Aston Villa 3 - 2 Everton

The season may not be officially over but the post-mortem of what has been a hugely disappointing second campaign under Roberto Martinez is already underway and there are myriad factors to point to when trying to understand what has gone wrong.

There is a good case for highlighting the lack of a consistent starting line up as being one of the biggest and it comes as little surprise that Everton's recent revival since the debacle at Stoke in early March has been under-pinned by belated continuity in the starting XI. What was surprising, therefore, was the manager's decision to change the formula for this trip to Villa Park after last Sunday's handsome win over Manchester United.

Martinez admitted after the game that he feared his team might react in this fashion to their impressive victory over United but his apparent attempts to mitigate it with two alterations to the lineup worked to the detriment of the team's shape and its ability to effectively support Romelu Lukaku up front. The improvement when Leon Osman and, to a lesser extent, Ross Barkley entered the fray in place of the ineffective Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas with 15 minutes to go was a partial indictment of his decision but, perhaps more than anything, what played out at Villa Park today was primarily a story of desire.

Aston Villa, haunted by relegation but determined not to allow the distraction of an FA Cup Final condemn them to the drop, had desire in spades and were richly rewarded with three points. More than pure effort, though, they exhibited technique, pace and organisation; Everton looked disjointed and disinterested by comparison, apparently mentally on the beach during a first half in which they failed to create a single chance or muster a shot at Shay Given's goal. That the Blues improved in the second half was as much a reflection of the fact that they couldn't have been much worse as any half-time inspiration from the manager but the 3-2 scoreline flattered them.

Martinez's decision to start Naismith for the first time since the defeat in Kyiv in mid-March might have been a nod to the Scot's more defensive bent to Barkley but it was out-weighed somewhat by the deployment of what was effectively, at times, a 4-2-4 formation. One that, in combination with an overly high defensive line, left them too open in the middle. It's not the first time that the Catalan has failed to show sufficient respect to an opposing side and it resulted in a 2-0 deficit by half time.

Clearly revved up by Tim Sherwood, Villa exhibited energy from the first whistle and they took the lead after 10 minutes. Afforded room by Naismith, Fabian Delph a standout performer in an excellent al-round display by the home side swung in a deep cross with the aid of a deflection off the Scot's out-stretched leg and Christian Benteke easily out-jumped the out-matched Leighton Baines in the centre to thump a header well beyond Tim Howard's reach.

The American goalkeeper had to beat away Charles N'Zogbia's direct free kick five minutes later before Baines escaped without a booking for scything down Delph and Ron Vlaar planted a free header wide of goal as Everton struggled to deal with either Villa's intensity or their set-pieces. Their cause was not helped by sloppy distribution in their own half and a failure to establish any rhythm or link play going foward but they did have a couple of promising moments: first when Aaron Lennon moved the ball forward for Lukaku to run through the Villa defence but he was crowded out as he tried to get the ball out from between his feet; and then when Phil Jagielka threaded a superb pass for Mirallas to spring the offside trap but his cross flicked up into the air and Naismith's attempted volley was charged down.

No doubt hoping to get to the break and regroup, Everton fell further behind on the stroke of half time thanks to more shoddy defending at a set piece. John Stones and Gareth Barry got in each other's way as the ball was swung in leaving Benteke free to peel off and convert completely unmarked at the back post.

Needing a response and an early goal, Everton came out from the interval with a bit more fire in their bellies which was epitomised by Lukaku's first genuinely threatening charge on the opposition defence of the afternoon which took him to the edge of the box before Given finger-tipped his low shot past the post.

The Belgian's second marauding run caused the panic in the Villa back line that led to the Blues' first goal. Perhaps guilty of releasing the ball too late in the direction of Mirallas, Lukaku's prod forward wasn't cleared and when Naismith nipped in ahead of Vlaar to claim it, the Dutchman tripped him and prompted referee Mark Clattenburg to point to the spot. Lukaku stepped up to take the kick, stutter-stepped to draw Given into diving early and then rolled the ball past with just enough pace to take it inside the post.

The narrowed deficit would remain at one for just five minutes though. Lukaku's failure to enter into a routine aerial duel with Vlaar allowed the defender to find Delph and when Leandro Bacuna received his pass and spotted Tom Cleverley accelerating through a yawning gap behind Barry, the Dutch full back picked him out with a perfectly-weighted pass. One touch and a sweeping finish later from the former Manchester United midfielder and it was 3-1 and game over.

