Mason Holgate’s first Everton goal and a stoppage-time strike from Richarlison powered Marco Silva’s team into the Carabao Cup quarter-finals on a tense night at Goodison Park.
Everton chipped away at their stubborn visitors and twice thumped the frame of the goal as Watford were pushed deeper in their own territory after half-time
Alex Iwobi clattered the bar form 12 yards on 65 minutes and soon after Lucas Digne’s 25-yard free-kick struck the top of Heurelho Gomes’s goal.
Everton’s pressure, though reaped its deserved dividend when Holgate met a cross from Theo Walcott to send Everton towards the last eight of this competition for the second time in 12 years.
Richarlison applied the gloss in the last of four minutes added time, the Brazilian latching onto substitute Cenk Tosun’s pass and twisting beyond defender Christian Kabasele before lifting his finish high into the net.
The pattern of the contest was fixed from the off, Watford content to bunch bodies behind the ball and aim to catch Everton on the hop through strike pair Roberto Pereyra and Andre Gray.
It was the Blues who countered more efficiently, though, and Andre Gomes raced past Nathaniel Chalobah after six minutes to spring Everton on the attack.
When Moise Kean received Gomes’s pass in the box the Italian took aim but was thwarted by a block from Craig Cathcart.
Everton’s next raid came 10 minutes later and stemmed from Digne sticking his foot in to win possession in his own half.
Frenchman Digne, in fact, was in robust form and before long was putting in a shuddering challenge on Dimitri Foulquier which, going off the instinctive roar of approval, was to Goodison Park’s liking.
If that tackle sent the ball flying out of play, Digne’s first one was gobbled up by Richarlison, who advanced to find attacker Iwobi.
Fastening onto the return, Richarlison had Kean and Dominic Calvert-Lewin to aim for in the box but underhit his delivery, enabling the retreating Kiko Femenia to intervene.
Yerry Mina drew another approving reaction from the locals when he sprinted from the penalty box to get in the way of a Foulquier drive.
The Colombian’s night, though, came to an abrupt and premature end. Mina pulled up off the ball and after trying to carry on had to call it quits five minutes before the break.
Michael Keane replaced the centre-half and became the second substitute inside two minutes after Watford attacker Domingos Quina succumbed to injury and made way for Abdoulaye Doucoure.
Former West Ham player Quina had earlier shanked wide from a promising position but Everton were creating the greater share of openings, a product of the hosts’ 61 per cent possession share in the opening half.
Sebastian Prodl flashed out a leg to stop Gomes’s cross finding Calvert-Lewin, while Iwobi stung the gloves of Heurelho Gomes after pouncing on a loose touch from Chalobah at the edge of the box.
Manager Silva introduced Theo Walcott in place of forward Kean for the second half and within two minutes saw Watford keeper Gomes dashing out at the Englishman’s feet to snaffle Iwobi’s incisive pass.
Jordan Pickford, meanwhile, was having a relatively quiet time of it.
That was until minute 55 when Gray powered into space and rifled a shot which Everton keeper Pickford met with two solid palms to push over.
Defender Holgate slid in to prevent Doucoure capitalising on a Watford break soon after – and Goodison united to urge its teams forward.
Walcott robbed Femenia and centred only for the grounded Prodl to dig out a clearance.
It wasn’t subtle from the Austrian and neither was the centre-back’s body check on Digne after 60 minutes.
Keane rose highest when Digne served up the free-kick but the England defender didn’t connect convincingly and the save was easy for Gomes.
Everton were the team playing with more energy and conviction now.
Richarlison left Adrian Mariappa for dead down the Blues’ left and steered the ball back to the 18-yard line,
Credit Mariappa, though, the centre-half read what was coming and stationed himself behind his keeper to clear Gomes’s left-foot strike from the line.
Heurelho Gomes then twice needed his woodwork to bail him out. Iwobi shaking the bar after striding onto Calvert-Lewin’s knockdown.
Digne’s free-kick from 25 yards after Gomes was upended by Doucoure hit the frame of the goal and hurried over.
But there was no helping Watford’s Brazilian keeper with 18 minutes remaining.
Iwobi stood up a ball from tight to the right byline. Calvert-Lewin desperately flung himself at the centre but coild only help it continue on its trajectory to the far post.
Walcott had been bright since coming on and he was alert here, first to the loose ball and turning with a flourish before lifting it into a cluster of bodies in front of goal.
Holgate was on the move before Walcott crossed and his anticipation was rewarded with a straightforward opportunity he grasped in emphatic style.
