Duncan Ferguson was denied another fairytale day on the touchline as Aston Villa claimed the second Cazoo derby of the season and loaded more pressure on Everton thanks in no small part to a corner from former Blue Lucas Digne.
Having installed the popular Scot as caretaker manager following the dismissal of former RS manager Rafael Benitez, fate saw Ferguson don his suit and take to the touch line against another former RS and someone he once dubbed ‘a weasel’ in the form of Steven Gerrard. The first question was whether DF would shake hands with Gerrard –
With only a few days since his elevation, Big Dunc set his stall out right from the outset when he advised that he began the week by speaking plainly to the first team squad before getting down to work on the training pitch. “I told the squad what’s needed from an Everton player and what the fans demand. That’s what I am drumming into them. They need to show the fans what they are all about and show the fight and determination to get results.”
The Scot continued, “They need to show the fans what they are all about and show the fight and determination to get results. The supporters are incredibly important to us, they are the blood of the Club. We are here for them and we need them with us. I am asking them to stick with the team for 90 minutes and I am sure the players will respond.”
Referring to the first training sessions Ferguson added, “We have tried to get the confidence into them, told them a few home truths and tried to get a reaction out of them. I don’t want to go back [to results over past three months]… that’s in the past. I want to leave that and look to the future. The players look upbeat, I have pushed them as hard as I can, the main thing for me is to keep that intensity. On the training ground, they looked good – but that’s on the training ground. Let’s hope they can do it in a game, which is where it counts. If you are on a losing run, like we have been, you have to make changes. It’s not been working. I will consider things tonight and name a team in the morning.”
And having given it some thought and slept on it and with an almost full squad to select from, he duly named his first starting eleven: Pickford, Kenny, Mina (c), Holgate, Godfrey, Townsend, Doucoure, Gomes, Gray, Calvert-Lewis and Richardson.
Aston Villa arrived at Goodison four points better off in the table but having played a game more than the Blues. Since the arrival of Gerrard from Rangers, the Midlands outfit have had something of a mini revival yet, the clubs have very similar records of late, both Everton and Villa have one win, one draw and three losses through their respective last five games.
No stranger to big atmospheres having played in Merseyside Derby games and managed in the maelstrom of Auld Firm games, Gerrard noted, “I think we’re going to see a real cauldron of an atmosphere. To have an iconic figure leading the team in Ferguson, it will be similar to what happened when he took over previously. The atmosphere, noise and support behind the team changed and he got a big reaction out of the players.”
Keen for his side not to be overawed he added, “But we need to be ready for that. We’re going to Goodison on the back of a really strong finish against Manchester United. As long as we can find that level, I am sure that will have a bigger effect on the game than two managers or the atmosphere in the stadium.”
With Trezeguet and Bertrand Traore away at the AFCoN, Gerrard was glad to have influential midfielder John McGinn available again after suspension and settled on a starting line-up of: Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mingus (c), Digne, McGinn, Luik, Ramsey, Buendia, Watkins and Coutunho.
In charge of maintaining order both the pitch and possibly on the touchline was referee Craig Pawson.
Caretaker manager Duncan Ferguson called for a high energy, tun yourselves into the ground performance from Everton and he largely got that in a first half littered with niggly fouls and stoppages by a fussy referee. With Lucas Digne on his return to Goodison booed from the start in an atmosphere that positively crackled to begin with, the opening ten minutes saw frenetic pace but, a distinct lack of composure and quality in the play of either side.
Louis fired over a long range free kick and Buendia bursting through the middle saw a full length diving stop from Pickford, the Blues countering with Townsend and Doucoure linking but failing to find DCL as he worked his way into the Villa area. Buendia was looking lively for the visitors and a neat turn took him away from Gomes and Richarlison only for him to pull his shot well wide of the target.
Godfrey on a left wing charge won the games first corner that Mina rose to flick on but nothing came of it and he was needed to defend well as McGinn found Coutinho with a raking cross field ball to get the Barcelona loaned into the Everton area. The lively Buendia won Villa a corner on 27 minutes that saw Everton break quickly with Doucoure and Richarlison in 2 on 1 only for a terrible ball from Doucoure that allowed Martinez to clear the threat.
