was in control. He could’ve cleared, putting the ball out for a throw. Instead he hit a strong back pass to Robles whose attempted clearance flew high and out for a corner.
Ben Watson delivered a deep corner which Holebas met. He headed the ball back across goal, it took a deflection off Seamus Coleman and bounced into the top corner. Watford were instantly level. They deserved to be.
Adlene Guedioura was introduced at half time in place of Behrami. It was a statement that Sanchez Flores wanted to win the game. But Everton began the second period well and Aaron Lennon almost caught Gomes out with a low drive which the Brazilian saved. The Hornets stopper did well to gather the rebound from the feet of the quiet Romelu Lukaku.
Watford continued to get into promising positions but the wrong choice or pass meant Robles had little to do. Everton, through Deulofeu, countered at pace time and time again. Gomes was called into action to collect a number of crosses and then reacted quickly to push wide another Lennon shot.
Watford couldn’t find a way through. Everton almost did with three minutes remaining. Watson brought down Mirallas on the edge of the area and a free-kick was awarded. The Belgian stepped up and his low free-kick almost caught out Gomes. The Brazilian palmed the ball away but straight into the path of Lukaku. Everton’s top scorer got to the ball first but, somehow, directed his shot against the crossbar.
But the drama wasn’t over. In added time Watford mounted an attack. The ball was moved to Watson on the edge of the area. The midfielder assessed his options and lashed a shot towards goal but Robles saved superbly. Seconds later the Spanish stopper got down again to deny Ighalo. There was to be no winner.
Watford: Gomes; Paredes, Britos, Cathcart, Holebas, Capoue (Suarez 81), Watson, Behrami (Guedioura h-t), Jurado (Amrabat 59), Deeney, Ighalo. Not used: Pantilimon, Nyom, Prödl, Abdi.
Everton: Joel, Baines, Jagielka (Funes Mori 89), Stones, Coleman, Barry, McCarthy, Lennon, Barkley (Cleverley 65), Deulofeu (Mirallas 77), Lukaku. Not used: Howard, Oviedo, Kone, Niasse.