The opening day of the season is traditionally an occasion for sunny optimism. It did not feel that way at half-time at Goodison Park as a cascade of boos fell from the stands. Promoted Watford were leading and, after a summer where Everton have spent less money than any other Premier League club – just £4.5m – there was mutiny in the air.
Roberto Martinez’s side looked as ponderous as they did for much of last season but eventually summoned the quality to come from behind twice through goals from Ross Barkley and Arouna Koné to salvage a point.
Last season Martinez spoke often about the psychological damage done by Everton losing leads in the closing minutes of their first two fixtures and he said yesterday that he hopes their recovery will have the opposite effect. “The second-half performance straight away sets standards,” he said, although Quique Sanchez Flores, his Watford counterpart, will have still headed south the happier of the two.
When Watford last reached the Premier League in 2006, they lost their opening game at Everton and ended the season relegated. This was more promising. They used 13 different nationalities over the 90 minutes yet Sanchez Flores, who replaced Slavisa Jokanovic in June, had them impressively organised, and, with Valon Behrami setting the tone, they worked tenaciously defending Miguel Layun’s 14th-minute lead.
The Mexican beat Tim Howard on the half-volley after Phil Jagielka had chested a cross straight to him. “We had six new players in the first 11 but it’s not completely difficult because they want to do everything well and are trying to understand the system as quickly as possible,” said Sanchez Flores.
At the other end, Everton were missing the invention of Steven Pienaar and Gerard Deulofeu, as well as Leighton Baines, who, as Martinez confirmed, has suffered a recurrence of an ankle ligament problem.
Heurelho Gomes saved well from Gareth Barry, Barkley and Kevin Mirallas but it took the introduction of Koné, who had scored only once in two years before yesterday, to turn the game. Everton went more direct and Koné’s lay-off teed up Barkley’s thumping first equaliser from the edge of the box.
That was the cue for an exciting finish as substitute Odion Ighalo stepped inside Chelsea target John Stones and restored Watford’s lead in brilliant fashion. Koné had the last word, though, beating Gomes with an angled drive. Martinez hopes that it will prove a “turning point” for the striker.
Everton: (4-2-3-1) Howard; Coleman, Jagielka, Stones, Galloway (Kone, 62); McCarthy, Barry; Mirallas (Oviedo, 77), Barkley, Cleverley; Lukaku (Naismith, 90).
Watford: (4-2-3-1) Gomes; Nyom, Prodl, Cathcart, Holebas; Capoue, Behrami (Watson, 79); Anya, Jurado (Ighalo, 74), Layun (Paredes, 59); Deeney.
Referee: Mike Jones
Man of the match: Gomes (Watford)
Match rating: 7/10.Reuse content