The game began to get niggly with referee Pawson talking to Mings and Richarlison amongst a number of stoppages to try and calm things down in what was becoming a rather staccato, stop-start affair with neither side able to really impose themselves. A long ball from Mina for Watkins nearly caught Everton out as Mina headed over the advancing Pickford who was clearly vexed.
Everton wasted a corner gifted to them by Mings and when Villa countered, Pickford made a super save from Watkins found by Buendia, Watkins ruled offside anyway. Two added minutes were announced, Andre Gomes picked up the games first yellow card for a foul on Ramsey and Pickford tipped a close range header from Coutinho over for a corner that Digne swung in to the near post where Buendia rose ahead of his marker to send a glancing header beyond Pickford for the half time lead.
Half Time: 0-1
No changes by either manager for the second half that hopefully would see an improvement in the quality of the football dished up. Konsa with a foul into the back of DCL gave Everton an early free kick just outside the Villa area, the shot from Gray deflected over off the defending wall and the corner again not producing.
DCL was booked four minutes into the half for a foul on Konsa that only the referee saw and two minutes later Allan replaced Andre Gomes as Ferguson clearly felt the Blues needed more bite in the midfield. There were still too many misplaced passes from Everton as they tried to maintain the high tempo. Cash through the back of Gray was fortunate not to be booked and on 55 minutes Anthony Gordon was the Blues second change replacing Andres Townsend.
Gray getting forward saw his shot cleared only as far as Gordon and his early cross saw Richarlison unable to direct his header on target. Ramsey driving through the middle was blocked by Mina on the edge of the Everton area and referee Pawson deemed it worthy of a yellow card, things very definitely not going the Blues way at all… thankfully Coutinho curled the free kick well over the bar. Everton straight down the other end for Richarlison to win a corner as his shot was deflected over, BenGodfrey seeing his header pushed away as Villa defended desperately.
An hour gone and DCL did well to win a throw-in off Mings that raised the crowd volume again only for Gordon to stray offside and allow Villa to time waste at the resulting free kick. Allan winning the ball to burst forward was bundled off the ball by Ramsey, no foul given and a minute later Abdoulaye Doucoure went down and walked gingerly off as Tyler Onyango became the Blues third change on 64 minutes.
A lovely interchange between Gordon and Richarlison saw the former fire a great cross in for DCL who couldn’t direct his effort on target but, the best attacking move of the game so far by Everton by some distance. Another corner was won that saw Gordon find the head of Mina, his effort going wide of the goal frame, and at last the referee booked Villa keeper Martinez for time wasting.
Twenty minutes to play and a cross from the left from Gray saw Onyango win another corner as his header was deflected behind, Martinez doing enough to clear the set piece away but the Blues came again and this time it was a header from Mina that went high and wide. Villa replaced Coutinho with Chukwuemeka – Chuck to his friends – and Cash was booked for hauling down Richarlison, Buendia heading the cross from Gordon to safety.
Everton were getting the upper hand now but desperately needed something of quality as another corner from the left was won before which saw Gray fire well over the bar as Villa cleared their lines. Villa withdrew Watkins for Ings for the final twelve minutes as Everton continued to pour forward in search of an equaliser.
Villa were now intent on frustrating Everton with more time wasting and niggly fouls and Mings was another into the referees book for a clumsy climb on the back of Richarlison. Anthony Gordon tried to catch Villa out with a low shot through the wall, Martinez in the visitors goal getting down at the foot of the near post to make the save.
Five added minutes were signalled, five minutes for Everton to salvage something from a game they’d put a tremendous amount of energy into that sadly, wasn’t being mirrored in terms of quality. Ings was booked for a sly, off the ball foul on Mason Holgate and Villa were just happy to boot the ball downfield to eat up time. Gordon won yet another corner off Digne, but his set piece was ruled to have gone behind and the annoying referee called time.