The introduction of new signing Amadou Onana saw Everton claw back a late goal and inspire a frenetic final ten minutes plus added-on time but, it was too little too late having fallen behind to goals from Ings and Buendia.
With both teams having suffered opening day losses to Bournemouth and Chelsea respectively, even at this early stage of the new season Villa against Everton had something of a six-pointer fell about it.
Villa head coach Steven Gerrard spoke supportively of his players when asked about his squad on Friday replying, “We’ve got fantastic players and we’re building a really exciting, talented squad. That’s what we believe. I think the players will show that tomorrow. We let ourselves down last week but, I believe we’ve got a lot of tools and attributes in our squad and the personnel to hurt teams. The players will hopefully back that up tomorrow.”
Pushed further on the loss away to Bournemouth Gerrard added, “What it showed me was having a real positive, strong pre-season where your players are in a fantastic place doesn’t guarantee you’re going to get results in the Premier League. Especially on the opening day when we came up against a team that were playing their first game back in the Premier League. What I would say is that we’ve responded well in terms of training and preparation going into this week. We’re at home tomorrow in front of a full house at Villa Park, so I’m wanting the players to go out and be positive and brave.”
The former Glasgow Rangers boss had an almost full squad to select from, the biggest doubt being centre back Tyrone Mings still recovering from a groin strain, and he eventually settled on a startling line-up that read: Martinez, Cash, Carlos, Mings, Digne, Kamara, Ramsey, McGinn (c), Coutinho, Ings and Watkins.
It’s been a busy old week again for Everton and manager Frank Lampard and Director of Football Kevin Thelwell. Having seen his side only succumb to a Jorginho penalty last Saturday in a game that Everton went into with no recognised striker and then losing both Ben Godfrey to and later Yerry Mina to injuries that will mean some time out of the reckoning, it was necessary to speed up the process to further strengthen the squad.
The return of midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye from Paris St.Germain still remains undecided however, two new players were welcomed to the club this week as giant Belgian midfielder Amadou Onana arrived on a five year contract from Lille, and Scouser Conor Coady jumped wholeheartedly at the chance to join Everton on a loan deal from Wolves.
And Super Frank alluded to the leadership qualities that Onana, Coady and the first signing of the summer James Tarkowski are already bringing to the Everton rebuild he is engineering when he said, “Leadership is a big deal in any dressing room. When you are managing, you rely on people who can relay the message and drive it home. You can’t do everything yourself. Normally, you have to do a lot of reference checks on players on what type of people they are.”
He spoke of the players individually adding, “It took me about five minutes to speak to Conor and understand the type of person he is. The moment he came up as a possibility [to sign], it was a huge deal for us as a club. Amadou, as a young man, has also shown personality straight away. He has got a real positive, infectious attitude. A big part of what we’re trying to do is bring the right people to the Club to drive it forward. James Tarkowski has been here since the start of pre-season and has shown his personality as well as his on-field abilities. We’re happy with the business we’ve done so far on that point.”
Managers usually shy away from spotlighting individual players but, Lamps spoke glowingly of the growing importance to his Everton of Alex Iwobi. Singing out the former Arsenal player he noted, “The benefits of Alex were very clear early in my days of getting here. He’s versatile because of his qualities, and he’s also versatile because of his humility. Anything you ask of him, he does it, and he does it really well. He’s an intelligent footballer. When I considered moving him into central midfield, I asked him about the positions he’s played throughout his career. He literally named pretty much every position on the pitch! He’s done it all. He’s never said to me, ‘I need to settle into this position in the end’, which some modern players can. I think he’ll always be a player who can play at a high level in a number of roles.”
With Salomon Rondon available again after suspension, Frank Lampard at least had one striker available for the trip to Villa Park and after mulling over the rest of his options named his starting eleven: Pickford (c), Patterson, Holgate, Coady, Tarkowski, Mykolenko, McNeil, Doucoure, Iwobi, Gray and Gordon.
Toting watches, whistles, cards and spray cans, our referee in sweltering heat was Michael Oliver.
Everton in their new all-gold third strip got things underway but, it was Villa with a quick counter who won the first corner that saw Carlos head over the bar when he really should have at least tested Jordan Pickford. An excellent tackle by Mason Holgate halted a surging left wing run from Ramsey as the home side tried to establish early dominance on the game.
Ramsey again forced an opening for Digne to cross, Holgate with the clearance preventing any real danger on the Blues goal. A foul by Cash on Gray saw the first free kick go the Blues way but, nothing came of it. Through the opening ten minutes, Villa were trying to play at a higher tempo than Everton who seemed content to conserve energy, soak up pressure and look to counter when possible.
Mings picked out Watkins with a long ball but, Everton cleared and when Villa came again, Cash went down claiming a penalty, referee Oliver choosing to ignore and VAR confirming. The heat seemed to affect the crowd as much as the players as the atmosphere was somewhat subdued or maybe that was credit due to Everton for taking a measured approach to the game. A quick ball from McNeil and a sweet turn by Gordon took him away into space and footrace with Mings who appeared to catch Gordon in the face with a flailing arm – referee Oliver waved away claims for a free kick.
Everton were defending resolutely looking much better organised than last season but, frustratingly giving the ball away too easily and allowing Villa too much possession. A long ball from Pickford found McNeil and as he tried to find Gordon, Mings hacked the ball away to safety. Doucoure with a good interception and burst forward to find McNeil, his ball to Gray was too heavy but, he did enough to win a corner that Villa managed to smuggle away and when Everton came again, Mings headed a cross from Patterson behind for a second Blues corner that McNeil too to find Tarkowski to nod down for Gordon, the ball going into the net but Gordon was ruled offside – and on 25 minutes, play was halted for a drinks break.
