Everton 0-0 Aston Villa

Honours even but, what could have been?​

A poor finish from Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the first half when put through one-on-one with Martinez proved a costly miss as the sides fought out an at times ill-tempered encounter but, many will see a point as an acceptable return against a side at the other end of the table and pushing for Europe.

Third placed Aston Villa were our first opposition at Goodison since the turn of the New Year and with the Blues in need of getting back to winning ways, the task ahead looked a stiff one.

Two bits of good news for the Blues was the potential three game suspension for Dominic Calvert-Lewin following the disgraceful intervention of Craig Pawson that saw him red carded at Crystal Palace had been averted – thankfully someone saw sense and overturned the travesty that Chris Kavanagh caved in to… and even more significantly, the expected availability of Abdoulaye Doucoure to return to the midfield especially with Idrissa Gan Gueye being away on AFCON Cup duty with Senegal and Dwight McNeil unlikely to return till the FA Cup replay on Wednesday, though a place on the bench wasn’t out of the pre-game question.

Skipper Seamus Coleman spoke during the week about the influence manager Sean Dyche and his staff are having on the players when he noted, “When the manager came in, that was something that excited me about him. He is a bit old school in a way, which is actually a good thing: old school principles around the building; how you train; how you treat each other. That’s something I relate to and it’s something that I was glad to see come back in. You’re starting to see the lads really buy into his way of working. You either fit in or that’s it – you’re not going to be a part of it. It is good to see that determination and that steely side to the players. The manager and his staff have to take credit for that, as well.”

Coleman who played in a club record 355th Premier League game and recognised by a fabulous banner unfurled from the Upper Gwladys, Dyche and Evertonians everywhere were hoping that some steely determination would be supplemented by an aggressive, attacking performance against high-flying Villa and to that end, Dyche entrusted his faith a starting eleven that read: Jordan Pickford, Seamus Coleman (c), James Tarkowski, Jarrad Branthwaite, Vitalii Mykolenko, Jack Harrison, James Garner, Amadou Onana, Arnaut Danjuma, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Aston Villa arrived at Goodison with five straight Premier League victories over their hosts, although Everton did knock them out of the Carabao Cup on their own ground back in September. Under Spanish head coach Unai Emery, the Birmingham outfit have been arguably the most improved team in the division since this time last season, maintaining their form from the previous campaign into this one and serving notice that they have serious designs on achieving Champions League qualification at least come May and the end of the season.

Former Blues defender Lucas Digne wasn’t available through injury and with Bertrand Traore away on international duty, Emery – the Premier League’s Manager of the Month for December – was hoping that Youri Tielemans and Pau Torres, who had both returned to training this week after slight knocks, might be ready to face an Everton side he was expecting a tough game from.

Knowing a win would put his side joint top of the table, Emery named his strongest available line-up thus: Martinez, Konsa, Carlos, Lenglet, Moreno, Luiz, Kamara, Bailey, McGinn (c), Diaby and Watkins.

On a cool but not totally unpleasant afternoon, our referee was David Coote.

Both teams donned black armbands as a mark of respect for former Everton chairman Peter Johnson who died this week – a somewhat low key commemoration by the club for the last chairman to see us lift a trophy.

Good work and persistence from Harrison saw the Blues earn the first corner only for Martinez to easily claim the inswinging set piece. Harrison made the first real chance of the game, getting in a cross that reached Danjuma who couldn’t get it down for a shot. Martinez was hurt in a collision with Onana after overplaying at the back and despite it being a 50-50, the referee adjudged a foul had been committed by the Belgian midfielder.

McGinn was rather fortunate not to see at least a yellow card for a late challenge on Doucoure that saw Seamus Coleman have a discussion with Unai Emery that ended amicably. Villa then conceded a free kick just outside the area that saw Garner hit the wall with his shot and the visitors cleared to halfway. A good ball from Branthwaite played Danjuma into space for a cross that Villa hastily cleared – the Blues certainly on top through the opening ten minutes.

The first real Villa attack saw Pickford alert to save a shot from Watkins from a tight angle and a couple of minutes later, Mykolenko cleared a cross from Moreno. Villa won a corner as Tarkowski blocked a McGinn cross behind and after playing it short and with some of the Everton defence appealing for a possible offside, the ball reached Moreno who fired a powerful low shot into the bottom corner to give the visitors an 18th minute lead, somewhat against the run of play. VAR reviewed the incident to check for the offside and after what seemed an eternity, the decision went the Blues way and we were back to nil-nil.

Moreno won a second Villa corner off the chest of Seamus Coleman and a combination of Branthwaite and Onana got the ball clear before McGinn went down and the ref gave Villa a free kick. Villa had weathered the early Everton possession and pressure and were now settling into the game and seeing more of the ball themselves. Coleman took no chances, putting the ball into the Main Stand as Pickford came tearing out from goal to reach a ball played by McGinn for Moreno.

