MATCH CENTRE

Everton In Watford Stalemate

Here was evidence of the truism about there being no easy games in the Premier League.

Everton were the aggressors in this match. They spent extended periods camped in their attacking third and were well into double figures for attempts on goal.

Watford, though, already relegated, fought furiously to cling onto a point in front of home supporters who indulged in wry humour for large parts of the second half.

Everton shots and crosses repeatedly hit defensive bodies, as the hosts assiduously protected Ben Foster in their goal.

When Foster was called into action, he athletically turned Richarlison’s second-half strike for a corner.

Demarai Gray came close for Everton, too, but Frank Lampard’s side – who kept a first clean sheet in 19 away matches – had to settle for one point.

It moves them two ahead of Burnley and Leeds United, beaten by Chelsea at Elland Road, with three games remaining.

Everton, then, remain in the box seat in this Premier League survival fight after collecting 11 points from six matches.

Roy Hodgson, in the odd position of managing Watford on the day his successor was announced, made seven changes for this game, most of them enforced.

And it was on the flank occupied by one of the recalled players, Adam Masina, where Everton made hay in the opening half hour.

Time and again, the away team unzipped Watford on the hosts’ left.

Gray resisted a blatant grab from Masina after sprinting onto Richarlison’s 10th-minute flick to the right. The Everton forward moved infield to shoot but Christian Kabasele made the block.

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WATCH VIDEO 02:14

LAMPARD'S MIXED EMOTIONS TO WATFORD DRAW

Boss feels it's a point closer to safety - but Everton could have had more.


Masina, of course, wasn’t alone in trying to resist Everton’s brisk right siders.

Samir, the Brazilian centre-half, stepped across to try to smother Anthony Gordon, as the attacker collected Alex Iwobi’s pass down the line.

Gordon, though, sensed he had company. A shimmy and spin befuddled Samir, suddenly chasing back towards his own goal and seeing Gordon’s number 24 decrease in size by the second.

Kabasele, however, Samir’s partner in the middle of defence, was on the cover for another important intervention.

Iwobi checked back onto his left foot for a cross from the same side. And the wing-back, one of the revelations of Everton’s recent resurgence, appeared to have weighted the deep delivery perfectly for Gray.

Richarlison, though, was perhaps unaware of Gray’s position and strained to connect, only to unwittingly extinguish the threat with a touch into No Man’s Land.

Watford, according to popular expectation, would be low on motivation for – viewed through their prism – a dead rubber. Or not as fired up as Everton, at any rate, with the Hertfordshire club essentially marking time until launching another promotion bid under a new boss and the away side still embroiled in a very real fight for survival.

Hodgson’s players made a nonsense of that theory during an opening phase when they passed the ball quickly and ambitiously in the final third.

The hosts’ mobile front three were interchanging neatly and one such link would have posed a problem for Everton had Samuel Kalu softened his touch in front of goal following a return pass from Ken Sema.

Sweden international Sema drew a foul from Mason Holgate on 18 minutes, the defender booked for sliding in on Watford’s right. Jordan Pickford punched the resultant free-kick high and long. When the ball was recycled for Sema, the shot was wild.

Watford won themselves another set-piece in a promising position in the minute before half-time.

Kalu took aim from 25 yards – after Iwobi was deemed to have impeded his Nigeria international teammate – but the dip was too late to disturb Pickford.

Meantime, the majority of the progressive football was played by Everton.

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WATCH VIDEO 01:41

COLEMAN ON EVERTON MINDSET AND 'AMAZING' FANS

Skipper reacts to Watford draw.


Gordon was given the freedom of Watford’s left side, once more, and advanced to cut back a ball for Gray. He shovelled it on for Vitalii Mykolenko but the Ukranian’s effort rattled into a crowd of bodies.

Gordon took up a position in the middle around the half hour, leaving Iwobi to exploit the space on the right. The cross invited Gordon to try a volley that travelled over the top.

