Aston Villa 1 Everton 3 – Everton continue impressive
David Moyes was noticeably and uncharacteristically high-spirited when Everton completed the signing of Steven Naismith last month, clearly believing the former Rangers midfielder could seriously improve his side’s chances of qualifying for Europe.
On this evidence, the question may be which European competition he had in mind. Everton were so much better than Villa it was almost embarrassing, with Naismith, together with Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic, a major influence before his substitution.
“At times it was as good as I’ve seen us play,” Moyes said, before voicing his customary note of caution.
“If you win two games it gets you off to a good start, but we need to be judged after 10. I don’t feel it’s the strongest squad I’ve had in my time at Everton, because we haven’t really got any injuries at present, so I’ve got a little bit of cover in some places, but the numbers are down.
“But the flexibility of the squad gives me a little bit of hope. I can play Naismith and Fellaini and Osman in a few positions, [Kevin] Mirallas too, so we can cover things, but if we lost any numbers we’d be struggling. I’d like to add to the squad if I can.”
If he can strengthen his squad this week, who knows how long Everton can sustain a challenge to the dominance of the usual quartet. One thing is for sure: on this evidence, Sir Alex Ferguson’s dismissal of them after Manchester United’s Goodison defeat as a long-ball side (“No, I don’t think so,” said Moyes) is no more than the sour grapes it appeared to be. On a beautiful Villa Park pitch, some of Everton’s passing and movement was outstanding and it would not have flattered them to have won by five or six.
The thunder that rumbled stagily around the ground before kick-off added a touch of drama to the occasion of Paul Lambert’s first home game as Villa manager and, clearly unimpressed by the lack of creativity shown in their opening defeat at West Ham, the Scot made three changes to his starting lineup. Stephen Ireland, Fabian Delph and Brett Holman made way for Chris Herd, Barry Bannan and Nathan Delfouneso, with the latter partnering Darren Bent up front.
In the only change to the Everton team that beat United 1-0 last Monday, Naismith came in for Tony Hibbert, with Phil Neville dropping back from midfield to right-back. Mirallas, the £5.3m signing from Olympiakos, was deemed fit enough to take a place on the bench.
Those apparently amazed by that opening win seem to have forgotten that in the past five seasons Moyes’s side have finished seventh, eighth, fifth, fifth and sixth, and they made an excellent start here. A move of perhaps 15 passes concluded with Pienaar exchanging passes with Naismith and curling a fine first-time shot beyond the Villa goalkeeper, Shay Given, from around 20 yards.
The fact that Villa had failed to score in five of their previous seven Premier League matches, and only once in the other two, can only have added to the visitors’ confidence. They certainly carried by far the greater threat, with Fellaini, Pienaar and Naismith combining to impressive effect behind Jelavic, and it was no surprise when Fellaini headed a Phil Jagielka cross through rather than past Given to double their lead. The attempt to save was inept at best, but the Irish goalkeeper was hardly the only Villa player struggling.
As was demonstrated in the minute before half-time. Leighton Baines, for perhaps the 10th time, found space down the left, looked up and cut the ball back for Jelavic to shoot firmly beyond Given, for the Croat’s eighth goal in eight league games.
Matters did not improve for the home team after the break when Ciaran Clark was sent off for the gentlest of tugs on Jelavic as he ran clear. It appeared to make little difference as far as Villa had been concerned, the match having long since become one of damage limitation, but with 15 minutes remaining a speculative 25-yard effort from Karim El Ahmadi swerved sufficiently to beat Tim Howard and give the scoreline an entirely misleading respectability.
It would have been even more misleading had Andreas Weimann’s 89th-minute shot not come back off the post, and Lambert acknowledged as much. “I’m disappointed, but it’s not about me and never will be, it’s about the players and fans. I’m sure myself and Randy [Lerner, owner of the club] will sit down and talk about what’s going to happen.”
New signings appear to be imperative if Villa are to avoid a relegation battle, though Lambert is entitled to take a certain amount of encouragement from the final 20 minutes. – Guardian (UK)