There were thoughts from some that David Moyes might deliberately play a weakened team with one eye on the semi-final against Man Utd at Wembley next weekend... but no such cowardly nonsense from David Moyes, thank goodness. A full-blooded line-up, the strongest he could name (injuries notwithstanding) took the field. A bright start from both teams, looking to go forward and pressing for the first advantage. Villa started to edge it with more corners and a free-kick but Howard was not tested as the Everton defence stood firm.
A pretty nice half-volley from Neville on 15 mins tested Brad Friedel off an Everton corner, but was rising and would probably have smacked the bar. But some excellent close control from Jo and Baines led to the simplest of tap-ins for Fellaini — just the start we needed! Pienaar then drilled one just wide after more great play on the deck. And then Jô set up Cahill who didn't really connect and shot weakly. Fantastic football from the Blues!
From the corner, Fellaini and Cahill piled in strongly, Cahill with a little shove on a defender while Jagielka successfully baulked Friedel, the ball coming off Cahill's shoulder and hitting the bar, Tiger Tim getting a much cleaner contact on the rebound to head home firmly, for a brilliant second inside 25 mins.
Hibbert was somewhat harshly booked by Howard Webb, for leaning on Ashley Young as Villa looked stung and searched to produce a response. After Baines scampered forward and Pienaar should have done far better, the ball was back down the other end and a good delivery evaded Howard's grasp, for a rapid mix of pressure balls in the Everton area that left Blues defenders ball-watching. And that let Villa back in, Carew hammering the ball home from close range as all Howard could do was stay rooted to his line.
Another fantastic move — Jo, Fellaini, Pienaar, Baines, Cahill, Osman — was easily worth a third but it was blocked away for a corner that came to nothing, while at the other end, Villa were giving it back at a nervy looking Everton defe4nce as they searched for the equalizer in pulsating flowing open game featuring some great football from both sides..
Hibbert, who had really met his match in Ashley Young, fouled the feisty Villa winger again just before the break, and must have been close to a second yellow.
After the break, and Hibbert was again stripped by Young but put enough pressure on him, although the Villains were screaming for a penalty... and the same again minutes later when Young looked to have tumbled over Hilbert's outstretched leg. But Webb rejected both claims... however, the danger signs were clear that Villa were set to maintain the momentum they had gained before the break.
Everton were given a dangerous free kicked but failed to do anything with it, and from a similar situation for Villa at the other end, Young could only screw his free-kick over the wall an bar. Nice play again from Everton, and some brilliant work form Jô on the left, say Pienaar gather, step up, and fire in an unstoppable shot wide of Friedel... 3-1!!!
But seconds later, a free kick given away when Cahill impeded Barry was absolutely nailed by Milner, who curled it around the Everton wall and just inside Howard's post... 3-2! What a game...
Villa attacked again, and Osman saved a clear goal with a controlled block as the corners rained in on the Everton defense. Villa were pumped and Everton could do little in response but hoof the ball away with desperation. Hibbert was now getting skinned continuously and it seemed a very sensible move by Moyes to replace him,... but not until after frenetic stuff off a brace of Everton corners.
A high kick from Lescott that caught Petrov on the head was awarded a penalty for Villa that Barry powered home... 3-3!!! Despite Pienaar's brilliant strike, it had really been all Villa since before the break... Everton "guilty" of scoring their goals too early, and it was perhaps that which galvanized Villa to such an emphatic comeback.
Jacobsen did well to shackle Young as Villa showed no sign of easing up. Everton tried to get back into it, but were not getting the run of the ball. And Young again ran at the Everton defence, dubiously winning another dangerous free-kick and getting Neville booked. The free-kick blocked away, Young and Jacobsen tousled at the flag, Young dragging Jacobsen to the floor but getting away with it, and Pienaar then fouling him for another dangerous free-kick that was delivered well by Young to the far post
Saha came on for Jô. who is cup-tied next week, as Everton tended to forget the good football they had played earlier and resorted to the aimless hoof instead of measured build-up play, and nearly paid the price when Carew fired one just wide.
