After last week’s drubbing by Liverpool, and the abject performance that went with it, Watford headed to the blue side of Merseyside needing a big reaction this weekend as they faced an Everton side who sat just one point outside of the top 4.
After putting five past their opponents, and securing Watford’s first ever win at Goodison Park, it’s fair to say the player’s reacted, but it was not the plain sailing the 5-2 scoreline may suggest.
The Hornets went behind twice in the match before scoring four in the last ten minutes of the game, with goals from Joshua King (80’, 86’), Juraj Kucka (78’) and Emmanuel Dennis (90+1’) meaning the Hornets were comfortable winners in the end.
It was the first time this season that Watford had gone behind in a match and still came away with all three points.
After arriving on a free in the summer, Joshua King’s performances so far this season have been decent enough, managing to grab a few assists, and generally play well enough to warrant giving him a run of games as the club’s number 9. However, and crucially, he was still yet to score his first Watford goal.
After having a late winner against Newcastle ruled out by VAR for offside a few weeks ago, King went into Saturday’s match without a goal for any club since scoring for AFC Bournemouth in July 2020, but after an unsuccessful spell at Everton last season, where he made just 11 appearances and played less than 140 minutes of football, King was always going to be motivated on his return.
“When you’ve been at a club it’s a bit personal. I didn’t really get things going here, and coming back (to Everton) today felt like I had a point to prove to myself” the 29-year-old told the official club website - and it showed.
King was excellent all game, not just in the way he took his goals, but his all-round play, offering a much needed focal point in transition, holding the ball up well, and bringing others into play.
His first goal came at an excellent time with Watford having gone behind early, and demonstrated excellent movement. As Adam Masina whipped in a free-kick, King lost his marker, and managed to get on the end of a Craig Cathcart flick on, for a tap-in at the back post. Although the linesman flagged for offside, VAR ruled King had managed to stay onside.
The Norwegian’s second goal, which gave Watford a 3-2 lead, showed King’s touch and finishing ability when he hooked Emmanuel Dennis’ cross out of the air with his left foot and finished to the side of an on-rushing Jordan Pickford with his right, in one fluid motion.
King sealed his hattrick showing plenty of composure as Joao Pedro’s scuffed effort found King on the edge of the six-yard box. Rather than snatch at the shot, King dummied a shot, sending Michael Keane sliding past the ball, before once again calmly slotting past Pickford.
In scoring three, King became just the 2nd ever Watford player in to score a Premier League hat-trick, and in the process, also became just the second Norwegian to score 50 Premier League goals after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
After getting the tactics wrong against Liverpool, there was a little bit of pressure on Claudio Ranieri to get things right this weekend, and it was his substitutions during the game that particularly deserve highlighting.
When your side goes 2-1 down, it takes a brave man to take off your best player, but that’s exactly what Ranieri did when he substituted Ismaila Sarr for Emmanuel Dennis in the 64th minute. At the same time, he also substituted Ozan Tufan for João Pedro. It was these substitutions that would win Watford the match.
Emmanuel Dennis would go on to score for the Hornets, as well as assist two goals, whilst Joao Pedro also got an assist and was heavily involved in the build-up play for Watford’s third and fourth goals.
These subs coincided with a complete shift in the momentum of the game and for that, Ranieri deserves a lot of credit.
Poor defending again
Although things were largely positive, there were still some concerning aspects to the Watford performance on Saturday, not just because they went behind twice in the match, but because of the manner of the goals conceded.
Watford’s defence has been leaky so far this season, and the two goals that Everton scored against them were once again soft goals to concede.
It started with William Troost-Ekong being twisted around and run past by Demarai Gray, who then put the ball into the six-yard area in hope more than expectation. Somehow, Tom Davies got on the end of the ball, and found the back of the net, despite there being three Watford defenders surrounding him.
Whether it was a lack of awareness, or desire to get on the end of the ball, or both, it was a disappointing goal to concede, particularly so early in the game.
Everton’s second wasn’t much better from a defensive point of view. Michael Keane crossed a ball into the box, and there seemed to be a complete miscommunication between Troost-Ekong and Cathcart, with neither of them picking up Richarlison, who had a free header at an open goal thanks to some questionable positioning from Ben Foster.
Although they didn’t matter in the end, they were goals that could’ve been easily avoided with better defensive awareness, desire, and communication.
Although there are still things to improve upon, a result like that lifts the mood surrounding the entire club, from the players to the fans, particularly given the tough run of fixtures that Watford currently find themselves in the midst of.
Watford will hope to carry some of the momentum from Saturday’s victory into next weekend’s home fixture against Southampton at Vicarage Road.