David Moyes made only one change from his starting line-up for the excellent opening game victory over Manchester United last Monday: Naismith in while Hibbert was out with a neck injury. Villa tried to push the pace from the off but some really sharp and precise interpassing consisting of a superb sequence of 14 laser-like short passes between half the Everton team ended in Naismith teeing it up for Steven Pienaar to curve a superb shot beyond d Given and into the Villa net inside 3 minutes to get things off to a rapturous start at Villa Park.
Everton looked confident with the goal on the board and won their first corner, Baines then crossing superbly to pick out Jelavić on the far post who should have done a lot better, he hardly jumped at all as he headed over rather than under Given's bar.
Steven Naismith was lively on his debut, drawing the foul from Clark as Everton in their handsome white shirts continued to dominate proceedings. Gibson delivered the second corner but it dropped short. Some of the Villa fouls were rather aggressive, Naismith drawing most of them as Jelavić won a third corner, taken by Baines. The delivery was excellent, met expertly by Jelavić in the crowd, but headed just over.
As The Villa came into it a bit more, it gave Everton's defense a chance to shine, a key clearance by Distin allowing Everton to attack, with Osman's shot blocked but the ball coming back a little too quickly to Gibson who teed up and then powered in a half-volley that dipped viciously but flew just over the bar.
On the half hour, Pienaar invited a rare foray forward by Jagielka who scampered after a difficult ball down the right and crossed it first time onto the head of Marouane Fellaini, whose downward header foiled Given, bouncing through his hands and into the Villa net for a vital second goal.
Neville got forward in space down the right-side channel and took the shot himself but it lacked conviction and few well wide. Gibson picked out Jelavić with a great lofted ball but the Croat used his arm to bring the ball down. Jelavić wasn't having much luck and seemed to be getting a little frustrated until a nice bit of work from Fellaini let Baines advance and then cut the ball back inside for a superb first-time strike from the master that was unstoppable. 3 – 0 away from home. You can't ask for anything more. Everton imperious, as Howard was forced to make his first real save in first-half injury time.
Jelavić got another chance after the break, but his first-time drive was blocked behind. Naismth was played in beautifully by Pienaar and looked to release his shot but another vital block by Baker took out the Scot and injured him in the process.
Everton did look a bit shakey in defence when a couple of desperate blocks were required. An instinctive ball from Gibson played the ball into the path of Jelavić who was tripped by Clark, red card. Gibson's cheeky curled free-kick was just wide of the angle.
From a free-kick played down the left, Baines produced another immense cutback that was teed up brilliantly by Pienaar with his right foot who then drove the volley left-footed with real venom at Given, forcing the best save of the game. From Baines's deep corner, Distin powered in a header that beat Given but Bent on the line headed it onto the underside of the bar, at least three second-half goals denied to a rampant Everton side.
More wonderful passing set Baines for a run-in where he was bundled over by Lowton going into the area but Michael Oliver decided somewhat questionably that the offence was not inside the penalty area…. although it must have been mighty close!
Yet another brilliant goal chance was squandered by Jelavić when he misjudged a superb cross from Coleman, on in place of Naismith. Coleman then did a trademark head-down charge that had the Villa defenders throwing themselves in his path. With 20 minutes left, Kevin Mirallas appeared for his debut, to replace the commanding Gibson.
Coleman again crossed well, this time for Mirallas and Vlarr had to take it off the Belgian's toe as Everton were attacking in waves, seemingly hell-bent on improving the scoreline. But the goal came at the other end, a probing smack by El Ahmadi from 35 yards that moved in the air, sending Howard initially the wrong way.
A great ball from Neville sent Coleman on his way again but his intelligent cutback was perfect for Osman who somehow contrived to stumble over the ball … feet not so clever!In the end, it was very comfortable, but Everton if anything played better and with more confidence and much better joined up passing for almost the entire match. Somehow, a slew of chances in the second half just would not go their way. But a great start to the season nonetheless.
They say in football that you should "never go back", but if there is one player who provides the exception that proves the rule, it's Steven Pienaar. Frozen out and miserable at Tottenham just eight months ago, in tears three-and-a-half months later at the thought of not being able to stay at Goodison Park after a glorious return to Everton on loan from White Hart Lane, he is back with the Blues for good and is playing like he never left.
Everton ended what had, at one stage, promised to be a hugely disappointing 2011-12 season with an impressive run of results and, with the possible exception of Nikica Jelavić, no one could claim to have been more integral to that top-four form than Pienaar. Indeed, no Evertonian really wanted last season to end and, on the evidence of two games into the new season, Blues fans needn't have been concerned by the disruption of the close season or the painfully protracted negotiations to bring the South African home.
Fresh from ruining Sky Sports' and Manchester United's opening day party on Monday, Pienaar and the Blues swaggered down the M6 and took a little over two minutes to begin destroying Paul Lambert's home debut as the new Aston Villa manager.
