The lack of a quality forward in the Everton squad was cruelly exposed as Aston Villa soaked up lots of pressure and stole the points on a harsh penalty converted by Watkins and a Buendia blast inside the final ten minutes.
Another home game saw Aston Villa arrive at Goodison Park for the most played fixture in English football and another vital three points at stake as the Blues look to move further away from the dreaded ‘drop zone.’
The pre-match preparations for the Blues were boosted with Jordan Pickford having signed a new contract that will see him spend a further four and a half years with the Blues, and at still only 28, Evertonians and England fans will be hoping he’ll reach his peak during this period. Director of Football Kevin Thelwell commented, “Jordan is one of the best goalkeepers in world football, so it’s a significant boost for us to have a player of his quality and talent commit his long-term future to the Club.”
In other team news ahead of what was expected to be a tougher test than Leeds last time out, Blues boss Sean Dyche advised, “Amadou Onana is fit and available. We brought him off against Leeds and his knee issue has responded well. Dominic Calvert-Lewin won’t be part of the squad. He’s building up well, training on the grass but, not with us in full training. That will come, our intention is to get him as fit as possible so we can hopefully break this spell of ins and outs, ups and downs with injuries.”
The gaffer advised that both Nathan Patterson and James Garner are not too far away from being in contention again, and that Andros Townsend’s recovery from his ACL injury is progressing, “he’s been through a lot but, it’s settling down and beginning to get the workload he needs to get it stronger but, he’s not there yet.”
Well aware of the importance of another positive result ahead of away trips to Arsenal and Forest, he named his starting eleven to face Villa thus: Pickford, Coleman (c), Coady, Tarkowski, Mykolenko, Iwobi, Doucoure, Gana Gueye, Onana, McNeil and Maupay.
On a run of three successive defeats and having shipped eleven goals in the process, Aston Villa under Unai Emery find themselves in mid-table but looking over their shoulders, wary of the sides aiming to catch and overtake them.
And Emery is well aware of the type of opposition under Sean Dyche that his side will face when he noted, “He was amazing before in Burnley, and I know him because I’ve played his teams before. At Everton, he’s getting the same performances, they are very, very competitive. Goodison Park is always difficult to play at, it’s going to be a tough match, a difficult match.”
Referring back to his sides late loss to Arsenal, he added, “we conceded some goals from set pieces in that last match against Arsenal. We are very demanding in how we can improve, especially as Everton are a threat too from set pieces.”
And with no fresh injury concerns to deal with, the Spaniard had an almost full squad to select from in naming his starting line-up: Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Digne, Luiz, McGinn (c), Kamara, Ramsey, Bailey and Watkins.
On a breezy, cool afternoon our referee was Anthony Taylor.
Inside a minute Luiz went down clutching his right ankle following a challenge from Onana who went over to the Villa player to apologise and was promptly booked by the knucklehead referee. Coady with a good ball picked out McNeil, Konsa heading his cross clear and Villa countered with Watkins setting McGinn up for a shot that sailed well high and wide of the target.
McNeil with a ball down the left found Maupay who held the ball till McNeil arrived to cross for Iwobi, Martinez making the fairly comfortable save look more dramatic than he really needed. Kamara with a route one ball down the middle found Watkins who got away from Tarkowski only to be thwarted by Pickford at the expense of the first corner, that came to nothing.
Bailey went down 25 yards out claiming a foul by Onana who understandably looked nervously at the referee, Digne curling the free kick high and wide to jeers of derision from the home crowd. A great ball from Iwobi picked out McNeil only for his cross to be too close to Martinez who gathered easily. The Park End howled in vain for a corner after McNeil harried Cash into putting the ball behind, the referee fully 30 yards away evidently having a much clearer view.
We reached the midway point of the first half with neither goalie having made a really meaningful save and once again this referee ruled in the favour of Villa when Doucoure was harassing Mings, his decision only serving to rile the home support who were becoming increasingly vexed.
