Reflecting on this match was always going to be difficult. The result does little to inspire confidence, but the manner in which we went about our business is laudable. Whilst three points would have been massive, in the wider scheme of things, the fact that we have taken a point at Goodison Park could be vitally important come the end of the season.
The game was a decent encounter. Much romanticism is written in the popular media about the frequency, age and history of this fixture. The truth is in recent years that both sides are mere shadows of their former selves and play second fiddle to European competing perennials within the domestic division. But to the supporters of these fine clubs it has done little to disperse the interest in the clash when it rolls around twice a season. It’s like Christmas pudding, Easter eggs or an Emile Heskey goal. Treasured.
Everton started in a sprightly fashion and troubled Villa from the off. Kyle Walker lost possession whilst cutting in from the right, Everton broke with ease and Osman slotted in beyond Freidel. Walker, who looked well below par all afternoon having passed a fitness test, will be disappointed with his showing.
Further concern must be raised with James Collins for Everton’s opener, as Osman was allowed to do as he pleased under no pressure whatsover. A committed player Collins might be, but he was as culpable in this goal as Walker when it hit the back of the net. A future beyond the summer for the centre half on this form must surely be unlikely.
Villa seemed to find their feet in the game, steadied the ship and enjoyed possession without being a real threat thereafter. Credit must therefore be recognised as Villa sides of old could easily have conceded a second before the break. As such Villa went in behind, but not disheartened.
After the break the team emerged with purpose and within two minutes of the restart were level. Good work by Downing cutting in from the right lead to him putting the ball onto Bent’s toe who made no mistake from ten yards, burying the ball high beyond Tim Howard. Fine work from two Villa players who widely impressed in England’s recent fixtures.
And then time for the first bit of controversy. Sloppy Villa defending once more allowed the ball to find Beckford on the edge of the area. The hit and miss striker lashed a strike towards goal that hit the underside of the bar and bounced downwards. Having watched a couple of replays I’m genuinely not convinced all of the ball crossed the line…and evidently the referee and his assistant agreed. And thus play resumed to the vocal disgust of the locals who soon-after would need to be restrained.
Friedel wasted no time in launching the ball upfield. The ball dropped to Ashley Young who weighted a lovely pass to Bent, who curved his run and finished supremely past the advancing Howard once more with a deft touch. Stunning through ball, composed finish, rapturous away fans & demented home support. It’s what football is all about.
And now for some genuine controversy. With a little over five minutes remaining Phil Jagielka advanced inside the box, Jean Makoun thought better of a challenge, but Jagielka produced a stunning dive to haul Everton back to 2-2. Phil “the cheat” Jagielka, as he is hereafter known, enabled Baines to despatch a penalty beyond Friedel. The local’s may feel aggrieved by an earlier decision going against them, but to cheat in order to right a debatable wrong is not acceptable.
And for all of the good things that happened in the game, the talking points, the passion from both sides – it all get’s undone by cheating. Jagielka will not be held up as a cheat – but ultimately he dived – and until players such as he are ostracised and made an example of – football will be sour to the palette of most.
And as the full time whistle blew the draw felt like a defeat to many. But there are many positives to take. As an attacking force we are creative and prolific. Our major Achilles heel is without doubt our back line. It is absolutely dire at times. The commitment is there, but there have to be genuine questions asked about fitness – both physical and at a skill level. This will be addressed when the transfer window opens, there is no doubt, because there is no point in having the threat that Villa have going forward when you cannot defend.
The point is welcome, and despite results not going with us, Villa’s performance should inspire and motivate us to tackle Newcastle at home. The emphasis has to be upon attaining all three points with West Ham, Stoke and WBA looking trickier fixtures than anticipated. Keep the faith.