Two of EnglandÂ´s oldest clubs contested the 197th instalment of league footballÂ´s most played fixture, and it was two of EvertonÂ´s oldest current players held their heads highest after the Toffeesâ€™ 2-0 victory. Tim Howardâ€™s stunning, eighth-minute penalty save capped a defiant performance, whilst Leon Osman, introduced on the hour for the off-colour Ross Barkley, assisted Romelu LukakuÂ´s opener before securing the points himself. The score line was harsh on Villa whose lack of goals belied patches of creativity, nonetheless Everton achieve their fifth league win in six matches to begin preparation for next SundayÂ´s crucial home game against Tottenham in fine style.
The victory again proved Roberto MartinezÂ´s ability to impose a Plan B. There will come a time when itÂ´s merely regressive to hark back to the David Moyes era but when the context is a knife-edge away game where Plan A isnâ€™t going to get you the win, the contrast is too stark to omit. Everton were very much in the game at the end of the first half, but fortunate not to have been behind earlier. Cometh the hour, cometh the moment Martinez realised BarkleyÂ´s indecision and consequential wastefulness had blighted EvertonÂ´s attack long enough. Leon Osman was brought on to the inevitable keyboarding-tapping fury of many, and earned Everton the win with a 12-minute salvo to the probable keyboard-tapping fury of some.
The first half was eventually even but too close for comfort for Everton. Referee Anthony Taylorâ€™s daftness in punishing Seamus ColemanÂ´s non-tackle was immediately eclipsed by HowardÂ´s deftness in powering Christian BentekeÂ´s blasted penalty over, simultaneously booming a macho, look-at-my-beard Â´Who da man?Â´ downfield to fellow American Brad Guzan. Yet Everton failed to capitalise on this immediate injection of impetus. Villa broke through at pace to create two excellent one-on-ones chances, but as Benteke struck powerfully and Andreas Weimann dallied, Howard impressively denied both. The latter save was even sufficient to make a millionaire of one lucky Evertonian punter whoÂ´d placed a 10p bet on Howard reaching the edge of his 18-yard-box box this season.
As the first wave of Villaâ€™s attack subsided and Everton took more time on the ball, Evertonâ€™s players began to pull themselves up to the level of James McCarthy who was again impressing in an under-performing side. Again. Chances began to fall quickly for the Blues. Lukaku drew a strong save with a neck-straining header before finishing weakly after a powerful charge, Barkley hit a bar with a deflected 25-yarder, and only a recovering defenderâ€™s block stood between Kevin Mirallas and a carbon copy of his Spurs goal last year. As the watching world pointed out on Twitter, it was baffling that the 45 minutes had passed without a goal.
Introducing the Everton Mishmash!
Villa dominated early second half possession but created very little as the Â´stick or twistÂ´ conundrum was again thrust before Martinez away from home. Again he chose to gamble. The atypically average Barkley was hauled off for Osman in a substitution rendered game-changing by LukakuÂ´s opener eight minutes later. The goal highlighted the intersecting space Osman occupies in the attacking Venn diagram of Evertonâ€™s creative left and the striking centre. That classic Baines-and-Pienaar knack of keeping hold of the ball to draw opponents closer eventually suckered in six Villa players (which is ridiculous), and after a neat exchange, Osman was left with a simple but still bugger-uppable ball to the open Lukaku. You knew how heâ€™d finish, you knew heÂ´d score, and you know exactly where it would hit the net. That effectively sums up the increased Evertonian optimism of the moment in a nutshell.
With the savvier Osman now dictating possession where Barkley had often picked the wrong option, the whole side settled into a comfortable, retentive rhythm (even Jagielka and Distin!) – the optimal manner to see out an away win. OsmanÂ´s controlled finish from BarryÂ´s pull-back heightened the sense of comfort as Everton racked up approximately 135% of possession in the final 10 minutes. As Steven Naismith rose from the bench to almost add a third and fellow sub Gerard Deulofeu skinned an opponent to win a late corner, there was a satisfying suggestion of excellent squad management. Older players who sat far too comfortably in reserved seats under Moyes forced to up their contribution to remain in contention, and well-adjusted, eager youngsters desperate to make their mark.
Everton enter November well in contention – level on points with second-best-defence-in-Europe Southampton and just four behind best-Premier-League-team-this-year Arsenal. As well as Spurs next week, November contains the first Merseyside derby of the season, and with Stoke also to travel to Goodison, and away commitments consisting of a solitary encounter with Crystal Palace, the Toffees have an excellent opportunity. More of the same boys, roll on Spurs.