Everton missed a golden chance to move into 4th place on Saturday as they struggled to a draw against Aston Villa. Despite a good comeback and the notable achievement of rescuing a point from being 3-1 down in the 60th minute, the match will feel like an opportunity missed for Moyes and the fans alike.
The match began with an all too familiar story as the blues conceded early. Karim El Ahmadi snatched the ball from Pienaar’s feet just inside the Villa half and layed it off to a revitalized Charles N’Zogbia. The Frenchman went on a jinking run which beat two players and dragged Distin wide before slotting the ball through to Benteke. Villa’s Belgian striker sprinted past the hapless Johnny Heitinga with ease and slotted the ball home with a well placed finish. Being one nil down in the first couple of minutes is a sinkingly familiar feeling to Evertonians this season, but few in the stadium will have panicked knowing that the only side who have salvaged more points from a losing position this season are the league leaders, Manchester United.
Sure enough, after the goal, the team rallied and began to impose themselves on the game, with Pienaar and Baines linking up and Mirallas causing problems. The epitome of Everton’s fighting spirit was, however, the improving figure of Victor Anichebe. The Scouse-Nigerian was involved early in the move, holding up a ball from Fellaini just past the halfway line and laying it off neatly to Osman who found MIrallas on the left flank. The Belgian cut inside and ran past two players, shaping up for what looked to be an ineffectual shot before firing a swift pass to the feet of Anichebe on the edge of the area. Anichebe had the beating of Ciaran Clark all afternoon, and showed the strength to roll the Villa defender and fire across the goalkeeper into the net in a goal that had shades of Didier Drogba.
Anichebe fires home the equaliser.
Unfortunately the parity didn’t last for long. Benteke played the offside game to perfection after the restart, and a long ball over the top saw him sprint past Heitinga, who in a rare redeeming moment got back to tip the ball behing for a corner. Nevertheless Villa still got their goal, with the initial corner being cleared N’Zogbia fired in a cross from the right which found Agbonlahor (never a man to shy away from a goal against Everton). The striker-cum-winger somehow found space despite being surrounded by blue shirts and headed in.
After this the game descended into something of a midfield battle, with Villa fighting tenaciously and Everton dominating possession. Lambert’s side weren’t shy of lunging in, and in a game where Everton managed 22 shots on goal to Villa’s 8, the Brummies managed 23 fouls to our 6.
Hope looked lost in the second half as Villa moved 3-1 ahead. Benteke got goalside of Heitinga and met Matthew Lowton’s wonderful whipped cross with his head, leaving Howard with no chance.
Benteke dives to head in Villa’s 3rd
Everton are nothing if not determined, though, and Moyes’ men fought hard to claw back a point. Anichebe was again involved in Everton’s second goal, exchanging passes with Fellaini to allow the hirsute Belgian into the penalty area where he curled the ball low into the far corner (courtesy of a slight deflection). Jelavic could have equalised earlier, but his shot struck the ground and Brad Guzan was able to adjust to make the save. Finally the recovery was completed by Fellaini as Baines (couldn’t go a game without him being involved could we?) whipped in a 93rd minute corner which Fellaini cushioned between the defender on the line and the goalkeeper. Cue the madness.
Fellaini rises to nod in the third in dramatic fashion
Nevertheless, on a day where Chelsea and Swansea lost with Spurs and Liverpool facing tough games on Sunday, it feels like two points dropped. With Everton now facing a tougher run of games this feels like one of the ones we’ll look back on with regret at the end of the season thinking ‘if only we’d had two points more…’
Moyes has received criticism post-match for choosing to play Heitinga in central defence, but may have had his hands tied to a certain extent. With pace ubiquitous in a Villa attacking line which consisted of Benteke, Weiman, N’Zogbia and Agbonlahor, Everton were always going to struggle when Villa broke. Seeing Benteke, arguably the slowest of the four, leave Heitinga for dead on numerous occasions shows that he and Neville would both have struggled at right back.
Unfortunately the move backfired, with Villa playing cleverly and using Weiman to draw Distin out of position and leave Heitinga one-on-one with Benteke, who proved to have the beating of him in every respect. The Dutch international had a shocking game, and to his credit owned up to this afterwards, tweeting ‘Played worst game ever in the shirt of #Everton. Let teammates and fans down but they never let me down. Will work hard to come back strong’. Whether we’re likely to see an improvement in his commitment on the pitch remains to be seen, however.
Edd’s MotM: Victor Anichebe