Aston Villa’s hopes of survival took a numbing blow on Thursday night as Everton scored late to earn a point at Goodison Park.
Everton began very well. Attacking with pace and intent, they moved the ball confidently and utilised both wings to pile pressure on Villa’s defence. It seemed as though they had shaken free of the cobwebs that restricted their performance in the 3-0 loss to Wolves earlier in the week.
Alex Iwobi and Bernard commanded the flanks for the Toffees and sought aerial threat through lofted balls to Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Tricky feet had the beating of either visiting full-back, but the final product just could not be found. So wayward was the crossing that Bernard had the best chance of the opening exchanges when his misplaced cross had Pepe Reina scrambling backwards just to see it clatter the crossbar.
Dean Smith’s halftime team-talk seemed to have riled a renewed sense of hope in the minds of relegation-threatened Villa. The Englishman’s side flew out of the blocks after the break, and could well have taken the lead on two occasions through young captain Jack Grealish within the first few minutes of the restart.
Villa got their reward in the 73rd minute when the unlikely source of defender Ezri Konsa, unmarked, duly tucked away a dangerous free-kick swung in by Irishman Conor Hourihane to open his account for this term. Everton’s oft-criticised defence did themselves no favours with the criticism as they had allowed multiple players to penetrate the line and remain onside. Meanwhile, Jordan Pickford showed some level of hesitation to attack the ball and that split-second spelt the difference between the ball being cleared or nestling in the netting.
Everton pulled level in the dying moments of the game, through a header from Premier League mainstay Theo Walcott. The Toffees’ aerial threat had been knocking on Villa’s door all night, but it proved to be a looping header from the 31-year-old winger which was the missing ingredient. Konsa let off an ambitious attempt at a flying clearance, but the London-born youngster could only slice the clearance to his goalkeeper. The referee’s watch was left to confirm that the ball had indeed crossed the line before reaching Reina’s clutches.
Aston Villa are not up to the Premier League
“Relegation material” was the label awarded to Aston Villa by Everton legend Tim Cahill after full time. The Australian is not off the mark, either. No sooner had they taken the lead, Villa played as though their job was complete and they coasted for the final quarter of an hour.
The defending was stagnant and they were sloppy on the ball. Everton’s consistent usage of the aerial delivery should have been comfortably dealt with by Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings – who tower at 6’0” and 6’5” respectively – least not due to the predictability of each attack.
Down the other end, the visitors simply were not clinical enough. From 15 attempts at goal, the Villans hit the target only once – a woeful conversion rate which would be seen off with ease on many other given days. Anwar El-Ghazi summed up Villa’s strike force in one instant with 10 minutes left on the clock, when, somehow, he lashed the ball well over the crossbar from only a few yards out largely unpressured.
Ancelotti must think defensively
Too often on Thursday night Everton found themselves desperately scrambling back to halt a counterattack. Such a high line allowed exploitation from the faster of the opposition forwards – particularly on the right wing as Digne’s importance in the Toffees’ attack saw Trezeguet able to penetrate the defence on multiple occasions.
Looking across to the centre of defence, Mason Holgate was forced to make way for 18-year-old Jarrad Branthwaite after just 16 minutes. Holgate was making his first appearance on return from an injury that ruled him out of the previous two fixtures. With Yerry Mina also suffering from injury, Carlo Ancelotti’s defensive options are limited, and the squad is stretched.
The transfer window on the horizon is shaping up to be a busy time around Finch Farm.