Everton v Watford: Five Things We Learned

by Paul McNamara

“I will keep giving my best for this wonderful club,” vowed David Unsworth following Everton’s astonishing come-from-behind victory over Watford on Sunday.

Unsworth had just watched his players deliver a performance that was the very embodiment of their boss’ words.

When Christian Kabasele’s header flashed past Jordan Pickford, the Toffees trailed 2-0 and were 26 minutes away from a defeat that would have condemned them to spending the next fortnight in the Premier League’s bottom three.

Rather than acting as the prompt for Everton to succumb to a third Premier League defeat on the spin, however, the visitors’ second goal served as the cue for the most rousing of comebacks – capped when Leighton Baines cracked home a stoppage-time penalty.

Evertonfc.com identifies five things we learned from what Baines described as a “rollercoaster” afternoon.

The matchwinner

There is only one place to start – and that is at the end.

If you want to apply context to the pressure weighing on Baines as he prepared to take his penalty, then witness Tom Cleverley’s subsequent strike from 12 yards.

Merely being a technically proficient footballer is not enough to ensure success from the spot. A penalty is one of the few occasions when this team sport boils down to an individual battle of wills.

Baines’ mettle was further tested as he stood alone with his thoughts while Jose Holebas, the defender responsible for wiping out Aaron Lennon to concede the penalty, was treated for an injury sustained in the episode.

The Everton player had plenty to ponder. Miss his kick and the Toffees were staring at two weeks in the bottom three. Convert and his side would potentially shoot up to the relative calm waters of 15th – only four points from eighth place.

He’s been here before, though, Baines – 23 times in fact. The left-back summoned all those good memories, channelled his inner belief and crisply dispatched the ball beyond Watford goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis.

Baines is now the Club’s most prolific penalty taker, surpassing Trevor Steven and, somewhat symbolically, Unsworth.

The value of possessing a player so clinical from the spot, no matter the circumstances, cannot be overstated. In tangible terms, Baines’ skill and nerve earned his team two points on Sunday.

When it fell to Cleverley to try to redeem the situation for his side, the former Blues' midfielder – who played superbly – unwittingly placed into sharp focus what a prize asset Everton possess in their newly anointed penalty king.

Dom true to his word

Dominic Calvert-Lewin prefaced this match by claiming he needed to start scoring in the Premier League.

The forward had found the net four times this season, all of his goals coming in cup competitions.

As it transpired, Calvert-Lewin had only 22 minutes – in addition to an unprecedented 12 minutes of added time – to make his mark.

He needed only six of them.

Calvert-Lewin replaced Wayne Rooney and immediately set about discomforting Watford, all hustle and bustle, pace and purpose – and was heavily involved in the build-up to his own equalising goal.

He engaged in a sumptuous one-two with Gyfli Sigurdsson before sending over a cross that sparked pandemonium in the visitors’ rearguard – Holebas eventually deflecting behind Jonjoe Kenny’s shot.

The forward’s intelligent movement when Baines delivered the resultant corner bought him time and space at the far post.

His header, back across Karnezis, was precise and clinical. His wild celebrations outlined how much the moment meant to a player who has been one of the brightest sparks of Everton’s campaign so far.

The eight goals Calvert-Lewin has been involved in this season outstrips the comparative tally of any of his team-mates.

Whether he features from the start or the bench, up front or out wide – even at wing-back – Everton’s U20 World Cup winner pulls his weight.

Calvert-Lewin is a gem.

Jonjoe at home

Unsworth has managed Everton’s past four games and Kenny has started the lot.

The Blues' right-back spot saw plenty of different options during the season’s embryonic stages - but Kenny has latterly claimed the position for himself.

The 20-year-old is renowned for his pluck and tenacity. You can add patience to those qualities, too. Academy graduate Kenny had to wait until the second month of this season for his first Everton start – against Sunderland in the Carabao Cup.

He was handed similar opportunities in clashes with Apollon Limassol and Arsenal, but it was in Unsworth’s first match at the helm – away at Chelsea – that Kenny really came into his own.

The defender repeatedly drove forward and was a regular source of measured deliveries from the right as Everton took the game to their Premier League champion opponents – ultimately to no avail.

It is in adversity that you discover most about a player’s character and substance, though, and at Leicester last week, after his own goal put the hosts 2-0 ahead, Kenny proved he possesses those traits by the bucket load.

Unsworth certainly had no concerns about his player suffering any hangover from his lapse, which probably tells you all you need to know about Kenny’s inherent grit.

At Goodison on Sunday he was excellent; sharp in the tackle, up for the fight and never shrinking from the responsibility of trying to help Everton win the game.

Chuck in his impassioned geeing up of the Howard Kendall Gwladys Street End after his shot was deflected behind by Holebas and Kenny looked every inch the Everton player.

With Seamus Coleman still to return from injury, the Toffees can rightly claim to be richly stocked with top-drawer right-backs.

Niasse the terror

Watford’s defenders would have been tempted to check under their beds before turning the lights out on Sunday night, just to ensure Niasse wasn’t about to leap out and terrorise them.

Once those players drifted off to sleep, the Everton striker would have been writ large across their nightmares.

Niasse must be an absolute pain in the neck to play against. He set off like a steam train and never let up, incessantly hounding his opponents for 100+ minutes – the striker’s application best exemplified when his chasing won a throw-in on the right, midway through the first half.

He returned the ball back into play instantly and, within seconds, Baines had a presentable scoring opportunity 10 yards from goal.

His team 2-0 down and behind the eight ball, Niasse could have been forgiven a momentary bout of navel-gazing.

Not a bit of it.

Holebas was the player caught out when Ademola Lookman chipped the ball forward, enabling the alert Niasse to nip in and steal possession. He prodded the ball past the onrushing Karnezis and fought off Kabasele's unwanted attention to launch the fightback.

Don’t underestimate Niasse’s part in the winning goal, either. He stuck himself in the way of a defender and astutely laid the ball to Tom Davies, whose clipped pass found Lennon being dumped to the turf by Holebas.

No caveats, this was an accomplished centre-forward display from Niasse.

Keeping the faith

The words are easy to say. Applying the sentiment in principal is another matter altogether.

Evertonians could have given up on their team at 2-0 down, especially given the run of form on which the Toffees entered this encounter.

Instead, those supporters did what they do best, conjuring up an atmosphere to stir the soul and urge their team on to a potentially season-defining recovery.

Every decision was contested, each wave of Everton pressure accompanied by a guttural roar.

The racket which greeted Everton's three goals – not to mention the explosion of noise that followed Cleverley’s penalty miss – would have drowned out the din created by the most in your face of firework displays taking place across the country on bonfire night.

Goodison Park was on top form just when Everton needed their supporters most.

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