Barry hammered a half-volley straight at Given before Martinez belatedly made his first substitutions when he sent on Barkley and Osman. The latter immediately provided more guile to the Blues in the final third and his tricky footwork opened up space for a shot but he too put it straight down the 'keeper's throat. Vlaar's cynical drag back on James McCarthy as the Irish international smartly tried to nip around him along the byline then earned a free kick in a dangerous area with five minutes left but the set-piece chance was wasted.

Everton did finally make another breakthrough in injury time when McCarthy got a head to a corner from the left that bounced off bar and Jagielka rose highest to meet the rebound and headed it home via the underside of the bar but it was too little too late to salvage what would have been an undeserved point.

Their six-match unbeaten run over, this defeat combined with results elsewhere removed an eighth place from the equation of the Blues' run-in. They could have few complaints. Their need much the greater, Villa were hungrier, faster more intense and more productive with their use of the ball throughout. Everton were flat, uninspired and a shadow of the side that ripped United to shreds six days ago.

While many will point to Everton's recent unbeaten run as evidence that Martinez and his team have rediscovered their winning habit and a formula for success next season, the poverty of this display and the way it echoed the low points of the season at Hull and Stoke was highly disconcerting. It also reframes the discussion over what level of rebuilding is required in the summer to make this Blues team competitive in the right half of the table.

More than anything, the team needs a reliable source of leadership and inspiration in the attacking third of the field. Mirallas's inconsistency continues to frustrate. Barkley's relative immaturity shows he is not ready to take up the mantle of playmaker. Osman has neither the pace or stamina in his advancing years. Pienaar, with his inability to stay fit, is effectively a spent force. "Glamourous" name or hidden gem, the solution to that problem surely lies in the transfer market.

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Reader Comments (26)

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Derek Thomas
1 Posted 03/05/2015 at 03:35:46
Trouble is, Lyndon, they didnÂ’t have to be all that intense. A toddler with a balloon on a stick wouldÂ’ve seen us cowering in the corner.
Ajay Gopal
2 Posted 03/05/2015 at 07:20:18
The defending was all over the place in the 1st half, and really dented my confidence in the Stones-Jags CB pairing, which I had foolishly claimed recently was potentially the Â’best CB pairing in the PLÂ’! Just goes to show that you can have a bad day (Kiev, Villa yesterday) and you could get ripped apart by a team with a classy finisher. I knew this game was not going to be easy, and the cause was not helped by these defensive howlers.

However, I donÂ’t understand this criticism of the manager making a couple of changes from last week. Most were expecting, in fact, wanting Mirallas to start in place of Osman. Playing Naismith instead of Barkley was strange (would have preferred Kone myself), but as fans we must accept that the Manager could have many reasons for doing so because he works with the players day-in and day-out.

I just don’t want us – Everton as a club – becoming like Newcastle. fans, turning arrogant, thinking that the club has a god-given right to win every match, turning against the manager for every run of poor results. Fat lot of good it did them – hounding out Alan Pardew (I hated him BTW), and replacing him with John fucking Carver! I hope they get relegated and this time, stay down. Horrible, horrible club.

I want us to be ambitious, yes! And I wish we had Diego Simeone as our Manager and wish we had money to buy a bunch of top players, but I accept that at the moment, we are not at that level. And until then, I will support the Manager and the players that we have.

Having got that off my chest, I want Martinez to get us to win the remaining 3 games and take us to a respectable 9th place. Next season will be much better – remember, Moyes had us yo-yoing in the initial few years of his reign until we finally settled into the 5th-6th-7th slot.

Joe Foster
3 Posted 03/05/2015 at 10:31:07
There definitely seems to be a growing unrest with fans and not just us (maybe a sort of football fan spring) that we do not deserve to be served up rubbish week after week. We all pay our hard-earned, whether itÂ’s going to the game, kits for our kids or ourselves, Sky subscriptions etc. We deserve better than to be treated as just atmosphere for games on TV.
Derek Thomas
4 Posted 03/05/2015 at 11:12:36
DonÂ’t hold your breath, Joe.

Ajay, on Foxtel this afternoon ’The Panel’ – Bosnich, rs Slater and 3 others they were, for a Sky program telling it how they saw the A-League and the various Clubs in it. One of the A N Others nailed it for me with the term ’Poster Club for Serial Failure’ and the Club he was talking about was... Newcastle... Newcastle Jets.