Digne deflected a Mykolenko cross out for a corner as Goodison raised its voice again when Doucoure appealed in vain for hand ball against a Villa defender. Good play by Doucoure saw him find Onana who couldn’t get a shot away and Iwobi following up won the Blues second corner, that saw Maupay steer a header just wide of the far post.
McNeil and then Mykolenko got forward to pressure the right of the Villa defence that twice managed to scramble the ball clear before Coleman and Iwobi released Doucoure into the Villa area on the right only for him to lose his footing and Villa were able to clear. Another penalty appeal went unheeded and Great cross from Mykolenko saw Martinez acrobatically turn a header from Onana over the bar for a corner that the visitors defended.
A foul on Gana Gueye by Ramsey saw the Villa player stay down and need treatment as bright sunshine bathed the Bullens Road paddock ahead of McNeil and Mykolenko combining again to get a cross in that sadly nobody could get on the end of. Mings conned the clown referee into awarding him a free kick for an imaginary foul by Iwobi, Coleman clearing the poor free kick from Digne and then winning a free kick himself for a foul by Luiz.
Three minutes to go in the half that Everton had had the better of and again this complete donkey of a referee ruled in favour of Villa as McNeil and Cash bounced off each other and when McNeil got in on the right to find Maupay, he couldn’t beat Martinez who stretched his large frame to save the curling shot… and three added minutes were signalled.
Bailey caught the shin of Coady who didn’t make a meal of the foul and Everton won a late free kick as Onana was hauled down just outside the Villa area on the left. Disappointingly, McNeil couldn’t beat the wall and the teams went to their respective dressing rooms tied at nil-nil, with the referee being roundly booed as he left the pitch – quite right too!!
Half Time: 0-0
No changes by either side for the start of the second half and the Blues were relieved to see Seamus Coleman get back to his feet after a heavy tumble. And the Blues continued as they had through much of the first half, harrying and pressing Villa deep in their own half. Cash brought down McNeil after a lovely take of a ball from Tarkowski.
Bailey flattened Gana Gueye and escaped a yellow card, McNeil floating the ball to the back post and confusion reigned as the ball pin-balled around the six yard area with neither Maupay nor McNeil able to get a finishing touch, Martinez eventually going down a needing treatment as the Goodison faithful again raised their voices.
Digne got free on the Villa left to cross for Watkins to head and Pickford did really well to paw the ball onto the post with Coady completing the clearance. On the hour mark, former RS Coutinho replaced someone who wasn’t Moreno and Villa were awarded a soft penalty as McGinn went down claiming a foul by Gana Gueye. Watkins blasted it straight down the middle and against the run of play, Villa led.
A deep cross from .Mykolenko was tamely volleyed by Doucoure straight at Martinez. Mykolenko on an overlap appeared to be brought down by Konsa, needless to say, no penalty ensued and on 70 minutes, Demarai Gray replaced Alex Iwobi and his first involvement was to try a cross when a shot would have been the better option.
Watkins dove to win a free kick and the Villa time wasting – that had been employed most of the game – reached new levels before the free kick was eventually taken and defended. Fifteen minutes to go and another innocuous challenge saw Doucoure booked and Ellis Simms replace the game Neal Maupay, and his first touch was to hook a ball from Doucoure wide of the target… and finally, Martinez was booked for time wasting.
Villa secured the victory and three points on 81 minutes as Buendia got free on the Villa left and rifled a shot past Jordan Pickford, Everton sending Tom Davies on to replace Amadou Onana for the remaining time.
Tarkowski rose at the back post but could only head a late corner over the bar and a tame left wing cross from Gray sailed harmlessly into the arms of Martinez. A late free kick was wasted by Gray as Martinez saw it coming and saved easily. Five added minutes were announced and Ramsey fired an aimless shot high into the Park End that was rapidly emptying.
Sean Dyche will no doubt praise his player’s commitment and effort but, the lack of a quality striker and playmaker in midfield was never more apparent. Although I would love to hear his private thoughts on the referee who from my position in MS2 was simply appalling.