It could hardly have fallen better for Roberto Martinez. Needing a win after too ften squandering points having played well this season, Aston Villa, early momentum lost after recent defeats, hove into view bringing a goal-shy attack and vulnerable defence. Soon the ball was being pinged around with Ross Barkley featuring for the first time since May, and everything was looking very Autumn 2013. Three points was the inevitable haul.
That said, it’s worth avoiding the temptation to take such a win for granted. Mistakes needed to be eradicated and they were. Tim Howard was decisive with his punches and showed the positioning that makes him such a great shot-stopper when Villa fashioned their few chances. In front of him, Antolin Alcaraz’s lack of pace was covered by James McCarthy, back fit and with concentration at 100% again and Phil Jagielka was given a relatively easy ride by Christian Benteke, back in a starting XI for the first time since March. Everton’s best players flanked the fourth centre-back partnership in eight league games – at least they did for the kick-offs.
Leighton Baines hasn’t quite been on his very best game for some months now, but, with Everton dominating possession as Villa dropped deep into a rigid defensive shape, he could play in the opposition half and not worry too much about being caught upfield (he was though – at least twice). Everton fans were relieved to see the familiar left-sided triangles, early on with Osman and Barry, later, the old gang reunited again, with Osman and Piennar. Baines still enjoys three options to inject the crucial change of pace into the possession football: his own indefatigable running; his crisply hit, arrow straight passes infield; and his sharp football brain. Two more assists – one a perfectly played right foot cross for his skipper’s opener – were his reward.
On the other side, returning from injury and not quite at full throttle, Seamus Coleman still gave an equally impressive masterclass in the art of attacking full-back play. Watch again how early he sees the opportunity that leads to his goal, how committed is the run (2-0 up and in open play) and how immaculately timed his arrival into the much derided POMO (Position of Maximum Opportunity) turns out. it’s no exaggeration to claim that he attacks space out wide as effectively as any Premier League player since Thierry Henry, his burgeoning goal tally laid in evidence.
Further up the formation, if not the field, Romelu Lukaku will accept his somewhat fortunate goal, but still displays more anxiety than confidence, not quite the player he was this time last year. Steven Naismith was all over the pitch, giving everything for the cause as usual, but did not look the same threat moved wider to accommodate the returning Barkley. The ageing legs of Leon Osman and Gareth Barry were not tested by the approach favoured by Villa manager Paul Lambert and his assistant, literary giant Roy Keane. They desperately need more pace in the side, if they wish to play on the break starting 80 yards from their opponent’s touchline.
With the goals average back up to two per game and just a couple short of Manchester City’s aggregate of 18, Evertonians can look forward to floating up the table as winter draws on, playing positive football and scoring lots of goals. That’s if – and given August and September, it’s a biggish if – the error count can be slashed.