Pickford made an excellent stop low to his left, at the expense of a corner, to deny Bailey as the visitors began to get on top. The Blues defended the corner but, the signs were not looking good and the home crowd were getting concerned at how easily Villa were through midfield to pressure the home goal.

Half an hour gone and Tarkowski was hurt by an elbow from Watkins who was booked for the challenge that drew blood from a cut above the right eye of the Blues ever-present defender. Needless to say Tarkowski, picked himself up and with a plaster administered, quickly returned to the field of play. A strong challenge by Garner in midfield won the ball and set Danjuma free, his shot being deflected behind for a corner from the left that saw DCL penalised for a foul on Luiz.

Moreno needed treatment for a bloody nose before Everton could take a free kick for a foul on Harrison by Kamara. Villa cleared before Garner inadvertently felled Onana by smashing a loose ball straight at the Belgian. Watkins got behind Coleman to get on the end of a long ball from Martinez, the Blues skipper getting back and the Blues countered with a ball by Danjuma through the middle for DCL to get in one-on-one with Martinez saving his disappointing shot and then recovering his ground to turn a shot from Garner behind for a corner that failed to produce.

With two injury delays and the VAR involvement, the fourth official indicated a minimum of eight added minutes. Everton were trying their hardest to end the half on a positive note before Moreno went down theatrically to win a free kick from a challenge by Coleman who headed the initial cross clear with the follow-up seeing Watkins ruled offside.

Honours even at the interval with both goalies having made one decent save each and VAR – for once – having ruled in the Blues favour.

Half Time: 0-0

No changes of personnel by either manager for the resumption although Beto sent the early minutes of the second half warming up on the touchline as first Mykolenko and then Tarkowski cleared their lines. Carlos was booked for petulantly throwing the ball away. Tarkowski and Mykolenko then collided going for the same ball with the Ukrainian looking to have been hurt the most and needing attention to a head wound. He left the field momentarily as play restarted with Coleman pushing forward on the right and, sporting a bandage around his head, Mykolenko returned.

Garner was caught in the face by Diaby to the Blues a chance to left a ball into the Villa area from Harrison that went far to easily through to Martinez – poor from the Blues to say the least. A Villa break saw Branthwaite do enough to stymie Bailey and Garner with a good block denied Watkins at the expense of corner that Onana headed clear. McGinn bent a shot wide of the target after a Villa break that saw Tarkowski flatten Diaby with a crunching tackle.

Danjuma saw a shot go wide on the hour mark as the Blues countered and Beto prepared to enter the fray and a Villa corner saw Pickford save easily from Kamara. Beto duly replaced Calvert-Lewin in the 63rd minute and Dwight McNeil replaced Danjuma – Villa responding with Duran and Tielemans coming on for Bailey and Diaby respectively.

Under 25 minutes to play and with genuine chances being few and far between, the game was increasingly looking like either a moment of genius or an error might be the deciding factor. Another stoppage came on 68 minutes as Onana was hurt in the ‘crown jewels’ and needed a minute to get his breath back. Pickford crossed the halfway line to send a free kick into the Villa area for Tarkowski who appeared to be manhandled by Carlos and he clattered Moreno with a perfectly fair but robust challenge that a number of Villa players reacted to. The Villa whinging resulted in referee Coote showing the Blues number six a yellow card that both he and Seamus Coleman argued vehemently against, Lenglet was also carded for his involvement in the push ‘n shove.

Villa made a third change on 73 minutes, Carlos replaced by Cash – maybe to protect or prevent Carlos from getting further punishment. The temperature was definitely rising and Tielemans was booked for a foul that saw McNeil float a cross that again, was far too easily gathered by Martinez. Into the final quarter hour of normal time – we were probably looking at at least another five added minutes to come – and we still awaited either the moment of genius or error.

Pickford dived to punch a cross clear as Villa came again and Branthwaite cleared a cross by Tielemans to launch a counter that saw a shot by Doucoure blocked and cleared. Less than ten minutes to play, could either side find a winner? And it took an outstanding challenge by Vitalii Mykolenko to prevent Villa taking the lead after Moreno has crossed low into the area and Cash looked odds-on to put the visitors ahead, Seamus Coleman with another good intervention to get the ball clear to midfield.

Watkins sprayed a ball wide to Cash to cross into the Everton area where Duran didn’t get a good enough touch and the ball went wide and behind. Villa, playing a high line, survived as Doucoure got onto a ball and crashed a shot past Martinez before the offside flag was raised and Villa made another chance as McGinn was replaced by Zaniolo.

As expected, a minimum of a further seven minutes was announced and Villa saw a header go wide before a timely intervention by Lenglet prevented a ball from Harrison reaching Beto. A late cross by Onana was again too easy for Martinez and a shot by Onana was always rising and cleared the crossbar without worrying the Villa keeper in the final attempt to break the deadlock.

Full Time: 0-0

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