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Leighton Baines steps up to crown epic Everton comeback against Watford

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Leighton Baines steps up to crown epic Everton comeback against Watford” was written by Andy Hunter at Goodison Park, for The Guardian on Sunday 5th November 2017 18.49 UTC

David Unsworth may not get the Everton manager’s job he craves but he will never receive a better endorsement of his ability to generate spirit and fight in a team than what transpired on a remarkable evening at Goodison Park. Everton delivered the first win of his temporary reign in chaotic, calamitous and truly unforgettable style.

Watford led 2-0 just after the hour and Goodison was on the brink of revolt. Then came the fightback led by Oumar Niasse, levelled by Dominic Calvert-Lewin and sealed by Leighton Baines’ 91st-minute spot-kick, the left-back replacing Unsworth as Everton’s all-time leading penalty scorer in the process. It did not end there. In the 10 minute of 12 added on for injuries to Heurelho Gomes and Christian Kabasele, Jordan Pickford fouled Richarlison to concede another penalty. Tom Cleverley, a former Everton midfielder, stepped up. Goodison had a collective seizure. Cleverley missed.

It now falls to Farhad Moshiri, Everton’s major shareholder, to appoint the club’s next manager. Sam Allardyce, assisted by Craig Shakespeare, is being given serious and worrying consideration by the Everton hierarchy. Watford’s Marco Silva is also of interest. At the last, Unsworth has staked his claim too.

The Everton caretaker manager has been a model of discretion on the subject of the imbalanced squad bequeathed by Ronald Koeman and the director of football, Steve Walsh, but his selections have damned several expensive signings and senior players. Sandro Ramírez has not made one squad under the caretaker manager. The £23.6m midfielder Davy Klaassen did not make the bench against Watford and nor did Morgan Schneiderlin, whose dreadful season reached a new low with an unprofessional red card against Lyon on Thursday.

Unsworth’s faith in youngsters he has developed at academy level – Beni Baningime, Jonjoe Kenny and Tom Davies – may have upset some older players but there can be few complaints after the pitiful fare served up of late.

There was improvement in the first half against Watford, the tone established by four Everton players pressing the visiting defence into an early mistake, but the lack of width and quality in the final third was again telling. The caretaker manager opted against wide men for his fourth game at the helm, repeating the tried and mistrusted combination of Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson behind the hard-working Oumar Niasse. Both toiled yet again and were replaced with positive effect.

Rooney was involved in Everton’s best moment of a flat opening, squaring for Baines after Davies and Niasse stretched the Watford defence from a quickly taken thrown-in. The left-back was unmarked and had the whole goal to aim for as Rooney’s ball rolled invitingly into his path but his shot was placed too close to Gomes, who tipped away. A team as ineffective as Everton can ill afford such misses and Watford would make them pay.

Silva’s side struggled to recapture the form that troubled Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and has produced three away wins already this season but they were dangerous throughout. Richarlison should have opened the scoring shortly before half-time when he was released behind the Everton defence by the prominent Andre Gray. Pickford needlessly sprinted outside his area and invited the Brazilian to skirt around him. The goal beckoned but, with Baines challenging, Richarlison found only the side-netting. He made no mistake with his next opportunity.

Only 30 seconds had elapsed in the second half when Everton’s weakness at defending a counterattack was exposed once more. Michael Keane came off second best in a physical challenge with André Carrillo and suddenly Watford had two men against only Kenny. Gray clipped his pass over the right-back to Richarlison, who again rounded Pickford. He did not miss this time, converting from close range as Everton defenders scrambled back in vain. A rollercoaster of a second half was underway.

Sigurdsson should have levelled when Niasse picked him out unmarked in front of goal but, like Baines before him, his shot allowed Gomes to save comfortably. The veteran keeper suffered a head injury when dealing with Rooney’s cross from the rebound, colliding with Kabasele, and his departure contributed to Everton’s recovery. But the fightback commenced at two goals down.

Kabasele powered in a header having lost Phil Jagielka at Kiko Femenía’s corner to double Watford’s advantage. Goodison erupted in anger but just as the home crowd sensed revolt it was given hope by Niasse, who capitalised on hesitation between Gomes’ replacement, Orestis Karnezis, and José Holebas as they attempted to deal with Ademola Lookman’s chip down the left. Niasse nipped in and his touch tricked over the line as Kabasele fouled him from behind.

Unsworth replaced the anonymous Rooney with Calvert-Lewin and the switch paid dividends within seven minutes. Watford left the substitute completely unmarked as Baines swept a corner to the back post and the England Under-21 international punished the oversight with a close-range header to equalise. Goodison was now in tumult, particularly when Holebas gave Everton the chance to win the game and possibly turn their season by conceding a 90th minute penalty.

Aaron Lennon, Unsworth’s third substitute, flicked the ball around the left-back and was then brought to ground when Holebas fell and impeded his run. After a lengthy wait, and with the weight of a relegation struggle on his shoulders, Baines fired the spot-kick beyond Karnezis’ despairing dive. Cleverley failed to do likewise leaving Unsworth to depart with a kiss to the Goodison crowd.

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