Manager Claudio Ranieri was blown away as his Watford side scored four goals in 12 minutes to come from behind and win 5-2 at Everton.
The Hornets’ maiden victory at Goodison Park – and Ranieri’s first in charge of the club – came in stunning fashion as Joshua King scored a hat-trick on his return to Everton, where he played 11 times without a goal last season before leaving on a free transfer in the summer.
Last week, Ranieri’s reign began with a 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool but the mood could not have been more different here as Everton capitulated to leave Watford celebrating in front of their jubilant travelling supporters.
Ranieri said: “It was important to show the character, the strength, and to react to the result. We were playing well but suddenly we score in nine minutes three times – it was amazing.”
King, missing last week through injury, was the spark.
He replied to Tom Davies’ third-minute strike early in the first half, had chances to put Watford in front and then, after Juraj Kucka cancelled out Richarlison’s header, applied the killer blows before Emmanuel Dennis finished things off.
Ranieri added: “I’m very, very happy because last week I didn’t have Josh King and today I had Josh King.
“King made a fantastic match, not only because he scored a hat-trick, but because he held the ball up, he won all the duels, he was fantastic in every action.”
Watford fans will hope this result is the start of something under Ranieri, whose first challenge this week had been to lift the heads of his players after the Liverpool rout.
“I just spoke with my heart and said ‘It’s OK, it could happen’,” Ranieri said of his message this week.
“When Atletico Madrid lost 3-2 against Liverpool (in the Champions League on Tuesday), I talked to my players and said ‘For me, Atletico Madrid is one of the best teams in the world (defensively) so if they can concede three to Liverpool, Watford can concede five’.
“But after this we have to fight for every duel, for every ball and second ball and I’m very, very pleased with our performance.”
While Ranieri celebrated, his old friend Rafael Benitez was left to wonder where it all went wrong.
With 15 minutes to play his side were on course to end the day fourth in the Premier League but by full time, Goodison was half-empty and those left were directing their scorn at the manager.
The Spaniard said: “I’m really disappointed. We score the goal, we are ahead, and then we make mistake after mistake and concede too many goals in a few minutes because we couldn’t manage a situation that was in our favour with the second goal.”
Richarlison came on as a substitute on the hour mark, his first appearance after six weeks out with a knee injury, and needed only three minutes to head his side in front.
But once Everton lost their lead they lost their way entirely, with the last two Watford goals making for embarrassing watching for Everton’s defence.
“Richarlison came on the pitch, scored the goal, and the fans were behind the team and everything was positive,” Benitez said.
“Then we start making mistakes and we give them the chance to have a corner that we could do better with and we didn’t defend well the corner.
“After that the counter-attacks, every time they regained the ball in a bad position and it gave them more hope and belief and more confidence.
“I understand the frustration of the fans. We have to make sure we show something in every game, more character, more personality. We have to manage difficult situations.”