As Silvio Dante from The Sopranos would say, in reference to the famous quote from The Godfather ‘just when you thought I was out, they pull me back in’…
The life of an Evertonian is often a complex one; it contains a wrath of highs, lows and complications, indescribable emotions and influences, thrilling experiences and gut-wrenching moments, often all bottled into 90 minutes of sheer footballing madness. On this specific occasion, it was 102 minutes on a cold Bonfire Night at Goodison Park.
Admittedly yes the win against Watford is ‘just’ three points, Everton have only moved up to 15th in the table and by no means are things all rosy in the blue garden again, but it was the manner in which the Toffees overcame the travelling Hornets in what was labelled by some as our biggest game for 15 years which set the pulses racing amongst Evertonians, whose blood pressure would have been through the roof come half six on Sunday evening.
Words can’t really describe how you feel watching Everton, but after witnessing what was a vital, potentially season-changing victory, I’m going to do my best to sum up that 102 minutes because it was simply incredible, for a wealth of different reasons.
David Unsworth, who was taking charge of his fourth fixture as temporary Everton boss, went all Ronald Koeman on us and started with no width against Watford, deploying Davies and Rooney, as well as Sigurdsson, with Niasse as the lone striker. It left Evertonians scratching their heads, especially because we knew we had to go for the win, but the likes of Calvert-Lewin, Lookman and Lennon were left on the bench, meanwhile Mirallas had been binned from the squad for an apparent training incident, as did Schneiderlin too for the same reason. Beni Baningime started in the middle with Gueye and Jagielka returned in defence with Kenny, Keane and Baines the others at the back with Pickford between the sticks.
After three successive defeats, Rhino was looking for a boost, and how we needed a win, by hook or by crook we just had to win this game. Over the course of the weekend we had slipped to 19th in the table, we’d recently crashed out of the League Cup and been outdone in the Europa League, the international break was upon us, it was over to you Everton, just get the result and stop the rot.
As much as we’d hoped for a positive result we’d also hoped for a decent performance from the Blues, something which we hadn’t seen for a while, but for the opening 45 minutes not a lot had changed. The visitors looked the more dangerous, with the impressive Richarlison going close after rounding Pickford, and he and Gray linked up well to keep our shaky defence on their toes. Cleverley and Hughes in the Watford midfield saw a lot of the ball, with Carrillo also looking lively for Marco Silva’s side too. Everton meanwhile, had failed to stamp any type of authority on the game and typically of us this season we hadn’t offered much up front. Apart from one major chance for Leighton Baines, who was teed up Wayne Rooney, there was a nervousness about Everton, a lack of fluidity and any real pattern to our play. Half time came with little to report, and the onlooking Evertonians knew we’d have to up our game if we were to get this crucial result.
Almost immediately from the restart the Toffees found themselves behind, with that man Richarlison again rounding Pickford but this time finding the net. The passage of play which led to the goal summed us up, we were sliced open easily and brushed off the ball in defence, within a couple of passes Andre Gray found himself on the attack and knocked the ball across to his forward colleague who put the visitors ahead, here we go again we all thought. A goal down under massive pressure, how would we react.
Moments later Everton nearly equalised due to the persistence of Oumar Niasse. The striker worked an opportunity by getting the better of Britos, then centred for Sigurdsson only for the Iceland international to see his close-range shot saved by Gomes who was eventually forced off with injury following that passage of play. Within a couple of minutes the ball was back up at the other end, as Watford first created a real chance for Will Hughes, and then won a corner from the resulting deflection. Kabasele, the Watford defender, rose unmarked to head home and give the visitors a 2-0 lead, from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.
You got the feeling that was it, our bad form was continuing and we never really looked like we’d be able to fight back from this. Watford had a deserved lead and every time they pressed they looked likely to score. We’d blown our two key chances with Baines and Sigurdsson wasteful in front of goal, just where would a defeat leave us here. The doom set in.
Little did we know that this is where the game would then change.
In between Watford goals Ademola Lookman had been introduced and it was he who was involved when Everton begun their fight back on 67 minutes. The former Charlton man hit a hopeful looking ball forward towards Oumar Niasse, whose persistence, energy and attitude resulted in Everton getting a goal back. Sleepy play by Watford’s back line was capitalised on by Niasse, who raced through and forced the ball home, with himself nearly ending up in the Street End net with the ball as a result. You cannot knock Niasse for his efforts, we all know he’s not the greatest footballer but his work rate is fantastic, he works hard at his best attribute, which is working hard, and ultimately it gets him goals and it dragged Everton back into life yesterday. He’s a real credit to himself, the way he’s acted throughout his time at Goodison, which has been a footballing ordeal for him at times. Niasse now has the best minutes to goals ratio in the Premier League, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. He deserves massive praise for his contribution yesterday, from the moment he sparked the comeback by chasing a lost cause it was written in the script for us to win that game.
