Club Focus – Aston Villa – Carew impresses as Villa remain unbeaten

Aston Villa recorded their second consecutive draw in the Premier League on Saturday against an evenly-matched Everton side. Even though Everton finished higher than Villa last season, it is Martin O’Neill’s side that have started this campaign with more intent. Both sides fought hard for the draw and the competitive nature of the fixture saw either side get a man sent off. However, with Liverpool and Tottenham both losing their fixtures at the weekend, the Villans have gained a valuable point as they attempt to catch the teams above them.

Villa began with their usual slow approach to the game by playing possession football right from the start. Perhaps it was fatigue from their midweek game against Sunderland, but in the final third of the pitch, the Villans never really looked as though they were going to score and neither did Everton. This fixture, which has produced so many goals in the past, failed to live up to expectations and despite a lively start – the game never really looked as though it was going to be an exciting encounter.

It was the Villans who were going to pay for their slow start as, just before the half-time whistle, Richard Dunne failed to prevent Tim Cahill from getting in a teasing cross which fell to Diniyar Bilyaletdinov – who slotted it past Brad Friedel. After the break, John Carew replaced an injured James Milner and his impact could not have been any better. Stephen Warnock’s cross from the left hand side reached Gabriel Agbonlahor whose shot was parried by Everton keeper Tim Howard before Carew converted the rebound. The equaliser prompted both sides to search for the winner and once Bilyaletdinov was sent off for his two-footed challenge on Stiliyan Petrov, Martin O’Neill’s men looked more likely to grab the winning goal. However, Carlos Cuellar’s sending off from his second yellow card evened the game up and it was to end 1-1.

With Emile Heskey chosen to start over John Carew on Saturday, it became clear that O’Neill is facing certain difficulties in choosing which striker to partner Agbonlahor upfront. However, with Heskey once again failing to perform and with Carew’s impact as a substitute changing the game, O’Neill’s patience with Heskey may begin to run out. Whilst many Villa fans will not be satisfied with the draw, it should be taken into account that the Villans have just played their third successive away game and, despite not winning in normal time, Martin O’Neill will be proud that his side have remained unbeaten. Even though Villa have gained two points out of a possible six, O’Neill sees every point as a valuable step towards a strong finish at the end of the season: “At this stage we have played 10 games – it is points on the board rather than position that counts and I’m very, very pleased considering we got off to the most awful start on the first day of the season.”

On Wednesday, the Villans play their game in hand, away to West Ham United. A win for Villa would see them overtake Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City in the Premier League table and they would find themselves in fourth place. However, Upton Park will prove to be a difficult destination but as long as O’Neill’s side can play attacking football they may be able to gain a good result out of the game. Recently Villa have been playing fairly cautious, particularly when playing away from home. The defence has remained consistent throughout but they have not been as effective upfront. All the teams above Aston Villa at the moment have all got attacking flair in their play and it cannot be denied that if the Villans play in this way then they may be able to record more victories. James Milner and Stiliyan Petrov are both doubtful for the clash on Wednesday and even though this could prove to be costly for the Villa squad, the players who are called in to replace them could provide the Villans with that attacking flair that they have been missing.

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