David Hallwood
5 Posted 03/05/2015 at 12:09:40
Spot on report, Lyndon. Flipflop & holiday brochure time at Villa Park. Last week, it was nice to win against Man Utd; yesterday, it was not nice to lose – what have they got in common? They’re both dead rubbers.

I was disappointed that Martinez didnÂ’t use it to give Long or Ledson a run out as subs but, apart from that, a forgettable performance in a forgettable season.

Jim Hardin
6 Posted 03/05/2015 at 12:40:38
Nailed it, Lyndon. I still do not understand why Naismith was played in the spot, though, as it was another square-peg-in-a-round-hole selection. He continued to meander about the midfield not really knowing where to be in advance to stop the Villa players from flooding right through. Worse, he continued to go wide forcing Lennon to cut inside and play too narrowly.

It might have been McCarthyÂ’s worst game this season. His passing, touch, and even his defending, seemed to be subpar.

Ross Edwards
7 Posted 03/05/2015 at 14:28:48
The defending at times was Wiganesque. For Benteke to be left totally unmarked at the back post for the 2nd goal, that is just amateurish and for an entire defence to be completely split by a single pass is just a joke.

Now we’re past the 40-point mark, I really hope Martinez doesn’t revert to type but yesterday was evidence that he is.

John Keating
8 Posted 03/05/2015 at 15:27:12
So now we wait for more excuses from the manager. Even sadder, we wait for more excuses from supporters.

The manager picks the team, the manager sets the tactics, the manager motivates the players. This manager has been abysmal all season and yet still we ship out excuse after excuse.

Is it not just possible to accept that the manager and his staff are shite?

Bill Gall
9 Posted 03/05/2015 at 15:34:52
All though the change of players from the Man Utd game may have had some merit in the manager's eyes, what was inexcusable was him to stand and watch such an ineffective display from the two changes and the rest of the team, that it took 70 min to do something about it. This is a major problem with Martinez in that he seems to stubborn to admit his team selection is wrong and takes too long to adjust.
Harold Matthews
12 Posted 03/05/2015 at 20:16:30
These things happen all the time. A team with nothing to try for against a team with plenty to try for.

Only a couple of weeks ago, Swansea visited bottom of the League Leicester and got hammered 2-0. After the match Garry Monk, the Swans boss, said they were out-thought and out-fought. The Foxes were first to every ball whilst Swansea strolled.

Some folk blame Martinez for not motivating his players but they donÂ’t offer any suggestions. What exactly does he do with these millionaires? Slam them up against the wall and scare them into giving 100%? Threaten to stick them on the bench or send them home for two weeks? These lads couldnÂ’t care less whether they finish 10th or 12th. The idea of them doing it for the fans is a bit far-fetched but weÂ’ll probably still get plenty of effort at Goodison in front of 39,000 loud and fervent Blues.

Recently we scored 3 great goals, all the end product of a swift, skilful passing movement involving several players. They were actually quite breath-taking. For the first two of these goals Kone, who played a vital part, was deputising for Lukaku and, for all three goals, Naismith was not on the pitch.

Hence my surprise when he was named as a starter at Villa, especially after Lukaku telling everyone that enjoyed playing with Kone.

My only conclusion was that Martinez feared a less than energetic performance after the frenzy of the Manchester United match and decided to use the non-stop Naismith to liven things up a bit. It didnÂ’t work, of course, but maybe it was worth a try.

David Greenwood
13 Posted 03/05/2015 at 21:49:30
As ever, the voice of reason, Harold. I think your last paragraph explains perfectly the reason for the change in line-up.
Joe Foster
14 Posted 03/05/2015 at 21:52:54
The voice of reason is losing all rationale. He is the manager doing the same job as Jose at Chelski. He needs to find a way of doing his job properly; if that means benching players or trying to scare the living daylights out of them, so be it... But no, letÂ’s just give him a pass and say Â’Fuck itÂ’.
Patrick Murphy
16 Posted 03/05/2015 at 21:55:51
I suppose you have a point, Harold, I donÂ’t know how many supporters Swansea take with them on their travels, but I suspect that it is not as many as Everton do; also Swansea have had a very good campaign breaking their points total in the PL so perhaps their fans could forgive the odd game in which their team didnÂ’t perform to the best of their abilities.