Four minutes of added time was not enough for either side to find a winner, but Villa had really piled it on the second half, and stolen a result that Everton had not really earnt because they had failed to use the ball effectively when in possession. How often has that been our downfall this season?
Some simply excellent fast skillful, cut& thrust joined-up footy when we put our mind to it. But we were outfought in the second half when Villa's sheer determination and self-belief was noticeably better than ours. Understandable in front of a raucous home crowd, perhaps... but we needed to win this one — we had done enough to win this one.... but we didn't.
Ah well.. Wembley next week and more of that first half verve and swagger, please. But they MUST make it last the whole game!
When Everton and Aston Villa have met this season, it's meant one thing — entertainment, and the two teams battling it out for fifth place delivered it in spades again as the Blues twice surrendered a two-goal advantage and had to settle for a point after a stirring Villa fightback.
On the face of it, Villa might count themselves as fortunate that the equaliser that made it 3-3 in the 66th minute came from a debatable penalty but few could argue that their efforts after half time didn't deserve a point and the home fans would say that Howard Webb's decision to award a penalty when Joleon Lescott accidentally caught Stilian Petrov with a high boot perhaps canceled out a first-half trip by Tony Hibbert on Ashley Young that went unpunished.
Everton, of course, will look at the fact that they let three points slip from a relatively commanding position but they were simply unable to resist Villa's determined efforts in the second half. Credit, therefore, must go to Martin O'Neill's side who, after nine games without a win and three consecutive defeats, could have been forgiven for wilting in the face of the Blues' early penetration.
David Moyes fielded an unchanged line-up from the side that had beaten Wigan Athletic so handsomely last week and they made an encouraging start against the side lying a point and a place above them in the table at the start of play. Arsenal's own demolition of Wigan yesterday had put dreams of Champions League qualification that bit further out both Everton and Villa's reach so this was very much a tussle between two clubs looking to finish "best of the rest".
While it was the home side who forced the first corner of the game after seven minutes, an opportunity that came to nothing while Young wasted a free kick from a dangerous position, Everton looked the more composed in the early going, eschewing the long-ball approach that had characterised their recent performances away from home in favour of a more patient passing game.
Osman had a shot blocked after 14 minutes before Jô won a dubious corner on the left that would eventually come out to Phil Neville and he forced the first save of the game from Friedel, the American pushing his piledriver from 20-odd yards over the bar.
If that was the first shot across the bow, the first direct hit came three minutes later and was the culmination of a superb move. Jô collected a pass inside the box and looked to have no options with three claret shirts between him and the goal. Some wonderful footwork by Jô, though, opened up some space and he laid it off to the left where Leighton Baines slid a perfect ball across goal to the back post and Marouane Fellaini was on hand to tap home with Friedel stranded.
Barely two minutes later, Steven Pienaar cut inside and fired a whisker wide while, at the other end, James Milner stung the palms of Tim Howard with a fierce drive as Villa responded.
Four minutes after the first goal, though, Everton had doubled their lead. Tim Cahill, deployed again in central midfield to mixed effect, robbed Gareth Barry in the middle of the park and played a one-two with Jô on the counter and Friedel palmed his low shot from the angle behind for a corner. The resulting corner by Baines was met by Cahill in his inimitable style and when ricocheted off the crossbar, the Australian nodded the rebound into the empty net.
Villa were rocking and the home faithful were no doubt fearful of another in a line of defeats that has seen the Midlanders tumble out of top-four contention in recent weeks. But, as they showed in the reverse fixture at Goodison, they're a team that refuses to lie down and die and they stepped up their display in an effort to get back in the game.
Not surprisingly, they channeled most of their forays forward through Young — Everton's nemesis in December — and he started tying Tony Hibbert in knots down the Villa left. In the 28th minutes, the fullback was harshly booked for an innoncuous tackle by the touchline, but the Villans first goal was to come from the opposite flank five minutes after that.
