While the world watched Manchester United and Chelsea to cap off a thrilling Super Sunday in the Premier League, it might just have missed the most absurd game of the 2017-18 season.
A 100-plus-minute journey, which at two separate points had promised to be either new low or turning point for Everton Football Club, arrived at a climax when Tom Cleverley stepped to the penalty spot. The game clock ticked to triple digits, and Cleverley, a former Toffee, had the chance to bring Watford level at 3-3 with the game’s sixth second-half goal. He hopped, strode toward the ball, aimed for Jordan Pickford’s right-hand post, and …
Relief. Not for Cleverley. For Everton. For the club that had been mired in a lengthy rut, exacerbated by £140 million of summer spending and unreasonable expectations. It had fired its manager, hadn’t improved, had crashed out of the Europa League, and had sunk into the relegation zone.
Everton desperately needed a reprieve, and it got it. But Cleverley’s miss was only a fraction of the story.
Richarlison, who would later win the penalty, opened the scoring 30 seconds into what would become a madcap second half.
The Hornets, who, in contrast to Everton, have been one of the surprise packages at the right end of the table, then took a 2-0 lead. Had it held, it would have propelled them to 18 points, one off fourth place. Defender Christian Kabasele got the second goal on a corner:
Everton very easily could have hung its heads. And some players did after Kabasele’s header flew past Pickford. But minutes later, the comeback began.
Oumar Niasse, who is a comeback story in and of himself, chopped Watford’s lead in half:
Seven minutes later, Everton was level. Young striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, protective mask and all, rose highest at the back post:
Then, with one minute of normal time remaining, Aaron Lennon scampered his way into the penalty area. Watford defender Jose Holebas skidded on the turf, inadvertently lost his feet, and brought Lennon down. Leighton Baines completed the wild comeback by sneaking his penalty past backup keeper Orestis Karnezis – moments after the fourth official had held up his board to signal 12 minutes of added time.
Twelve minutes were added because starting Watford keeper Heurelho Gomes had to received extensive on-field treatment with the score at 1-0. He eventually had to depart the game. Karnezis conceded three in his stead.
Cleverley could have written a different ending more than 10 minutes later, but dragged his penalty wide of the post. Moments earlier, he had won a brief dispute for spot-kick duties with Richarlison, who had won the penalty.
It was a deflating loss for Watford, but would have been an even more deflating draw for Everton, had Cleverley converted. A point would have been a continuation of an underwhelming start. Three are something to build on. And they are a signal to the club’s not-yet-named new manager – whether it’s caretaker boss David Unsworth or somebody else – that these Toffees are resilient.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.