Everton, on the other hand, must realise that they have under-performed for a great deal of the campaign and, with or without the mangers help, should have given a great deal more than they did in the first 45 minutes at Villa Park. TheyÂ’ll be the first to complain if or when that unbelievable following fails to turn up at an away ground. As the Echo noted, the fans very nearly roared the team onto an unlikely point yesterday.

Andy Crooks
17 Posted 03/05/2015 at 22:02:56
I blame Martinez for not motivating the players and I believe he is well enough paid to do it without suggestions from supporters. If he canÂ’t do it he is failing in one of the fundamentals of being a coach.

Ross Edwards
18 Posted 03/05/2015 at 22:06:21
I still think that itÂ’s the managerÂ’s job to motivate his team for every game. Using Chelsea as an example, Mourinho will not let his players sit off, because he knows that youÂ’re only as good as your last win. Top managers like him and Ferguson start planning ahead to next season as soon as the title is won.

Martinez seems to have taken the attitude of Â’Phew. 40 points, got away with that didnÂ’t we?Â’, and reverted back to type.

If we stand still, we get left behind.

Joe Foster
19 Posted 03/05/2015 at 22:12:52
Before I go I just want to get this off my chest. All these apologists , myopic so called fans who think itÂ’s okay to roll the dice and give this lower level manager more time next season for me you are not fans of Everton just Martinez fans. I look at you as people that will accept mediocrity and fan apathy. You do not belong in this dojo. Martinez over and out
Dick Fearon
21 Posted 04/05/2015 at 02:14:05
Eugene (#20), I am in total agreement with your views on Martinez. Last season he was wallowing in the fans adoration while I was lashed on these pages for daring to criticize his slow moving and boring joined up style. What really bugged me was his refusal to accept his system required any kind of change.

Dismay at his arrogance was compounded by the long forgotten spectre of relegation. If he was to avoid a repeat of his Wigan fiasco things had to change. I suggest that the change when it arrived was due to a combination of dressing room unrest and fan pressure.

My opinion is he is not up to the job and fancy words can no longer hide that fact. A new manager should have as much time as possible which is why Blue Bill should act before players and staff begin their summer break. His long lasting perseverance with that failed system has been a disgrace on the club's good name.

Mark Andersson
22 Posted 04/05/2015 at 03:31:24
The sad fact is the players have been poorly trained and motivated to do a consistent job. Any debate is fruitless, we are stuck with what we have before us. The club from top to bottom is happy to be also rans, the fans expect more because of our history.

We deserve more – especially those wonderful travelling fans.

John Keating
23 Posted 04/05/2015 at 09:57:02
There are lots of faults and reasons we, as a Club, find ourselves in the position we are in. However, while we still have supporters accepting the mediocrity of the Club from top to bottom and continually trying to make excuses for the inept management of our Club, nothing will change.

It is not for the supporters to motivate the team to at least try, that is solely in the realm of the management team; how they do it is what they are paid for.

No wonder we have dropped so dramatically if what we have been subjected too all season is somehow acceptable and is excusable for some reason or other to some supporters.

Max Wilson
25 Posted 04/05/2015 at 11:25:22
So sorry, I canÂ’t agree with the kindly, indulgent, "Let's be civilised and calm about this" judgements above. Good managers donÂ’t tinker with a successful lineup and are ruthless with players that donÂ’t measure up.

RM chose to change last week's winning team and, in his own words, regretted it. He said "we were second best in everything in the first half and the damage of giving away a two-goal lead was huge. The attitude in the second half was exactly what we wanted but the damage was done." He restored the winning team with just 15 minutes to go.

Meanwhile, let's not forget it could have been even worse. On the bench he had McGeady, Kone and Alcaraz! No, I donÂ’t want to sack the manager but I do want him to learn from his frequent mistakes in selecting players.

John Keating
26 Posted 04/05/2015 at 18:25:19
Max, I think if there is only one thing we can be sure of this season is that Martinez has not learned from his frequent mistakes. From opening day at Leicester until February he was still persisting with a failed system and totally ignoring what everyone could see.

As we all know the crowd finally had had enough and gave the team it thick, they changed and Martinez was forced into change. Apart from Man Utd our run of wins, though really desperately needed to get out of relegation issues, were in the main abysmal. We are now out of trouble at the bottom and lo and behold weÂ’re back to square one.

Changes to the team for some reason or other, imbalanced and zero motivation. The manager even has the gall to come out and say he expected that performance after one decent game, unbelievable.


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