The Scot had barely had time to warm his seat before a lovely interchange in midfield ended with Pienaar curling a beautiful shot into the far corner of Shay Given's net from 20 yards. Darron Gibson, and full-debutant Steven Naismith were both involved in a quick one-touch move just outside the Villa area that led to the Scot laying it back to Pienaar to artfully pick his spot.
It was the perfect start for a club that had won just once at Villa Park in the Premier League era and it allowed the Blues to take a stranglehold on proceedings with what was, for the bulk of this game, a devastatingly effective midfield display.
Though Marouane Fellaini was nominally the man deployed behind Jelavić in the "Tim Cahill role" — that term will be short-lived if the Belgian Beast keeps up this form — in truth there was an impressive fluidity to Everton that saw all of Fellaini, Pienaar, Naismith, and, to a lesser extent, Leon Osman easing in and out of forward and wide positions interchangeably.
If any of that quartet of attacking midfielders spent more time playing off the striker, particularly in the first half, it was the lively Naismith but it was Fellaini who popped up in the striker's role after half an hour to double the Blues' lead.
As if to underscore the versatility in Moyes's team, it was centre half Phil Jagielka who romped down the right flank on the overlap to collect Pienaar's return pass and pick out the Belgian's unmistakable mop with a wicked cross. Given looked to have got behind the ball sufficiently to stop Fellaini's downward header but he allowed it to squirm off his gloves and into the net instead. 2-0 and Everton were firmly in control.
There have been enough topsy-turvy, goal-laden encounters between these two teams in recent seasons for the Blues to know not to ease up. Jelavić had twice headed over and Gibson had dropped a 25-yard half-volley a foot over the bar by the time Fellaini had doubled the lead, and while a couple more very promising situations were wasted when Villa were caught short on numbers at the back, the game-killing third did arrive just before the half-time interval.
Baines and Fellaini combined nicely down the left, with the former latching onto the latter's through-ball in typical fashion before cutting it back invitingly for Jelavić who had peeled instinctively into space in front of the home defence. Just like 27 times before today, the clinical Croatian dispatched the ball into the goal with his first touch, tucking it inside the near post.
Lambert was, no doubt, stone-faced on the Villa bench with storm clouds gathering above him and little positive to point to until Barry Bannan unloaded with his side's first shot on target in first-half stoppage time, one that Tim Howard gathered comfortably.
3-0 was almost 4-0 inside two minutes of start of the second half when Jelavić was denied by a lunging block by Baker after Fellaini had flicked Pienaar's cross on to the back post. Moyes's side's momentum appeared initially undiminished by half time and they didn't need the additional advantage that would arrive just before the hour mark with Ciaran Clark's professional foul on Nikica Jelavić
Referee Michael Oliver had no option but to show the defender a straight red card and it was clear at that stage the game really was up.
Still, Gibson dinked the resulting direct free kick inches over the bar and Pienaar was denied by a reflex save by Given a few minutes later after Karim El Ahmadi had escaped a yellow card despite blatant shirt-tugging near the touchline. Sylvain Distin met the ensuing corner with a towering header but Darren Bent was on hand to deny the Frenchman by heading off his goalline.
Not surprisingly, the pressure from the visitors began to ease in the last third of the game. Naismith was withdrawn after an impressive debut in favour of Seámus Coleman and he was followed to the dugout with 19 minutes left by Gibson who was replaced by another new boy, Kevin Mirallas.
And the two substitutes almost combined to provide a goal with Mirallas' first touch but Matthew Lowton's outstretched leg diverted the ball behind and away from the Belgian forward who was in acres of space near the penalty spot.
Mirallas would later have a goalbound shot blocked by Ron Vlaar and a goal ruled out by a very narrow offside decision but that was either side of El Ahmadi ruining Tim Howard's clean sheet with an impressive 25 yard strike that embarrassed the American 'keeper as it swerved in flight and away from his outstretched fingers. It was a minor blemish on an otherwise superb day, one that Everton closed out in typically efficient fashion.
So, back-to-back wins to start the season for the first time in five years has got Evertonians humming with expectation but they will mindful of getting too over-excited at this early stage. The return to the Midlands next weekend promises to be a tougher prospect than a Villa side still finding its feet under new management. West Bromwich Albion under Steve Clark have comprehensively beaten Liverpool and denied Tottenham three points at White Hart Lane so far and in Romelu Lukaku they have a dangerous striker who will need to be watched.
What will make Moyes confident, though, is the impressive manner in which his side came away from home and comprehensively beat Villa on their own turf with some scintillating football. In addition to their customary tenacity and harrying in midfield, the Blues exhibited some wonderful usage of the ball; from quick, one-touch interchanges to raking balls over the top or pin-point cross-field balls to keep Villa chasing shadows for the much of the afternoon.