From the restart, Villa again got forward quickly to win a corner on their right, Patterson with a good clearing header and then getting away on the left, he was brought down by former RS Coutinho who was rightly booked. McGinn with a long ball found Watkins on the right and his ball into the box found Ings and at the second attempt he span away from Doucoure to make the space for a rasping shot to give the home side a 32nd minute lead with Jordan Pickford slightly screened by defenders.
On 34 minutes, Abdoulaye Doucoure went down off the ball holding his hamstring and was immediately withdrawn to be replaced by Tom Davies. A long ball from Mykolenko found McNeil and it was at least five seconds before this mickey-mouse offside rule led to a flag being raised. Everton were struggling to create anything through the midfield and despite some possession and movement with no real threat to the Villa defence created, their play was broken up and Davies was yellow carded for a foul on Coutinho.
With three added minutes signalled, Everton got forward on a move started by Alex Iwobi and it was his cross that Mings couldn’t get to and Gray couldn’t react quickly enough, Kamara conceding the corner that led to some panic in the Villa rearguard and a VAR review for a possible handball proved fruitless for the Blues. Ramsey with a late cross failed to find Watkins and the teams went to dressing room with Villa ahead at the break.
Not what we wanted from the Blues but with no attempts on target through 45 minutes and Villa looking nervous from corners, would Frank Lampard make a change for the second half to try and make more of any further similar chances?
Half Time: 1-0
Neither manager made any changes for the start of the second half that needed Everton to be much more progressive in getting forward and pressuring the Villa defence. An early free kick to Villa for a foul by Alex Iwobi led to McGinn firing over from distance. Cash hacked a cross from Mykolenko to safety following a nice flick on from Gray, Villa breaking and Tom Davies getting back to intercept a cross and clear.
Patterson got forward on the end of a ball from Coady to get away from Digne who was booked for pulling him down. Gray swung the free kick in but after Villa initially cleared, McNeil saw an effort go wide. Everton were looking a bit brighter and Gray saw a shot blocked by Cash who launched a Villa counter that Everton cleared to counter themselves and win a corner on the left. The first was charged down and behind for a second that led to a shot from Tarkowski being blocked and cleared. Martinez in the home goal was finally forced into a save, denying Gray on a shot from just inside the area as he cut in from the left.
Davies cleared the next Villa raid as Ramsey got away from Gordon rather too easily, and a cross from McGinn aimed for Ings was held well by Pickford. Coutinho went down and needed treatment before being replaced on 59 minutes by Buendia. Coady, with a headed block on a shot from McGinn, went down holding his left leg and the player who’s renowned for rarely missing games continued after some treatment.
Salomon Rondon joined the fray on 63 minutes, replacing Dwight McNeil – the need for a focal point up front absolutely glaring if Everton were to get back into the game.
Ings, played into space by Cash, pulled a cross back towards Watkins – Holgate with another important clearance and Villa came again with Everton managing to keep them at bay knowing a second home goal would almost certainly secure the points. The second half drinks break came with just over twenty minutes to play, twenty minutes that Everton simply had to be much more assertive in to prevent a second successive loss.
Holgate with another vital clearance at the expense of a corner to deny Ings after a missed header by Tarkowski allowed the Villa forward a half chance. Patterson with a block on a full-blooded shot from Carlos kept Everton in the hunt but, they still struggled to find any telling possession or forward impetus. Patterson again blocked a shot from Ings and when Digne had a cross palmed out by Pickford, Mykolenko cleared off the line from Buendia.
Fifteen minutes to play and Villa were looking much the more threatening with Buendia far more influential than Countinho who he’d replaced. Ings was booked and then replaced by Bailey on 77 minutes, as Everton prepared more changes for the final ten minutes. Ramsey with another surging run down the left flank found Watkins, Holgate deflecting his shot behind for a corner that was easily dealt with.
Everton made a double change on 80 minutes as Dele Alli and Amadou Onana replaced Demarai Gray and Conor Coady respectively.
It was nearly now or never time and a ball aimed at Alli by Mykolenko saw Mings hurriedly hoik the ball behind for a corner, that Gordon took and Martinez claimed decisively. Any hopes of a late equaliser were dashed on 85 minutes as Everton lost possession in midfield and Buendia got forward with Watkins peeling off to his right to take the pass and immediately play in the substitute who netted the second from close range.
Incredibly, Everton struck straight back with Amadou Onana bursting into the Villa area to cross and the ball went in off Lucas Digne.
Villa cleared an Everton corner to break and Pickford denied Watkins played in by Bailey at the expense of a corner that saw Digne shoot across the face of the goal. A great tackle by Tarkowski on Bailey set Everton forward and Martinez was called on to deny Gordon with Mings preventing Rondon getting to the rebound.
Five added minutes were announced – more action at both ends of the field suggesting there might be more drama yet. Carlos went down with cramp while Cash limped around the edge of the pitch, Villa desperate to make yet more changes to see out time – Konca for Ramsey, Young for Cash and Chambers for Carlos making a treble injury time change for the home side.
Everton won a corner as Rondon flicked a ball on for Onana who was denied at the back post, Martinez again claiming the corner far too easily. Iwobi fed Gordon for a shot that was blocked and his second effort was denied by the Villa keeper.