Aston Villa 1 -3 Everton
On the back of a rocking good night at Goodison on Monday, it was a trip out to the home of the Villa, a ground where we have not had that much success in past seasons but today we believed... On seeing the Villa line-up, my thought was: if we can’t beat these after the Man Utd display, we would need locking up.
As it turned out, it was a game of one half, the first, where we built a three-goal lead, then a second where we did ok but without that fight ‘n’ bite we showed in the first half. Even with the hosts going down to ten men, we still afforded them a consolation goal.
The Villa fans gave their heroes a quite rousing welcome as they entered the arena; then our captain Neville upset the apple cart by winning the toss and electing to turn the players around so that each team played toward their own fans in the first rather than the second half. I don’t know what he knew but it could not have been better for the travelling 2,000-odd Blues.
We started fast with intent and with just 3 mins on the clock, we put together some joined-up stuff that culminated in our new boy Naismith planting the ball perfectly into the path of Pienaar some 20-odd yards out. He smashed a great curler into the top corner leaving Given helpless. "Pick that out" came to mind as celebrations were joyous. Scoring after just 3 mins doesn’t lend itself to parking the bus so we didn’t.
We continued to completely out-play Villa and threatened more or less each time we came forward. Baines hit a beauty over the top and picked out a Jelavic run and his header only just missed. The Croat then got his head to a Baines corner and glanced it just over. This was good stuff and the players seemed to be enjoying it as much as the fans. Gibson was quietly orchestrating and stitching together moves and still found time to hit a screamer just over the bar.
After some 25 mins of Everton dominance, Villa did rally a bit and had some foray’s foreword without causing our rearguard much trouble. On the half-hour mark, another joined-up move started from the back by Jags who ran foreword and found Gibson, Jags carried on the run and Gibson deftly returned the ball to him, Jags crossed like a seasoned winger and found the head of our man of the moment Fellaini who headed into the deck and up toward Given. This produced an odd sight as Given seemed to get out of the way of the ball and allow it free passage into the net. A howler but who cared as the Blue throng celebrated yet again.
This really put Villa on the back-foot and looking quite despondent as they allowed our captain to venture forward but alas he showed he was no Hibbert when it comes to shooting as his effort was ‘high, wide and handsome’. We still clapped.
The clock was ticking down to half-time and we seemed to be moving forward with menace at will and with nous as we passed and probed. Just before the break, Baines finished off a nice bout of passing by whipping one across the box and found Jelavic who with one assured swing of the leg, his boot made first time contact, the net bulged with the keeper nowhere... 3 - 0, game over and party time.
At the end of the half, any late-comer could have been forgiven for thinking it was the final whistle such had been the singing, chanting and merriment from the travelling hoards. All the songs you know and love plus an ear-splitting rendition of ‘There’s only one Kevin Sheedy’, and so the half ended.
The humour and chat was of a light-hearted nature with most wondering when we would see our new Belgian.
No changes as we started the second half much the same as we started the first — on top. Pienaar set up both Jelavic and Naismith and on both occasions their shots were blocked.
On the hour-mark, a through ball saw Jelavic hare down the middle only to be halted by a trip by Clark — last man: sent off.
Although the hoards whooped in delight, the sending of did us no favours as, for the rest of the half, we did not seem to have the same conviction and drive. We did have the odd moment or two to be fair. Pienaar had a pile driver well saved by Given and a great back-post header from Distin was goalbound until a Villa head sent the ball to the underside of the bar and out.
Naismith, who had had a promising full debut, had taken a knock just after the hour mark and was replaced by Coleman. I wondered why at 3 - 0 up the new lad was not given the nod... still, I am just a fan and the manager who is with them all week knows best. Coleman did much like he did v Man Utd — he ran a lot up and down the flank and from time to time caused the odd bit of bother by hitting the by-line and crossing. On 70 mins, Mirallas arrived in place of Gibson who also seemed to have taken a knock. You could just see he wanted to impress and some of his work was a little hurried — none more so when he got a bit excited at a Jelavic run and cross from the right by going forward to quickly and being flagged offside as he put the ball in the net.
Villa had now decided to give it a go and we seemed to let them come at us at will and with 15mins to go we paid a price. Villa attacked down the middle we backed off and he shot. Our keeper then made one of his early-season howlers when, from my seat, he seemed to first of all go the wrong way then his despairing dive was in vain as the ball nestled in the corner. Considering the shot was from some distance, it is difficult to even hazard a guess at what he was doing or thinking — still, better to get it out of his system at 3 - 0 rather than in a 1 - 0 nail-biter. I wonder if Howard, being a fully paid up member of the 'keepers' union, just decided to show solidarity with Given?!! Villa still had time to hit a post before the end and a good job too as, in those last minutes, we were all at sea and the last thing we needed to do was give them a glimmer. I don’t think the manager will be happy with that ending — especially against 10 men.
MotM — Pienaar... but I would not take exception at other offerings as first half there were some very good displays.
Overall an enjoyable day out that sees us sit 3rd in the embryonic table, I always like to have my first look at tables with any meaning around the end of November beginning of December, it would be nice to be 3rd then and ready to kick on.
For those who like to follow such things I thought the so-called third kit that we wore today looked like a proper football kit and the white shirt would be a good holiday shirt, pity it wasn’t out in time as it will be a retro next year.
WBA next, the conquerors of the cousins... it won’t be easy but, with the support we get and a clean bill of health for the manager to formulate his starting eleven, we can give it a good go but a sustained effort over both halves would be a big step forward from today.
Early days but let’s get the window shut with a couple of in-comings and no out-goings and then see how it all pans out. I am sure there is just a little room for some optimism this campaign.
UP THE BLUES