Like many Villa supporters, I’d spent most of the week in nervous anticipation. Everton looked a crucial fixture, but their visit to Villa Park brought with it huge uncertainty. Which Villa, indeed, which Everton, might turn up?
As with any Villa game these days you are sure of a white knuckle experience. Over 90 minutes we’d give Alton Towers a run for their money.
The first half was sheer dominence from Villa. Whilst there was undoubtedly a sniff of end of season for Everton, they couldn’t contain us.
I’m always pleased to see Naismith on their teamsheet. A trier and a nuisance he may be, I felt confident that Delph, Westwood and Cleverley could out football their midfield. And so it proved.
As is becoming a common joy , Villa have begun dictating play to the opposition. It’s a distant, albeit baffling reality that these are the same players Lambert de-flaired.
Villa took the game to Everton and pressed. Delph lifted a high cross to Benteke who headed with precision beyond the faultless Howard.
Vlaar, out of sorts all day for my money, then missed a free header. A huge sitter went begging. A look at the Gods, kick the upright kind of miss…
Benteke then doubled the advantage, latching athletically onto a flicked cross and stabbing into the top corner. Jubilant scenes; suspect Everton marking.
Half time, superb. Given wouldnt be requiring so much as a drink, so unworked was he.
Villa started positively after the break, Grealish caught the eye with slick passing moves and ghosting between the opposition. I am the first to be cautious, but with the right nurturing, he could be quite a player for Aston Villa. Grealish was a joy to watch yesterday.
And then for our obligatory conceding of a soft penalty.
Vlaar was the victim, lured into a challenge that was duly accepted, gift wrapped.
Mark Clattenberg reacted with joy at being able to award the spot kick against Villa. More on his ineptitude later.
Lukaku stepped up and slotted home. Plum in the corner, despite Givens’s best efforts to reach it.
Ah….squeeky bum time. How we’d missed it?
Villa are a changed team but still prone to moments of panic. Composure gave way to frantic chases as Everton countered. Seemingly straightforward clearances became excruciating penalty area scrambles. Vlaar was guilty of a desperate pullback when beaten just inches from the box. He was rightly booked.
However, this in the new revived Villa. The old Villa would have not won from 2-1. We may have even lost.
Now, we take the game by the scruff and kick on.
Bacuna, who is becoming a talented assist merchant burst into space and threaded a scintilating ball to the advancing Cleverley. The United loanee gave Howard no chance, lashing a dipping drive over him. Rapturous scenes on and off the pitch.
Whilst Bacuna is showing the ability we suspected he had, Cleverley is a revelation.
Tom Cleverley is a changed man. So maligned at Man Utd, the standing joke of England squads and pre-Sherwood, absolutely anonymous for Aston Villa.
Now, he is vital to Aston Villa. I see movement and a range of passing that we simply dont otherwise possess. He also has a frightening work ethic and now the desire to bomb forward. It’s such a contrast and change in fortunes.
Villa then conceded one of the more bizarre goals of the season. A looped ball was neither dealt with by Given or met by the advancing Everton striker.
It preceded to drop horribly from the heavens, striking the front of the bar, Given lay claiming a foul, whilst Jagielka nodded in, almost missing from a yard, striking the underside of the bar with his header.
Cue a moment of uncertainty as Villa Park realised we would be watching the remainder of the game through our fingers. And whilst terrifying, we saw the game out to secure a massive win.
Massive in the sense that the results around us warranted an immediate response. Leicester’s unforseen resurrection has added an extra team to the party, whilst Sunderland have life in them. Who knows about Hull…and what about Newcastle?
It certainly cannot be a bad thing to be sitting 14th rather than staring upwards from third bottom. The margins are fine, Sherwood has to be commended for meeting them, especially given our bleak outlook following his arrival.
A quick mention for Mark Clattenberg. A baffling display from an alleged professional official. If he wasn’t over familiar with certain players, he was inconsistent, erratic use of advantage and an all round bizarre set of decisions. This must be obvious to players, that they are being refereed by a complete and utter clown? All he lacked was the bells, whistles and his latest ticketmaster booking history to completely satisfy the jury.
Joking aside, he almost ruined the fixture, oblivious where intervention was warranted, whilst unable to judge straightforward matters across 90 minutes. Poor.
Everton always travel well and fall into a catagory of team I like playing. Not because Villa necessarily do well, the spoils are fairly even over the years, but they are a proper club with proper fans. 200 top flight meetings is not just a chance statistic, it should remind other bankrolled clubs that class, heritage and history cannot be bought and paraded like mercenaries.
With that said Everton played an unusual style. I didnt want to draw an obvious comparison, but there were Wigan-esque hallmarks about the approach. There is undoubtedly talent in Lukaku and co, and whilst difficult to judge during an end of season game, some Everton fans annoyances with Martinez do appear in part justified. One imagines he needs a good start next term, or risk becoming maligned at Goodison.
Villa now head to Southampton with some optimism. We must keep the momentum going as the job isn’t quite complete. Hopefully we only need another victory, although it’s increasingly looking like two. Playing like we are now, we have a better chance than many of us thought imaginable just a few weeks ago.