Osman 19, Baines (pen) 69 – Petrov 63, Agbonlahor 83
A late Gabriel Agbonlahor header salvaged a draw for Aston Villa after Leighton Baines’ penalty and Leon Osman’s first-half strike twice put Everton in front. Stiliyan Petrov netted the first equaliser for Alex McLeish’s side before Agbonlahor restored parity with seven minutes remaining.
In contrast to the division off the pitch – with the game played against a backdrop of protests from a disgruntled supporters’ group – Everton were united on it, entering a team performance that was a far cry from the lacklustre fair offered up in their prior two Premier League games. Boardroom matters were never far from many Evertonians’ thoughts, however, as owner Bill Kenwright was shown on the big screen, but the initial smattering of boos was quickly overcome by a round of applause.
For their part, Villa began the game on the back foot but improved greatly after half-time when McLeish moved Agbonlahor to partner Darren Bent as a legitimate two-man strike force, having started the fixture playing Bent alone in attack. When Emile Heskey went off injured after 17 minutes McLeish was robbed of what had been an early strategy, the long ball to Heskey’s unorthodox right wing position, where the burly striker dominated Baines in the air. Following Heskey’s withdrawal, Villa had only one channel of attack – trying to spring Everton’s offside trap with Bent – which was comfortably stifled until Agbonlahor gave Bent more support in the second-half.
Nevertheless Everton did dominate much of the proceedings. When the half-time whistle blew the home side had claimed 61% of possession, a figure that only reduced slightly in the second period to 58%. Everton also had 10 more shots than the visitors and eight corners to Villa’s nil, but, having first switched off to allow Petrov the space to shoot from distance and then to allow Marc Albrighton’s cross to swing across goal, only had themselves to blame for picking up just a solitary point. Villa were always a threat on the counter-attack – although Bent in particular had trouble staying onside, while another surge was stopped by Sylvain Distin in a display of defending so excellent it drew a standing ovation from the home support – but Everton edged the midfield battle and, through Seamus Coleman and Tony Hibbert on the right and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov on the left, were full of vibrant wide play.
Shorn of strikers through injury and transfer window sales Moyes started with Osman and Tim Cahill as a makeshift attack, and the two converted midfielders linked in the first-half with the understanding of a much more natural front pair. They were mostly well-marshalled by Richard Dunne and James Collins, however, but it was Cahill who provided the assist for Osman’s placed opener. The Villa centre-backs were aided by a strong debut from right-back Alan Hutton, while Stephen Warnock was aggressive and hard-working throughout but given a tortuous time by Coleman. When Agbonlahor sealed a point for Villa, however, Everton’s impressive start was for almost naught, while the Midlands side need far more performances like the second 45 minutes, and less like the first.
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Coleman (Barkley 81), Rodwell, Fellaini, Bilyaletdinov (Drenthe 72); Osman; Cahill (Vellios 85)
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Given; Hutton, Dunne, Collins, Warnock; Delph (Ireland 80), Petrov; Heskey (Bannan 17), N’Zogbia (Albrighton 72), Agbonlahor; Bent
Did you know… Everton have not beaten Aston Villa at home in the league since a 4-1 victory in March 2006, losing twice and drawing four times.