Milner crossed from the right catching Howard in no-man's land as the 'keeper first elected to come for it and then decided against it while the ball floated to the back post. Agbonlahor knocked it back across goal, Barry touched it on to John Carew and he lashed it in off Lescott on the goalline.
2-1 and the Blues's top priorithy became getting to the interval without conceding another goal as Villa maintained the pressure on the visitors' goal, bombarding Howard with a succession of crosses and corners that often found the USA international wanting. To be blunt, he was having a nightmare when it came to the aerial command of his area but his goal did remain unbreached until half time.
Indeed, it was Everton who still carried the greater threat from open play and another wonderful move after 42 minutes almost resulted in a third goal. Pienaar cut inside from the left again, Osman flicked his pass on to Cahill but instead of shooting, the midfielder laid it on again to Jô but his cross-cum-shot from the right was blocked.
Not surprisingly, Villa came out of the half-time break in determined mood and they had two penalty claims, both for tackles by Hibbert on Young, within three minutes of the restart. The first was a tussle between the two that was rightly flagged as a goal kick; the second was a little less clear cut as Hibbert appeared to trip the winger as he turned towards the goalline but on both occasions referee Webb waved play on.
And after 54 minutes the game took on a similar compexion to that of the FA Cup 5th Round tie which the Blues won 3-1 in February. A succession of passes that made up another patient Everton build up eventually led to Pienaar picking up the ball on the left whereupon he once again cut inside before whipping an unstoppable shot past the static Friedel from just outside the box. The away fans went ballistic and a first away win since Boxing Day was withing touching distance if the Blues' famous defensive resilience could hold.
Unfortunately, Moyes's boys were still celebrating when Cahill was adjudged to have tugged an opposition shirt just outside his own box setting up a direct free kick opportunity for Milner and the ex-Newcastle man duly stepped up to smash the ball past Howard and make it 3-2.
The psychological pendulum had again swung decisively in Villa's favour and this was reflected in the possession statistics which were heavily weighted towards the home side. Everton started giving the ball away too cheaply and were caught in possession with increasing regularity, and after Osman had blocked a Carew header with his chest on his own six-yard box to deny one chance and Hibbert had been withdrawn for his own protection in favour of Lars Jacobsen, they succumbed to the pressure with 24 to go.
In his attempts to clear in his own box, Lescott swung a boot at a bouncing ball but caught Petrov on the side of his head instead as the Bulgarian put himself in harm's way and the referee pointed the spot. Barry assumed the responsibilty for the spot kick and drilled the ball straight down the middle to cap Villa's fightback.
As if to suggest that they'd exhausted each other in the preceding hour and a bit, neither side really looked like grabbing the winner in the closing stages, but Villa came the closer to scoring a decisive fourth. Moyes threw Louis Saha on for Jô in the 81st minute and he had one first-time effort that cleared the bar by a yard while Nathan Delfouneso forced an injury-time save from Howard.
All in all, a point was probably fair, though Everton will feel simultaneously disappointed at letting such a precious advantage slip and aggrieved at the manner in which Villa grabbed their equaliser. Certainly Moyes felt hard done by the penalty award and after seeing a number of decisions that fell in the realm of "that would have been a foul anywhere else on the pitch" not go his way in recent weeks, you can see his point of view on what was accidental contact by Lescott on Petrov.
Importantly, though, the Blues scored three goals, away from home, and against a top-five team. That can only bode well for next weekend's clash with Manchester United at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final, though the manager will have some concerns over the fallibility shown by Hibbert, a player normally so dependable and one who will need to be at the top of his game against the likes of Ronaldo, Rooney and Giggs.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2008-09 Reports Index|
|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Other media reports|
|4 the Game||Report|
|ASTON VILLA (4-4-2)|
|Agbonlahor (53' Delfouneso)|
|Subs not used|
|Hibbert : (64' Jacobsen)|
|Jô (80' Saha)|
|Subs not used|
|Van der Meyde|
|Premier League Scores|
|Saturday 11 April 2009|
|Sunday 12 April 2009|