Everton 2 Watford 2: John Stones rock solid in face of Chelsea interest, says Roberto Martinez

The Spaniard admitted last week that Stones had been affected by talk over his future

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The Independent Football

It is six years now since a traumatic opening day at Goodison Park when Joleon Lescott, then in the midst of a public transfer pursuit by Manchester City, was a reluctant figure in the centre of an Everton defence punished mercilessly by Arsenal in a 6-1 drubbing.

John Stones, targeted so openly by Chelsea this summer, found himself in a similar situation on Saturday but the 21-year-old England centre-back rose above the uncertainty with a typically composed performance which earned the praise of his manager, Roberto Martinez.

The Spaniard admitted last week that Stones had been affected by talk over his future but the only flaw in his display came when Odion Ighalo left him on his backside before scoring Watford’s second goal in the eventual 2-2 draw at Goodison.

“He loves Everton, he loves the club and the team, and he is an incredible professional, so I don’t think you would ever expect him to sulk – he will always react professionally,” said Martinez of Stones. “He is an incredible leader [and] someone who is going to be a captain one day. [He] will always give everything to this club.”

 

There is a big question mark against Stones’ future, given the expectation that Chelsea will return with a third bid, but on Saturday his only show of frustration – an angry wave of an arm to the players – was perfectly in sync with the home crowd, who booed Everton off at the break with Watford ahead through Mexican wing-back Miguel Layun’s goal.

It was a lead that the newly promoted visitors deserved as, though they began with six debutants, they played with levels of pace, energy and organisation that reflected well on Quique Sanchez Flores, their Spanish manager who is also new to the English game.

It was only their lack of experience that cost them victory, according to Sanchez Flores. “A lot of players got tired,” said the former Atletico Madrid and Valencia coach. “The Premier League is completely different in terms of the physical demands. The ferocity of the challenges is completely different but they will learn for the future.

“If we’re disappointed, and we have the feeling that we have lost two points in this stadium, it is a good sign,” he added. “Everton are tough opponents and it’s normal to say about a promoted team that they are new and a little bit naive, but I think we are a step up [from that].”

Watford’s bright performers included their new Cameroon right-back Allon Nyom, goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes and Valon Behrami, the former West Ham midfielder, signed from Hamburg.

Behrami harassed Everton’s midfielders relentlessly but tired and lost possession before Ross Barkley’s goal. It was a brilliant strike and hinted at better things for the young Liverpudlian, scorer of just two goals last term. As for Arouna Koné’s 86th-minute equaliser, it left Martinez glad to have seen the “Arouna Koné I know he can be”, though the fans who groaned at his introduction may need a bit more convincing.

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