The diamond that is Ross Barkley produced a sparkler on a damp Goodison night with his sixth goal of the season to secure a landmark record for the Toffees in Ronald Koeman’s first season.
For the first time in the Premier League era, Everton have reached 43 points at home, with 13 wins in 19 games. Fortress Goodison has been well and truly restored. The lap of appreciation at the end of the game symbolised the synergy that has been established between this team and the fans and the promise of what is to come will dominate discussion in the days, weeks and months to come. Belief, as Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright declared on Tuesday night at the End of Season Awards, has been imbued again.
Ronald Koeman welcomed back Morgan Schneiderlin after his three-week hiatus with a thigh injury and Barkley who came off the bench in the 1-0 defeat at Swansea. Joel Robles also returned in goal for Everton, with Maarten Stekelenburg having sustained a groin injury. Mo Besic was on the bench for the first time this season having recovered from the knee injury he suffered in Wayne Rooney’s testimonial at Old Trafford.
The Everton manager was keen that his team should close the season in suitable style at home. “I’m really happy with the season at home,” Koeman said. “Winning tonight and getting to 43 points [at Goodison] is more than some teams have got all season. Of course, we would like to finish with a good performance and win. What you like to have is strong home form for the fans and we know away from home we need to improve and do better.”
Under the Goodison lights, Everton began brightly, pushing forward with purpose and penetration and producing chances. Barkley asserted himself early, marauding with menace, exchanging passes with Idrissa Gana Gueye and firing in a low shot which Heurelho Gomes saved well, while Romelu Lukaku lurked ominously on the shoulders of the Watford defenders, looking to add to his 24 Premier League goals for the season. Phil Jagielka, with three goals in successive games in the past six, came closer than anyone early on following a corner by Leighton Baines, connecting first time on the edge of the six-yard box with a low shot to which Gomes got down well to repel again.
Watford countered immediately and a strong run from the halfway line by Stefano Okaka culminated in a shot that just flashed the wrong side of Robles’ right-hand post.
Man of the moment Tom Davies, who picked up three awards midweek at the inaugural ‘Dixies’, made a similar intervention with a robust run, too, from midfield but the 18-year-old’s cameo came with the added flourish of a left-footed strike that forced another fine save out of Gomes diving to his left and pushing the ball away with his right hand at the expense of a corner.
The visitors threatened only sporadically. Jose Holebas fired in a good cross from the left which Adrian Mariappa met with a header he could only direct over the crossbar.
Everton did come close to finishing the first half in stirring fashion with good build-up play between Gana and Davies especially, but the final ball to Lukaku had just too much pace and the Belgian striker was unable to bring it under control on the edge of the Watford penalty area.
Davies dropped to right back when Mason Holgate was substituted at half-time and Enner Valencia came on in his place, the Ecuadorian international making his way quickly into the half to the byline and forcing another fine stop at point-blank range out of Gomes. Kevin Mirallas, having signed his new three-year deal a couple of hours prior to kick-off, put in a good cross from the right, Gomes punched clear and Schneiderlin, from 25 yards, was unable to keep his shot low enough to breach the Watford goal.
The visitors responded again with a display of strength on the left by Daryl Janmaat whose low cross was met by Troy Deeney with a shot that flashed wide of Robles’ right hand post, much to the Spaniard’s relief, along with the Everton supporters in the Sir Philip Carter Park End.
Then Barkley made his telling contribution. Jagielka met a Watford clearance and played the ball through to the Academy graduate, who had time and space before picking his spot in the 56th minute, with Gomes unable to conjure up any more heroics to deny the Blues.
Schneiderlin almost made it two with a near-post header from a Baines corner which landed on the roof of the Watford net. Valencia, too, almost fashioned something further with a ripping cross from the right, which Mariappa directed out at the expense of another corner.
Barkley came off to a standing ovation, with Gareth Barry replacing the matchwinner, and minutes later Arouna Kone was introduced for Mirallas, a farewell Goodison appearance for the Ivorian after it was announced his contract would not be renewed in the summer. But it was Watford who almost spoiled the occasion as Okaka was only denied a sure-fire equaliser by an excellent stop by Robles. Two vital blocks from Gareth Barry also secured the three points, although Valencia was only denied adding to the scoreline by another good Gomes save.
Everton's supremacy, however, was beyond dispute. The expectation next season will be for the away form to be much more in line with the home.