Alex McLesih handed a debut to right back Alan Hutton despite a man of the match display from youngster Chris Herd last week and also handed a start to Darren Bent who managed to recover from a groin problem. Jermaine Jenas was surprisingly omitted from the entire squad, later revealed to have picked up a thigh strain, meaning Fabian Delph kept his place alongside Stiliyan Petrov in midfield.
Right from the first whistle Everton, void of any natural striker in the side, dominated possession. Emile Heskey was forced off early on which may have proved to be blessing in disguise, allowing Barry Bannan much of the game to prove his credentials. Despite this encouraging move Villa conceded just minutes after the change when Tim Cahill, who had seemingly poached the ball off Leon Osman’s toe, made a reverse pass to his teammate to slot home the opener, just as he did last season.
Reoccurrences were to prove a factor in the match but we’ll get to that later. Everton continued to dominate for the entirety of the first half despite failing to create any more clear cut chances. The eager Bannan hit a long drive on target which proved to be Villa’s only attempt of the opening period. Osman had another effort well saved by Given after a decent turn and shot from the edge of the box while Villa looked short in more ways than one, including the most literal sense of the word.
Marouane Fellaini was using his considerable height and hair advantage to boss the midfield with the diminutive figures of Delph and Bannan struggling to deal with his physicality. Meanwhile the threat of the returning Seamus Coleman and ever impressive Leighton Baines were proving advantageous for the home side, with Warnock and newcomer Hutton having tricky games on either flank.
The second half starting in the same vain with Villa struggling to get a foothold until around the hour mark, when the game started to become a far closer contest. Everton should have effectively had the chance to wrap up the points when a clumsy tackle from Bannan who had been easily beaten by Baines saw the little Scot get away with one in what seemed a pretty blatant foul.
The lucky escape somewhat sparked Villa into life and it took a moment of magic to get the visitors back in the game and it came from the unlikeliest of sources. When Stephen Warnock squared the ball to Stiliyan Petrov outside the box I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who pictured the Bulgarian dragging an effort wide of the mark. Instead the captain curled in an absolute beauty to level proceedings and finally give the travelling Villa fans something to cheer.
Their joy wasn’t to last long, in fact a mere 6 minutes past before a rush of blood to the head saw Fabian Delph give away a quite ridiculous penalty. A Baines corner was met by Cahill, (who else) whose header was expertly saved by Given from point blank range bringing a scramble in the box. Fabian Delph, knowing he had little chance of beating Phil Jagielka to a header, rose about 10 seconds too early and subsequently felled the defender with the players falling to the ground before the ball did. The resulting penalty was stroked home by Baines, who notched Everton’s second from the spot in last year’s fixture.
Albrighton was introduced for an unhappy but admittedly uninvolved Charles N’Zogbia before Ireland replaced an equally frustrated Delph, this time due to his earlier misdemeanour. The former substitute proved to be a decisive one, with Albrighton delivering an inch perfect cross to the previously quiet Agbonlahor to head home from six-yards.
Everton still had a chance to grab all 3 points when Hutton’s tame backwards header was collected by substitute Velios who did well to round the onrushing Given but could only slide the ball wide of the post.
Overall one can only be pleased that we have shown the fight to pick up points from losing positions rather than throw away winning ones as we did on so many occasions last term. However, the quality of football from Villa was a concern, with the passing in particular failing to impress. In fact Villa reached their target with just 67% of their attempted passes which was significantly down on their previous displays. The hosts 15 shots to Villa’s 7 also tells a story so there is work to be done but a point away at Everton is decent nonetheless and ensures Villa’s ongoing unbeaten run.
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