Goals from Mason Holgate and Richarlison spared Marco Silva’s blushes against his former club and sent Everton into the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup, circumstances that will probably prevent the beleaguered manager being sacked in the morning, whatever the Watford fans might have wished.
Everton wore down their opponents in the end, though it was not the convincing performance Silva was seeking to impress current employers or old ones. While Everton were on top by the time Holgate came up for a corner and stuck around to score the opening goal, they will have to play a lot better against Tottenham on Sunday if they are to avoid a sixth league defeat in seven games. The Carabao Cup may not come to Silva’s rescue should that happen, for a side who take over an hour to score against Watford has no business dreaming of Wembley with Liverpool and Manchester City still at large. Tottenham are not bottom of the Premier League, and neither are they likely to make eight changes.
“We deserved to win, we were the best team on the pitch, but we did not create much in the first half,” Silva said. “It is hard against a team with nine men behind the ball but we were more assertive in the second half.” Quique Sánchez Flores said Watford’s plan had only half worked. “Our limitations are in the final third,” the manager said. “We defend well but we don’t finish our counterattacks.”
Richarlison was booed throughout by the Watford supporters and initially seemed unnerved by it. His first few touches were indecisive and when Lucas Digne presented him with space to run into down the left – right in front of the travelling fans – the Brazilian made a complete mess of a good chance to open the scoring.
A pass was undoubtedly the right option with Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Moise Kean waiting in front of goal, yet after storming into the area all Richarlison could manage was a tame, misdirected layoff that went straight to an opponent.
Half an hour into the game the stadium was eerily quiet and the atmosphere tense, despite Everton going to the trouble and expense of placing a blue plastic flag on every seat before kick-off. It that was an attempt to raise spirits and introduce a little cheerfulness, it failed to take into account the mordant Scouse wit. “What’s all this?” a supporter boomed as he took his place behind the directors’ seats. “Has Silva been sacked already?”
Theo Walcott was sent on for Kean at half-time, presumably in the hope of final product as well as pace, and immediately showed what had been missing with a run behind the Watford defence that might have brought a goal had Alex Iwobi’s passing accuracy matched his alertness.
Watford’s best chance came after an hour, a thunderous drive from Andre Gray that Jordan Pickford did well to parry. It was perhaps not the most difficult of saves, though Pickford was doing well just to be awake after enduring 60 soporific minutes as a spectator, and Gray’s shot came with little warning.
At least it brought the game to life in the last half hour, and with Adrian Mariappa stopping a shot from André Gomes on the line and Iwobi hitting the angle of post and bar, Everton were suddenly looking most likely to score.
Digne hit the bar with a free-kick as they stepped up the pressure, then after Walcott won a corner on the right he popped up on the left to collect a cross from Iwobi that would otherwise have run out harmlessly, returning it with more pace for Holgate to head home from the six-yard-line.
Still Everton were defending doggedly when Richarlison scored the stoppage-time second that made for a somewhat flattering scoreline. Home hearts were in mouths when Gerard Deulofeu lined up a last attempt against his old club that might have taken the game to penalties, only for Cenk Tosun to sweep the ball upfield after the shot had been blocked to allow Richarlison to finish stylishly at the other end.