Everton defender Leighton Baines reflects on the club’s start to the season, and their hopes of climbing the Premier League table, in a guest column for ESPN FC.
I have been involved in the game for long enough to know that any win in the Premier League is special, but it’s fair to say our dramatic 3-2 comeback victory against Watford on Sunday had extra significance; not just because of the manner in which it was achieved but also for what it could mean for our season.
Having started the day in the bottom three, we went into the game knowing we were under huge pressure to get a positive result to bring to an end a run of five successive defeats in all competitions.
With 23 minutes remaining, we were trailing 2-0 and facing the prospect of another setback. Enter Oumar Niasse, who showed great predatory instincts to pull a goal back, and that proved to be the catalyst for a remarkable turnaround in our fortunes and, hopefully, our season.
Another goal from Dominic Calvert-Lewin — his first in the Premier League — drew us level. Then a foul on Aaron Lennon led to the referee awarding a penalty, which provided us with the chance to complete the comeback.
It was a big moment and, as the team’s designated penalty taker, I had the responsibility of stepping up to the spot. I had an understanding of the situation I was in. Obviously, it was late in the game and one of the last chances we would have to win the match.
There was a bit of a wait to take the penalty and when you find yourself in that situation, you have to keep your composure. I knew where I was going to go with the penalty. I knew I might score, but I also knew there was a possibility I might not.
I blocked those thoughts out of my mind as I stepped up and when I saw the ball hit the back of the net, it was a massive relief.
However, my heart then sank when, deep into stoppage time, we conceded a penalty at the other end. Thankfully from our perspective and unfortunately for Tom Cleverley, he shot wide and we finally had that bit of luck our efforts deserved. To get the three points was huge for us, and it made it extra special that we were able to get a win for David Unsworth. “Unsy” has been top drawer since taking over as caretaker manager. I have loved the training sessions he has put on, and the way he has conducted himself.
He is a true Evertonian, with a deep passion for the club and his team talk before the Watford game was special. We were bitterly disappointed not to have achieved better results from his first three games in charge, so to finally get that win on the board for him felt great. It was the least he deserved.
That victory eased the pressure on all of us. It was a long time coming and it has been nice to be able to enjoy a winning feeling again over the last few days. However, we are under no illusions about what has gone before, and the situation we still find ourselves in. We know it’s not good enough for a club of Everton’s stature and, as a squad of players, we are determined to put things right.
We have good players here, players who are much better than the league table and our performances suggest. It’s important we use the Watford result as a momentum builder; the character, fight and passion we showed to come back gives us something to build on and we are using this international break as an opportunity to regroup.
With many of our first-team squad away with their countries, it makes it difficult for the manager and his coaching staff to work on things because there are so few people around. But that’s what we will be doing over the next week or so — looking to improve small things, either tactically or fitness-wise.
Due to our involvement in the Europa League, we have spent the last few months travelling around and playing lots of football, so this is a chance to take stock.
When the Premier League resumes next weekend, the schedule will only become more hectic as we go into Christmas and the New Year, with lots of football set to be played over a short period of time.
It’s a demanding period but, hopefully by the end of it, we will be able to look back on the Watford win as a turning point in our season.