By Kevin Affleck
Victories do not come much sweeter than this. They’ll remember it for a few years to come, that's for sure. It was up there with the win over Tottenham Hotspur, albeit for very different reasons.
There was delight and joy to be had everywhere; Andre Gray scored his first league goal in nearly five months, Marco Silva lost on his return to these parts, and Richarlison was snuffed out to the extent he had to be subbed.
In getting the victory they should have got at Goodison Park, Watford were the big winners, moving up the table, warming them up nicely for the big FA Cup tie at Queens Park Rangers on Friday night and continuing to show this team has a real identity and spirit about it under Javi Gracia. The fans stayed right until the end, right until the four minutes of added time was up to celebrate this one, and too right. They had been waiting a long time for this fixture to come around. This meant more than just three points, much more.
There was a fear the team might be over-hyped for this eagerly-anticipated fixture, that they might play with their hearts instead of their heads. And yet the opening exchanges were rather tepid. Troy Deeney thundered into a challenge with Michael Keane while José Holebas got stuck into Richarlison a couple of times, a clear sign that the Brazilian would not be having things his own way at his former stomping ground. But that was about it.
Richarlison was largely peripheral on the right, but Everton were still the more progressive side and created the clearer openings. Keane and Kurt Zouma saw tame headers saved by Ben Foster and the in-form Watford No. 1 had to then dive to his left to deny Cenk Tosun after a mix-up between Holebas and Abdoulaye Doucouré. Étienne Capoue and Adrian Mariappa also had to make key headed interceptions from dangerous crosses into the box.
And yet the best chance of the half fell to the Hornets – and this time it was not Gerard Deulofeu inside five minutes. Deeney knocked the ball down and into the path of Capoue, who wriggled free and looked set to lash the ball into the back of the net from six yards after just 10 minutes. But he caught it too sweetly and the rising shot flicked off Jordan Pickford and went flying over the bar.
The Hornets fashioned the first chance of the half and also the last, Deulofeu seeing an effort blocked bravely by the sliding Lucas Digne, but neither team could really say they had done enough to be ahead at the break.
Gracia sought to take the game by the scruff of the neck and throw on Gray for Ken Sema at half-time. It was a sure sign from the Head Coach that his ambition extended beyond settling for a draw at home.
It was Everton, though, who threatened first at the start of the second half, Gylfi Sigurdsson poking one onto the bar after Foster had been rarely caught flat-footed. It was a lucky escape and the relief that the ball had hit the woodwork, and not dropped into the back of the net, was etched all over Foster's face.
Back came Watford with a right-footed effort from Holebas that flashed past the far post and then a corner from the pumped-up left-back that somehow didn't manage to go in off Gray, Deeney or an Everton defender. The game was now boiling up nicely.
It reached a crescendo just past the hour when Gray tapped in the opening goal, and what turned out to be the winning goal. The striker had the easy bit to do, but the spadework was done by a remarkable hooked, reverse pass by Craig Cathcart that fell beautifully into the path of Will Hughes. He delivered a wonderful ball across the face of goal and Gray couldn’t miss. It was brilliantly created and ruthlessly executed. Cue bedlam in the stands.
In desperation, Silva threw on Theo Walcott, Bernard and Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the space of nine minutes, but it didn’t really turn out the way he had planned and there was not the siege on Watford’s goal he had hoped for.
Digne hit the top of the bar with a fairly harmless free-kick and then Tosun missed from close range, but his blushes were spared by referee Lee Probert pointing out that it wouldn’t have counted as the Turkey international was offside. The incident just confirmed that this was going to be Watford's day, nothing was going to spoil it, and everybody celebrated at the end because they knew how much it meant. It was a good day to be a fan of this great club.
HORNETS | Foster; Janmaat, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes (Chalobah 89), Capoue, Doucouré, Sema (Gray HT); Deulofeu (Cleverley 81), Deeney.
Subs not used: Gomes, Masina, Kabasele, Peñaranda.