Watford were floored the moment the ball flew in the Gwldays Street net and it was no surprise when Richarlison hared forwards to give the scoreline a fairer look, as Everton inched closer to achieving their goal of sticking around in this competition until its final date in March.
Midfield Partnership Renewed
Marco Silva would have envisaged regularly deploying Andre Gomes and Fabian Delph at the heart of his team when the pair were signed this summer.
Tonight’s cup tie, though, represented only the second time the midfielders have started together for Everton.
Their only previous outing together came in Everton’s 3-2 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers back on 1 September, a match won off the back of a collective performance packed with character, industry and creativity.
Gomes and Delph bring those qualities as a given.
They add vital knowhow, too, both men going home every night to trophy cabinets stuffed with precious metal.
Delph is twice a Premier League winner and Manchester City won this competition three times during the Englishman’s four years at the club.
For Gomes’s part, he is a European champion with Portugal and claimed three major honours in two years with Barcelona.
Both players, then, understand the road to silverware is rarely smooth. When you arrived at a hump, you have to get over it any which way.
Accordingly, there was no semblance of concern from either man as Everton met stubborn Watford resistance.
Gomes assumed responsibility for prompting his team, spreading play wide to Lucas Digne or trying to feed striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
One wicked cross intended for Calvert-Lewin had Sebastian Prodl stretching to intervene.
Gomes was prepared to drive beyond opponents, too, eliminating Nathaniel Chalobah with an injection of pace in his own half, and later deceiving the same opponents with a sharp spin.
Former Valencia player Gomes would have opened the scoring with a well-hit drive but for Adrian Mariappa’s excellent defending on the line.
When Watford embarked on an increasingly rare attack with 20 minutes remaining Delph was excellently positioned to nip it in the bud.
Delph was one of the first on the scene to congratulate goalscorer and fellow Yorkshireman Mason Holgate.
He’d have known the significance of the moment, how getting the job done was all that mattered in the circumstances.
Whether Delph would have been aware it’s two wins from two for his burgeoning combination with Gomes, only he can say.
Everton Stay Patience To Break Hornets Resistance
Watford came to Goodison after conceding only one goal in their past three matches and were intent on maintaining that miserly streak.
The away team’s three-man defence flexed into a back five as soon as Everton alighted on possession, while the Hornets jammed up the middle of the pitch with a further three bodies.
It was on Everton to shift the ball quickly and purposefully, then, to be imaginative and ambitious, if Watford were to crack. Certainly, the visiting players needed moving around the pitch, draining them of energy and eventually fracturing their concentration.
Seamus Coleman and Moise Kean showed the way inside the opening 60 seconds, Everton’s right-sided pair swapping passes to free defender Coleman in the box.
Everton’s full-backs were key to the Blues’ stretching their visitors and twice in the opening quarter hour Lucas Digne bursts down the left were picked out by raking passes delivered in turn by Andre Gomes and Fabian Delph.
Gomes took it on himself to drive beyond Nathaniel Chalobah and feed Kean for a shot blocked by Craig Cathcart.
It was Richarlison seizing the initiative on 16 minutes, the Brazilian pouncing after Digne snapped into a tackle and speeding forwards. He kept going after laying off to Alex Iwobi and was rewarded with a slick return pass.
Kiko Femenia, scrambling back, intercepted when Richarlison scuffed his pass with Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Kean unattended in the box.
That counter nevertheless showed how Everton could slice through Watford by transferring the ball forwards at pace.
Everton had the majority of possession and circulated it with a view to sucking the life from their opponents.
Gradually gaps appeared, tellingly when Holgate gleefully scored in front of a jubilant Gwladys Street. Richarlison had the freedom of Goodison Park to gallop onto Cenk Tosun's sliding pass and apply the coup de grace.
Youth Wins The Day
Watford made eight changes to their team for this tie but manager Quique Sanchez Flores wasn’t using this competition to give the kids a run. Anything but.
The visitors boasted four thirty-somethings in an XI which contained seven players aged 28 or older.
Portuguese forward Domingos Quina is only 19 and brought the average age of Watford’s starters down to 27,27, compared to Everton’s 24.63.
Sanchez Flores’s team were always going to be a tough nut to crack but as the contest wore on it felt as if Everton had legs on their side.
Richarlison was taking on defenders, the elusive Alex Iwobi buzzing about and proving a nuisance for the away team.
It was appropriate, then, that one of the younger members of Everton’s team contributed the game’s decisive moment – and that 23-year-old Holgate was joined on the scoresheet by a man one year his junior in Richarlison.