Lambert's side did enjoy a few spells of superiority but they were kept at bay — Andreas Weimann's last-minute strike that hit the post aside — by a side that looks to already be in the kind of groove that will grind out results against any level of opposition. Keep that up, hopefully add a key signing or two before the transfer deadline, get some luck on the injury front and this could be a very exciting season.
Player Ratings: Howard 6, Neville 7, Jagielka 8, Distin 8, Baines 8, Gibson 8 (Mirallas 7), Naismith 8 (Coleman 7), Osman 7, Pienaar 8*, Fellaini 8, Jelavić 8 (Heitinga -)
It's fair to say that there hasn't been as much optimism among Evertonians since the summer of 2010 when many felt that the Blues had the squad to take on the top four in the Premier League. That anticipatory fervour died a fairly swift death two years ago but hopes for a great season this time around were only fueled further by Monday's stirring slaying of highly-favoured Manchester United.
Of course, at this point it's just one game; one performance, albeit a colossal one. The immediate task is to build on it, to keep the foot on the pedal and notch a first away victory of 2012-13 with this weekend's trip to Aston Villa.
After a fairly dreadful season by their standards, in which they weren't truly out of the woods relegation-wise until the last couple of games, Villa dismissed manager Alex McLeish and tempted Paul Lambert over from Norwich City to rebuild again. As such, the Midlanders are still feeling their way under new management but Lambert's impressive record at Carrow Road means they cannot be underestimated. They lost narrowly at newly-promoted West Ham on the opening day but will be looking to get their first points on the board back on home turf.
Everton, meanwhile, can pick up their 100th away win since the inception of the Premier League if they can manage what would be their first win at Villa Park since February 2005. Three defeats and four draws since are illustrative of the Blues' frustrations on this ground in recent seasons but Moyes's boys will be on the crest of an early wave and will fancy themselves for a result.
The gut-busting win over United certainly appeared to take its toll on players still working towards peak fitness after the close season break but Nikica Jelavić, who limped away with cramp, and Sylvain Distin, who jarred his back in the closing stages and had to be helped off the pitch, are both expected to be fit to play.
Nevertheless, Moyes may feel compelled to deploy John Heitinga in central defence to avoid Distin having to play twice in five days. The Dutchman was an automatic choice in central defence for the latter half of last season but was only named on the bench on Monday, perhaps because of his comparatively shorter pre-season than his teammates following Euro2012.
Whether Moyes makes many changes could depend on his assessment of the players' level of fitness, particularly those on the upper end of the age spectrum like Phil Neville but it wouldn't be a big surprise if the starting XI was largely unchanged.
Marouane Fellaini's awesome display on Monday is likely to see him continue in the role behind the striker and that might mean Phil Neville continuing in central midfield alongside Darron Gibson even though the captain has shown mixed effectiveness in that role in the past. Steven Naismith, meanwhile, may have to be content with watching from the bench again with Leon Osman wide right.
Eager Evertonian eyes will be on Kevin Mirallas, but Moyes has indicated that he will decide on the day whether or not to include the Belgian in the squad. The manager is notoriously reticent to throw new signings in straight away but he says that he is mindful of an injury Mirallas sustained earlier in the summer at Olympiacos. It seems, therefore, that the most the forward can hope for is a place on the bench.
In terms of his team selection, Lambert will have Nathan Delfouneso and Chris Herd available but be without Gabriel Agbonlahor, ex-Blue Richard Dunne and Marc Albrighton, as well as Gary Gardner who has been ruled out for up to eight months with an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury.
For Everton, it's simply about establishing momentum and picking up victories on the road against teams who, on paper at least at this stage, are unlikely to be challenging in the top six this season. With Villa going through a restructuring phase, it will be up to the Blues to press home their superiority to extend the good start to the season.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2012-13 Reports Index|
|Everton fans' reports|
|ASTON VILLA (4-4-2)|
|El Ahmadi :81'|
|Herd (59' Lichaj)|
|Delfouneso (46' Holman)|
|Subs not used|
|Gibson (70' Mirallas)|
|Naismith (64' Coleman)|
|Jelavić (87' Heitinga)|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|Chelsea||4 - 2||Reading|
|Aston Villa||1 - 3||Everton|
|Chelsea||2 - 0||Newcastle|
|Man United||3 - 2||Fulham|
|Norwich||1 - 1||QPR|
|Southampton||0 - 2||Wigan|
|Sunderland||P - P||Reading|
|Swansea||3 - 0||West Ham|
|Tottenham||1 - 1||West Brom|
|Liverpool||2 - 2||Man City|
|Stoke City||0 - 0||Arsenal|
|4||West Bromwich Albion||4|
|10||West Ham United||3|
|17||Queens Park Rangers||1|