Ross Barkley offered Everton supporters a glimpse of the talent their team may be without next season with the decisive goal as his side brought down the curtain on an impressive campaign at Goodison Park.
The midfielder gathered Phil Jagileka’s through ball and, with Watford offering him room to advance, carried the ball to 25 yards from goal before delivering an unstoppable 55th minute drive into the left-hand corner.
The evening had started with Everton’s Belgian winger Kevin Mirallas having confirmed the signing of a new, three-year contract at the club - an announcement that provided some relief for supporters who have seen the futures of Barkley and Romelu Lukaku come under close scrutiny in recent months.
Just 24 hours before the fixture, Everton manager Ronald Koeman had even handed England international Barkley what amounted to an ultimatum, declaring the club would sell the 23-year-old if he did not agree to a new contract by the end of the season next weekend. To his credit, Barkley could not be said to have let the increased speculation effect his performance and, even before his goal, he had led an early Everton charge on Watford.
After just five minutes, he exchanged tidy passes with Idrissa Gueye before inching into space in the area and drawing a fine block from Watford keeper Heurelho Gomes. The visiting number one was also tested soon after from a right-wing Leighton Baines corner which picked out Jagielka at the near-post for a shot which was again saved well.
Impressive youngster Tom Davies also drove forward purposefully for the hosts, one of his solo runs after 21 minutes ending with a powerful strike which Gomes dived to parry away. But, as the half wore on, Everton seemed to run out of steam, with the prolific Lukaku, the subject of intense speculation over his future this close season, a virtual non-factor.
Indeed, considering Everton were seeking a win that would make this their best ever home league season for 27 years, Watford gave as good as they got as they shrugged off their recent away troubles. Since beating Arsenal at the Emirates at the end of January, the Hornets have lost five consecutive games without scoring, a sequence they looked capable of ending as the game wore on.
Daryl Janmaat’s early shot was deflected behind off Ashley Williams for a corner and Troy Deeney’s low drive into the Everton six-yard area caused momentary panic. Stefano Okaka was then, inexplicably, allowed the space to pick up the ball on the halfway line and advance to the edge of the Everton area before unleashing a shot that flew just off target.
And, later in an increasingly disappointing first half, Abdoulaye Doucoure’s shot was well smothered by Joel Robles before Adrian Mariappa sent a set-piece header flying just over the home goal. At least some life was injected into proceedings just before the interval when Valon Behrami and Janmaat were both cautioned after the former fouled Davies, sparking a shoving match between players from both teams.
But the lacklustre nature of the game was summed up when Barkley found space from a short corner and launched a 25-yard shot, succeeding only in slipping as he made contact and sending the ball sailing high and wide.
The half-time introduction of Enner Valencia injected much-needed energy into Everton and the game with his early darting run and cross forcing Gomes into action. Morgan Schneiderin lobbed a shot just over after a poor punch from the keeper and, after taking the lead, the hosts might have quickly doubled it.
Lukaku’s strong run and centre across an empty six-yard area just missed team mate Mirallas and after Gomes failed to smother another Barkley shot, Janmaat was fortunate to escape a penalty appeal as he tangled with Lukaku over the rebound.
Valencia’s fierce drive might have been rewarded when Mariappa attempted to clear and sliced the ball just wide. But there were warnings that the visitors had not given up on the hope of salvaging a first away point in more than three months when Williams was required to make an important challenge on Okaka as he arrived on a long ball forward and seemed poised to find the target.
And, four minutes from time, Robles was forced into his first meaningful save, diving to keep out Okaka’s strike from a set-piece knock-down.
After the final whistle, Koeman reserved praise for Barkley. “Like most of our players, Ross did much better in the second half and scored a great goal," he said. “That’s what you like to see from players like Ross who has that talent along with that quality.
“We deserved the win tonight and now we have won 13 of our 19 home games, with four draws. That’s really fantastic, I’m proud of the team and we will be even better next year.
“I asked (owners) Farhad Moshiri and Bill Kenwright to come down to the dressing room after the game and they were really pleased. They thanked the team, the players, the staff for what they showed this season. And, at home, we had a great season.”
Everton (4-3-3): Robles; Holgate (Valencia 46), A Williams, Jagielka, Baines; Gueye, Schneiderlin, Davies; Barkley (Barry 79), Lukaku, Mirallas (Kone 85).
Substitutes not used: Hewelt, Besic, Pennington, J Williams.
Watford (3-5-2): Gomes; Mariappa, Prodl, Kabasele (Zuniga 37); Janmaat, Capoue (Niang 81), Doucoure, Behrami (Amrabat 70), Holebas; Okaka, Deeney.
Substitutes not used: Pantilimon, Success, Watson, Eeleftheriou.
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)
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