Although the final whistle of Everton’s 2-2 draw with Aston Villa signalled disappointment at the result, in the aftermath there is plenty for Toffees supporters to be positive about. Everton’s performance was greatly improved from their prior two Premier League outings, offering a great deal of encouragement for the future.
Even the absence of a recognised centre-forward in David Moyes’ starting XI did not hamper the Blues. Indeed, the pairing of Tim Cahill and Leon Osman, two naturally attacking midfielders, provided plenty of movement and hard-work. The duo combined smartly and supported each other with regularity, not least when Cahill teed up Osman’s opening goal, while a strike pair that did more tracking back into midfield or closing down of defenders will be hard to find from the weekend’s action.
Everton’s attacking threat did not just come from the makeshift forward partnership, however. Arguably the game’s standout attacking player was Seamus Coleman, the full-back turned winger making his first appearance of the season after injury. The Republic of Ireland international tortured Stephen Warnock for 75 minutes, darting past the left-back countless times, with only the lack of a good final ball counting against the 22-year-old.
Playing behind Coleman was Tony Hibbert, the right-back chosen in place of captain Phil Neville. Hibbert is a cult figure at Goodison Park, admired and mocked in almost equal measure – the former for his defensive solidity, the latter for his lack of attacking prowess. That excellent defending was on show for much of the match with Villa, however, when Hibbert dominated the speedy Gabriel Agbonlahor, stepping in to prevent the winger running with the ball a number of times. With some excellent crosses, too, Hibbert showed that he can play an important part in Everton’s forward moves as well.
Hibbert’s fellow full-back Leighton Baines not only converted a well-struck penalty and was his usual attacking threat throughout the game, but took over set-piece responsibility from Mikel Arteta and caused havoc in the Villa box with more than half-a-dozen deliveries to the far post. Where Arteta’s radar had failed him in the latter part of his Everton career, Baines constantly picked out Everton’s physical players and forced the Villa defence into some scrambled defending.
The hub of much of Everton’s impressive first-half play was the centre of midfield, where Jack Rodwell and Marouane Fellaini were in partnership. The more agile Rodwell, returned to his best position after a misguided sojourn on the right of midfield, was primarily the anchor but used his physical gifts to surge forward on occasion, while Fellaini’s probing play caused Villa a problem for much of the game. The visitors’ midfield regrouped after the break and made the contest more even, but for the first 45 minutes, Rodwell and Fellaini were dominant – a balanced mix of defensive protection and attacking support.
A single game is too little evidence to make firm judgements, but, together with the promising cameos from youngsters Ross Barkley and Apostolos Vellios, there was a lot on show to comfort the manager and the supporters.
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