During the excitement of the goal Rooney was subbed for Calvert-Lewin and it was he who less than ten minutes later headed in Everton’s equaliser from a corner for his first Premier League goal of the season. Similarly to Niasse, DCL has worked hard this season and he’s been well and truly thrown in at the deep end. I’ll admit I like him and think there is a real player in there, it’s just been difficult so far this season. The young England striker got us back on level terms, heading home at the Gwladys Street from a Baines corner and Evertonians begun to sense a winner, who would have thought after the position we found ourselves in after an hour. We began to believe again, and it felt weird actually celebrating goals again.
With five minutes to go Unsworth threw his last throw of the dice and brought on Aaron Lennon for the ineffective Sigurdsson, and it was Lennon, just like our other two subs, who was straight in amongst the action and involved in a goal. On 90 minutes, Lennon was fouled inside the area by a slipping Holebas – penalty to Everton. Leighton Baines stepped up and kept his nerve to score the penalty to give us the lead, what a fight back from the Blues. Sheer delight on the faces of our players and our fans too, until they saw the amount of stoppage time that is.
If we thought we’d seen enough action for one afternoon, we were very wrong. As Baines and his team mates celebrated going 3-2 ahead, the Fourth Official indicated that there would be 12 minutes added time. Head in hands moments for sure. We kept going but Watford always offered a threat, and in the 100th minute disaster struck when Pickford felled Richarlison in the box, as the forward shaped to shoot – penalty to Watford. After all of our efforts to fight back, could we be undone at the last? Thankfully, after Tom Cleverley missed the penalty, our efforts were not undone, as the former Everton midfielder fluffed his lines and failed to salvage a point for the visitors. It was a sickener for Watford who did deserve something out of the game but do you know what, who cares?
The way Everton finally showed some heart, some belief, character and a willingness to really have a go in that second half, was brilliant to see. I’ve been vocally critical about the team of late and questioned their attitude, but yesterday, even though it was far from pretty, the players showed that they do care, they wanted the result and eventually came to life and got it – it doesn’t help for our sanity that they had to go 2-0 down first though!
Overall it a was a collective effort which got us through but I believe Jonjo Kenny, Pickford, and all three substitutions deserve praise. Calvert Lewin, Lookman and Lennon all changed the game for the better in their own respective ways, but my final mention has to go to Niasse who showed a spirit and determination which goes a long way with Evertonians. We are not naive enough to think he’s going to suddenly become a superstar striker scoring 20 goals a season, but we did see how his mentality and attitude quickly spread through the team following his assertiveness for goal he forced when the chips were down at 2-0. Top marks to him for helping us on our way to a hugely vital victory which comes as a massive boost to everyone at the Club.
This season has been tough so far and as I said at the start it may only be three points, but I’ll take the little things at the moment, any bits of positivity because we need them. Unsworth took over an impossible position with a side devoid of confidence or any sort of direction, the three away games didn’t go our way but we returned to Goodison to give our supporters some hope, our players a boost in confidence and David Unsworth a victory in front of his fellow Evertonians. Whatever happens now happens, and the Everton hierarchy will make their managerial decision in due course, but I feel David Unsworth deserves praise for the way he has applied himself since stepping into the role. He’s spoken with class, dignity, belief and brought togetherness to the group again, be it the players and staff or us the supporters. I only wish he would have had a couple more wins under his belt but it wasn’t to be, but yesterday was a credit to him, the substitutions he made and he should be proud of his efforts, whatever the future may hold.
Sometimes when things aren’t going your way you just need that bit of look and I think we got that with the penalty miss yesterday, but how we went about seeking a win when all appeared lost was the most pleasing thing to see. The hard work starts here and there is still a long way to go before we can believe things have changed, but with a fortnight before our next game, a new manager set to take the reigns and a dramatic victory under our belt, we need to start looking up the table again and believing in ourselves once more.
Yesterday was the latest example of the rollercoaster ride which is being an Evertonian and I, like many of you, have just about calmed down from it. They don’t half mess with our heads, tangle our emotions and put us through the drama, but do you know what, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Up the Toffees.