Goals from Ellie Mason and Charlotte Kerr was enough to cancel out an early Claudia Walker strike as Watford came from behind to claim their first league win since May 2015.
Everton found their footing early in the match, pushing Watford back and forcing goalkeeper Lucy Gillett from the outset, Kelly Jones and Claudia Walker also linked well to evade the Watford defenders.
Everton were showing their experience as they worked the ball around the pitch well, play stretched and Watford penned into their own half, the break-through seemed inevitable.
The first goal came a third of the way through the half, Walker with a hopeful shot from outside the box, Gillett diving to save it but left prostrate as the ball squirmed under her body.
When it looked like it was going to be another afternoon to forget for the Golden Girls, they rallied and pushed forward. When a shot was turned away for a corner, the whistle blew for a handball in the box and Watford had a golden opportunity to get back into the game.
Ellie Mason was tasked with taking the spot kick, Kirstie Levell with a spectacular dive to her right as Mason went central, the ball lopping and hitting the dead-centre of the back of the net. The equaliser coming just three minutes after the opening goal.
The goal seemed to unease Everton who had been cruising up until that point and, although they still dominated possession, they struggled to make it count - frustrated by a well-marshalled defence, the Toffees started sending the ball long for Walker to chase. Long balls, shots from distance, and niggly fouls - the theme of the rest of Everton’s performance.
Their ability still apparent but everyone has been thrown off balance, notably when they were awarded a dangerous free kick late in the first half. Michelle Hinnigan set the ball up for Ellie Stewart to smash but the strike had too much power on it and the defender was forced to dive to reach it.
As the whistle was blown for half-time the players in blue trudged off into the dressing room whilst the hosts left the pitch with a spring in their step, rewarded for their good defensive play. Mason’s spot kick had given them a much needed confidence boost and with their opposition rattled Watford had grown, getting tight to their players and not giving them room to pick out a pass. Confidence spreading across the pitch, the Golden Girls grew in attack, looking dangerous on the counter, Anne Laure Davy and Charlotte Kerr giving them much needed width.
The visitors started the second-half as if they’d just been jump-started, moments in Walker was set free down the centre, getting on the end of another long ball, flying between the centre-backs. Gillett saw the danger and came running off of her line, clearing both the ball and player outside the box, players left in a heap as the referee reached for his pocket, the card was yellow, Gillett very fortunate not to have been given her marching orders. Stewart’s resulting free kick flew harmlessly wide before Gillett set Watford away on the counter, Davy, spotting Levell off her line, chipped from 30 yards out, the ball crashing back down but just the wrong side of the bar – it would have been some goal and it wasn’t too far off.
The game was finely poised, Everton all-out attacking and Watford happy to sit back and counter, the challenges were becoming more frequent and niggly. Krystle Johnston on her debut off of the bench was in the book just three minutes after entering the fray.
The game wore on as Everton still probed for an opening, Johnston lively on the right, Vicky Jones pushing higher up, the Toffees desperate for a second goal, playing a dangerous game with a high line. Hinnigan with a couple of chances, a snap shot just wide of the post, a free kick flying over the bar then Kelly Jones with her own effort that skewed wide.
Watford countered well, Katie Stanley happy to keep the centre-backs busy as Kerr and Davy dashed down the flanks. The decisive moment came through Kerr, the attacking picking her moment as Levell came off of her line, before emphatically firing the ball home. A smart performance capped with a scintillating goal.
From then out Everton were frantic, emotions boiling over as the Summer sun beat down on the field, more challenges, more free kicks and more cards. Everton still pushed up, leaving themselves exposed at the back as Kerr broke through once again, her shot wide but coming to blows with Stewart afterwards. A yellow for each, Stewart another player lucky to see the match out.
Into the last five minutes and the chances were coming thick and fast for the visitors, Johnston breaking free of her marker and flashing the ball across for Walker, the attacker unable to connect. A free kick followed by a corner, the Toffee throwing everything at Watford but unable to make anything stick. The Blue Girls breathless by the full-time whistle, left to rue missed opportunities as the Golden Girls flopped to the ground overjoyed and exhausted.
Small changes to the table
Everton will still be regretting their misses, three big points dropped over a weekend when Bristol City and Yeovil Town both won. Watching the Blue Girls it’s clear to see their ability and it’s not a surprise that they’re at the top end of the table, but they seemed to run out of ideas when Watford got tight, trying shots form distance and getting frustrated only lead to more frustrations. The result could be a tough pill to swallow but they’ll be back fighting for promotion in their next league outing and they will be in the mix come the end of the season, there’s just too much quality in their squad from them not to be.
As for Watford, the win couldn’t have come at a better time. Arguably more match-fit having played a friendly at Berkhamsted last week, they rose to the challenge well and answered every question. Katie Rowson has clearly been working hard with her side over the break, it looks like they’ve gone back to basics and that’s exactly what they needed. It’s straight-forward football that’s well executed, everyone on the pitch knew their job and stuck to it. It was a good win for a team that’ve struggled for positive results and the confidence they take from it will be huge, having beaten one of the top sides in the league they’ll go into subsequent games knowing their capable of causing upsets.