Heading into Watford’s away trip to Everton in the Premier League’s Monday night encounter for game-week 16, few Hornets fans were optimistic about securing a result.
Winless in five and with a baron scoring record during that run — notching just one goal in November and another in the recent midweek clash with champions Manchester City — the odds were certainly stacked against the visitors at Goodison Park.
But, one man who has been complimentary and ever-encouraged by Watford is head coach Javi Gracia. As such, it was no surprise that the Spaniard cut a frustrated figure in the post-match press conference which took place not long after the whistle was blown on a thrilling 2-2 draw on Merseyside.
After Richarlison's opener in the first-half, quick-fire strikes — firstly an own-goal from Seamus Coleman, followed by an Abdoulaye Doucouré header — amplified a frantic five minutes of football at Goodison which was rounded off by Ben Foster’s save from a Gylfi Sigurdsson penalty.
The Hornets performed well enough to return home with all three points, battling against a strong Blues side, managed by Gracia’s predecessor Marco Silva, as well as a number of refereeing decisions which periodically inclined in favour of the home outfit — including Theo Walcott’s involvement from an offside position in the buildup to the first goal. However, Watford left with little to show for their efforts as a stoppage time free-kick from Lucas Digne earned the hosts a point.
Gracia admitted he was frustrated at the outcome of the match but could not fault the performance of his players after a valiant display on Merseyside.
“It was tough to accept,” he said. “After conceding a goal in the first half and having a good reaction in the second we played much better. We dominated the game in that moment and in the last minutes we conceded another goal and it was frustrating.
“I’m happy with the performances we’ve had recently. I think the level of the team has always been high with chances to score and chances to win. Like today, we’ve lost a very good chance to win, but I’m happy with the performance of the team.”
While Watford’s first-half showing wasn’t poor by any stretch, it was the second period that epitomised a strong away display from the visitors. The Hornets demonstrated their cohesiveness and, ultimately, their grit to secure a well-earned point and overcome the deficit by which they were trailing at half-time.
And Gracia believes it was the injustice of losing to a strike that was, by the letter of the law, illegitimate, that spurred the players on in the 45 minutes after the break.
“The second half was better but if you are in the same position as the player, it’s difficult to accept losing the game with a goal in an offside position and I think they had a very good reaction. It’s not easy to accept that and they kept their confidence, kept their attitude and I think the second half was better.”
Watford have had a number of refereeing decisions to query over the course of this season. From a penalty not awarded for a foul on Nathaniel Chalobah against Southampton to Walcott’s involvement in the goal on Monday, the Hornets will feel hard-done-by having been at the centre of a number of controversial officiating displays recently.
“It’s difficult to accept. Every day it’s the same situation but what can we do? Keep working, keep improving and try to do the things that we can improve — be demanding of the things that are under our control. The rest of the things I’m not interested in.
“It’s offside, but it’s the same like other games. We are living these situations in the last games but we accept not to say anything about referees decisions.”
Full debut for Portuguese prodigy
Domingos Quina made his full Premier League debut for the Hornets against Everton and vastly impressed in his first full start in the competition having made a substitute appearance in the 2-1 loss to City last week.
The 19-year old arrived from West Ham United in the summer with a positive reputation for being a keen runner with tricky feet and an eye for a pass, all of which were attributes that proved to be true in his performances against the Blues.
Quina was truthfully playing a deputy role during the absence of midfield enforcer Étienne Capoue through suspension, however, the promising youngster staked a valid claim for more active involvement with the first-team in a rounded performance from the Portugal Under-20 captain.
“It’s not easy to play your first game, his debut, but he put in a very good performance — an amazing performance,” — high praise from Gracia. “Everybody knows that he’s a very good young player but I think he has a great present and an amazing future as well.
“He’s one player of this squad and I know he’s always ready to help the team like he did today.”