Walter Mazzarri hails Stefano Okaka after Watford rally to hold off Everton

After being outplayed on the pitch, the Dutchman failed to cover himself in glory after the match either. Rightly furious at his team letting a 1-0 lead become a 3-1 deficit before Romelu Lukaku’s second restored a sheen of credibility, he described his team as “reactive, not proactive”. But he also saw fit to criticise, more than once, his opponents’ style of play.

Walter Mazzarri smiled when he heard that the Dutchman had described his team as “direct and aggressive”. Yes, his side had scored twice from set pieces, and yes the move that led to their opening goal had begun with a long ball from the back. But Mazzarri knew what had happened on the pitch, and Watford had been better in every department.

“Each person has his opinion, luckily we all have eyes to see,” the Italian said through his interpreter. “I think you have all seen who played better today, who played good football. Every person has an opinion, but I don’t agree with him.”


Watford’s star performer was Stefano Okaka. The striker arrived from Anderlecht in the summer for an undisclosed fee but his season has been disrupted by injury. This was only his second start of the season, his first came last week, but he looked anything but rusty as he pirouetted to score Watford’s equaliser in the 36th minute.

After Sebastian Prödl gave Watford the lead with a towering header in the 59th minute, Okaka produced one of his own four minutes later. He lost his marker to meet José Holebas’s corner at the near post and flick the ball past Maarten Stekelenburg. The Italian was withdrawn late on to a standing ovation.

“I’ve known him since he was very young and playing for Roma, he’s a great talent,” said Mazzari, who gave the striker a bear hug after his opening goal. “We had the opportunity to sign him in the summer and we took it. He is perfect for the Premier League because he doesn’t only help himself but helps his team-mates to play well and score.”

Where Everton would have been without their own two-goal striker is anyone’s guess. Lukaku opened the scoring when he coolly finished off Gareth Barry’s wonderful long ball, ironically Everton’s best pass of the game. The Belgian closed it out with a surefire header from the substitute Aaron Lennon’s cross. In between times, however, he was largely marooned, waiting hopefully for crosses that rarely came.

After criticising Ross Barkley’s lack of productivity during the week, Koeman once again left the England international on the bench. His replacement, James McCarthy, looked entirely at sea in a nominal No10 role. Gerard Deulofeu tried hard on the right-hand side, while Kevin Mirallas was anonymous on the left. And these are the players who apparently make Everton more of a footballing side than their opponents.

“The Premier League is not always about football qualities, it’s about physicality, about second balls and in that respect the team is too weak,” Koeman said. “We have too much to do when teams like this play direct and aggressive.

“We have different players, different qualities but in that aspect we have to improve and do better. You can’t change that in two weeks. You need January, you need the summer to change what you need as a team. We need a better balance.”

Everton had a late penalty appeal when Miguel Britos manhandled the substitute Enner Valencia to prevent him jumping for a cross but Watford now sit in the top half of the table, with Mazzarri about to get his first experience of the Premier League Christmas period. “In Italy we don’t have games so close at Christmas but I’m not worried about it,” Mazzarri said. “All I’m worried about is that my squad is not fully fit. If we had the complete squad I’d be very happy.”

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