Everton’s leaky defence came back to haunt them as Aston Villa plundered three goals on Saturday to deal a blow to the Toffees’ Champions League aspirations.
It took a late comeback with two goals from Marouane Fellaini to take even a point and while the pressure Everton exerted on Villa in the second half of the second-half meant they deserved a share of the spoils, the 70 minutes before David Moyes’ side kicked into gear will be cause for concern, particularly in defence.
Much has been made of Everton’s tendency to concede this season. They went from September to January – from one game against Swansea to another – without keeping a clean sheet and against Villa, reached a new low of defensive timidity. John Heitinga was the main culprit, arguably at fault for all three Villa goals and certainly the first and the third, but it was a problem for which the whole backline, goalkeeper included, must take the blame.
Heitinga’s error in allowing Christian Benteke to practically stroll past him on route to opening the scoring after just a few minutes was clear for all to see. The Dutchman’s defending was no better when Benteke added his second, Villa’s third, in the second-half, and he probably should have been tighter to Gabriel Agbonlahor, too, although Fellaini was in the penalty area scrum as well.
But while Heitinga’s were individual errors they were part of a great defensive failure. The lack of communication between Heitinga and fellow centre-back Sylvain Distin was chronic, and it extended to Tim Howard in goal, too. The United States international has never been a vocal goalkeeper but that doesn’t mean he has to be mute.
More than once an Aston Villa cross came into the box and there was confusion among the Everton defenders and the goalkeeper. Howard remained on his line even when the ball was heading for the six yard box and in the absence of a claim, the Everton defender left the ball for Howard under the assumption he’d be there, making a bad situation worse.
The lack of a dominant presence in the centre of midfield also threatened to cost Everton as Villa broke once Everton’s midfielders pushed forward. Andreas Weimann should have punished Everton on the break when the score was 2-1 as Villa burst past Everton’s static midfield with pace and power. It might be cynical to suggest that’s exactly what Leroy Fer was intended to prevent but it was a common thought at Goodison Park.
Villa were sharper all over the pitch, Everton looking leggy and short on ideas. Villa snapped into challenges, Everton chased shadows. For much of the match the relegation-threatened side were the better team while the Champions League-chasers toiled away. If Villa had held out Everton could have had little complaint.
With the transfer window shut there’s no quick fix, just hard work on the training ground to cure the defence and the players digging a little deeper to find their inspiration. But it might be a tall ask to reach the top four in these circumstances.
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