The ubiquitous Gordon forced the issue three minutes before the break, wrestling Masina off the ball, then shrugging off the full-back’s attempts to recover.

Gordon got his delivery right, again, along the floor for Richarlison, back to goal and setting up Abdoulaye Doucoure, who was denied a shot at goal by an assembly of fast-converging defenders.

The few thousand Evertonians congregated tight in a corner of Vicarage Road cranked up the volume straight after the restart.

And the latest sustained chorus of Spirit of the Blues inspired Everton’s clearest chance, so far, after 49 minutes.

It had been a rocky beginning to the second half, Pickford sprinting out of his box to prevent Joao Pedro latching onto Sissoko’s through ball, and Sissoko glancing narrowly wide from a left-wing free-kick.

But Sissoko was culpable at the other end, losing track of Richarlison, who collected a throw on the right and progressed into the penalty area for an attempt with the outside of his right boot.

Kabasele was the blocker, but the Belgian’s latest intervention only made life more difficult for Foster, the keeper springing right to claw behind a heavily-deflected effort.

Everton increasingly scented the opportunity to convert one useful point into a full complement.

Gray slipped a pass to Iwobi, removing Masina from the picture, and sped forwards to complete the incisive one-two.

On the right of the box, from roughly eight yards, Gray’s strike skimmed inches beyond the far post.

Gordon thought he was set for a straight forward conversion when RIcharlison flashed in a low centre, only for a Watford foot – thrust out more in hope than with any clear plan – to send the ball on a different trajectory.

This wasn’t an isolated episode in its nature, Everton steadily taking up residence in Watford’s defensive third – but unable to locate the decisive final cross or shot.

Lampard sought to address the issue with the introduction of Dominic Calvert-Lewin for Gray on 77 minutes.

Delph, seemingly nursing a thigh issue, was replaced by Allan soon after.

The direction of traffic continued towards Watford’s goal, with Calvert-Lewin’s height and physicality adding a new dynamic to the visitors’ attack.

But the clear opportunity Everton craved wouldn’t come and it is one point added to the tally.


Influential Delph Receives Due Credit

The sight of Fabian Delph, all 5ft 7in of the Yorkshireman, leaping above 6ft 1in Moussa Sissoko to return a Ben Foster punt seemed to epitomise the midfielder’s spirited and surprise contribution to Everton’s campaign.

He’s one of those players, Delph, who it is said does the dirty work, noticed by teammates but not necessarily visible to those in the stands.

The Evertonians who bellowed their appreciation for an interception as Watford tried to break from defence, would argue differently.

The reception for a sharp, firm tackle on Ken Sema, as the hosts tried to escape their defensive third soon after the 20-minute mark was similarly enthusiastic.

There is no question over the integral role played by Delph in Everton’s ongoing bid to separate themselves from the Premier League’s dead men.

His understanding of the position deep in centre field is evident in every intervention and challenge. It is clear, too, in the way Delph occupies the ground in front of his defenders, blocking angles and limiting passing options.

Delph’s own distribution is varied and intelligent. Here, there were plenty of give-and-goes in closed spaces. He nudged one ball forwards around five yards as Everton sprung, inviting the leggy Abdoulaye Doucoure to take over the charge.

That episode was typical of Delph, who routinely prodded quick forward balls to better-placed colleagues.

Vitalii Mykolenko, high on Everton’s left, benefited from Delph’s more expansive passing on multiple occasions.

The start here for Delph was his fifth in six Premier League games. Everton’s only defeat in that period came in the match he missed. Of the five he played, they won three and drew two for 11 points you couldn’t put a price on.

Frank Lampard spoke prior to the match of the importance of ‘big players’. Events of the past month show why he positions Delph in that category.

It would be folly to speculate over the severity of the injury that prematurely ended Delph’s involvement.

Regardless of whether we see him again this season, he’s played a huge role in a productive and potentially critical run of fixtures.