Match Report | Watford 1-0 Everton
By Kevin Affleck
It had to be him, didn't it? For the umpteenth time in his Watford career, Troy Deeney delivered big just when his team needed it, this time firing in a stunning right-footed effort 11 minutes from time that enabled the Hornets to take a giant stride towards ensuring a fourth successive season of Premier League football.
For so long this otherwise dreadful game seemed to be heading for a goalless draw. It had 0-0 written all over it and a point would have been just fine, but then Deeney rose above the general level of mediocrity to secure all three on 79 minutes.
He's scored some pretty important goals for this club but this one felt right up there. He will have struck few better in his Watford career, that's for sure. You could tell how much his first from open play since April 4 meant to him by the way he celebrated.
Given the results earlier in the day, these were three much-needed points and left everyone breathing that little bit easier.
The team got nowhere near the levels they reached against Chelsea and the margin was nothing like as large, but the three points were just as important, if not more so. There was a huge sense of relief around the place after this one. Sometimes you just have to grind it out. These back-to-back home wins, on TV and under the lights, will prove crucial in the final analysis.
Deeney will get all the headlines, and rightly so for the quality and immaculate timing of his strike, but Javi Gracia deserves credit for his substitutions which, eventually, turned the game.
He wasted no time at the start of the second-half in bringing on Kiko Femenía and Stefano Okaka, perhaps somewhat surprisingly for Roberto Pereyra and Richarlison. It was a bold move and they repaid the faith of the Head Coach by combining to set up Deeney to slam in the winner. The way Okaka celebrated, doing a jig of delight, spoke volumes for how much he now feels back in the fold. His reintegration is complete.
Gracia is now able to be more tactically flexible with more returning options at his disposal but it his shoring up of the defence that has been one of his most impressive acts. Watford have now kept two clean sheets in four matches, including a first at home in the league since November.
It didn't make for pretty viewing in the first-half and the first 45 minutes was a bit of a non-event.
Watford did not play poorly but they didn't play well either. They struggled for any fluency going forward and failed to string together any real moves of note. Any joy they did have came down the right from the effervescent Gerard Deulofeu but there was no end product.
Indeed it took them until 32 minutes to register their first shot, Etienne Capoue shooting high over the bar. Shortly after Deulofeu smashed a free-kick into the wall but that was about it.
In fairness, Everton did not threaten much either and Orestis Karnezis didn't have a save to make. That would have suited the Greece No 1 just fine after the events at Goodison Park earlier in the season.
Things had to get better in the second-half, surely, and they did. Not long after the resumption, Michael Keane planted wide a header he probably should have buried in the far corner and then, at the other end, Deeney couldn't generate sufficient power from a cross Pereyra stood up, Jordan Pickford gathering safely. This was more like it. We now, finally, had a game on our hands.
With the game there for the taking, Gracia sort to seize the initiative by making a double attacking change, slinging on Okaka and Femenía to much applause from the home fans. In his first appearance since December 12, Femenía played in an advanced role on the right while Okaka provided some support for the isolated Deeney. Deulofeu was moved out to the left to try and have a crack at young Jonjoe Kenny, but the experiment lasted a matter of minutes as the Spaniard was forced off with a foot injury. It was a huge blow as Deulofeu has been a real bright spark of late.
But Watford stuck at it, continued to keep plugging away and eventually they got their rewards. Not long after Deeney had been furious at Femenía for his failure to tee him up, the big man got his chance, the one sight of goal he had been waiting for all game if not weeks. And boy did he take it.
Femenía played in Okaka, who in turn fed Deeney around 16 yards out on the right-hand side. He took one touch to get it out from under his feet and then lashed an unstoppable shot past Pickford and into the roof of the net. The England keeper got nowhere near it and Vicarage Road went wild at another goal from their favourite son.
There were a couple of hairy moments towards the end and it felt fitting that Karnezis made the crucial save at the death. Redemption for him and the team was complete.
HORNETS | Karnezis (GK); Janmaat, Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas; Doucoure, Capoue; Deulofeu (Carrillo, 63), Pereyra (Okaka, 57), Richarlison (Femenía, 57); Deeney.
Subs not used | Gomes (GK), Britos, Gray, Zeegelaar.