By Jonathan Parkin
Everton 1 Aston Villa 1
To stave off relegation, Villa were virtually needing to play knockout football, where only winning would keep their season alive. A win against Crystal Palace kept the life support going, but a win against Everton would put them right in the relegation battle mix, considering some of the other team’s upcoming fixtures.
Dean Smith made one forced change to the starting XI, with Matt Targett coming in for the injured Neil Taylor. 17-year-old full-back Kaine Kesler-Hayden was an intriguing selection on the bench, with a shortage of fit defenders leading Smith to look at the youth team. Everton’s Carlo Ancelotti made five changes to his side, displaying his displeasure with their loss against Wolves, and meaning a big response was expected.
Villa played well for the most part in the first half, however, neither side could get a scoring opportunity of any real quality. Douglas Luiz ran the show for Villa, robbing the ball from the Everton attack and midfield, before bursting forward and attempting to find members of the strike force.
The game continued to be one of few goalscoring opportunities in the second half. The Villans had a couple of openings via Jack Grealish, but the attacking midfielder failed to find the target. Dean Smith switched up the front three, Davis and El Ghazi replaced Samatta and Trezeguet, and Villa’s threat level increased. Conor Hourihane whipped a free kick into the area, and Ezri Konsa slid through to place the ball into the back off the Everton net. Anwar El Ghazi should have made it two soon after, scuffing the ball over the bar from a few yards out, a miss that Villa would come to rue.
Much like for the rest of the season, Villa slipped further and further back into their own half. Fans must have been screaming at the television screens to push out and pressure Everton, as they maintained possession. One ball of many into the box met the head of Theo Walcott, and cruelly looped over the head of Pepe Reina, and across the line before Konsa could acrobatically pump the ball clear. Goal line technology was not the Villans friend for a second time.
Everton looked as if they could score again after their 87th minute equaliser, but the Villa held onto the point. At this stage, a point really isn’t enough, the season will be over, if Villa fail to beat Arsenal on Tuesday.
Pepe Reina – 6
There wasn’t much for Pepe Reina to do other than pick the ball out of his net late on. The Spaniard claimed several crosses calmly, and was accurate in terms of his passing and long clearances.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6.5
Ahmed Elmohamady can cross the ball extremely well, and he showcased this skill well once again. The Egyptian played more key passes than any other Villa player, and there is always a good chance for Villa to create an opportunity when Elmo has the ball out wide on the right. On top of this, the 32-year-old was solid in defence, with two tackles and two interceptions to his name.
Ezri Konsa – 7
Centre-back Ezri Konsa importantly stuck the ball in the net, giving Villa a glimmer of hope. He also tidily passed the ball, and dealt with the Everton front two commendably. One heart in mouth moment was caused by the 22-year-old however, as he slipped and allowed the ball to be fed across to Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The Everton striker spared Konsa’s blushes though, as he placed the ball wide of the mark. A decent performance overall by Konsa though.
Tyrone Mings – 6.5
Another much improved performance from Tyrone Mings. Villa’s vocal centre-half manged to snuff out the Everton attack multiple times as it broke, with the help of Konsa and Douglas Luiz. There were no casual moments with the ball from the England international, and Villa on the whole looked more comfortable in defence.
Matt Targett – 5.5
In failing to contest the header with Theo Walcott, Matt Targett cost Villa a goal. In times when defensive solidity and fight are needed to such an extent, half-baked attempts at challenges can’t be allowed to happen. It is a shame, because otherwise the energetic left-back worked well as part of the defensive unit, and gave Villa another avenue to attack. Mistakes and lacklustre defensive efforts cost teams down at the bottom.
Douglas Luiz – 7.5 MOTM
It is no surprise for Villa fans to see Douglas Luiz have another great performance. The defensive midfielder dealt with Richarlison expertly in the first half, whipping the ball off the forward’s toes and outmuscling him where necessary. The Brazilian also pulled the strings for Villa when they progressed up the pitch, with more passes than any other player. The quality further up the pitch may have been lacking, but Douglas provided plenty from further back.
Conor Hourihane – 6.5
Despite whipping a teasing ball into the box for the opening goal, Conor Hourihane played his part in the Toffee’s equaliser. The Irishman’s less than combative nature showed, as he did very little to prevent the cross that resulted in Walcott’s header. It is worth pointing out though, that Hourihane did on the whole perform well. He played a selection of nice passes that got the Villa moving forward, as well as driving towards the Everton goal himself.
John McGinn – 7
It’s taken way too long for the Villa’s liking, but John McGinn is much more like his old self. The midfield dynamo executed several of his trademark turns with his back to the opposition player, and fizzed a brilliant pass across the park to Jack Grealish early in the second half. A smattering of tackles and interceptions rounded off a fine performance from McGinn.
Trezeguet – 5.5
After scoring a brace last time round against Crystal Palace, it was clear to see Trezeguet had grown in confidence. The winger drove at the opposition with energy and attempted to play in a direct style. Despite this, his execution was very poor, and he only succeeded in giving away possession in decent attacking positions.
Ally Samatta – 4
When Ally Samatta was signed, the Villa faithful were promised an experienced striker, ready to go in the Premier League, who was good in the air. The Tanzanian’s one chance to score in this game was from a cross, and he headed it far over the bar. He has suffered at times since joining due to a woeful lack of service, but even when the 27-year-old gets the chances, he doesn’t look like putting them away. His lack of ability with the ball on the floor also hinders Villa’s progress, as the striker either passes backwards or loses the ball completely (he was dispossessed three times in this match alone).
Jack Grealish © – 7
The direct play that was missing from Jack Grealish is back, and there was real threat going forward from the Villa skipper. But still, the final finish or pass was missing for Villa’s key man. The one occasion his delivery was on the money, Anwar El Ghazi couldn’t tap the ball in.
Off the Bench
Keinan Davis (63) – 7
Keinan Davis came on and threw his weight around against Everton’s inexperienced centre-half, Jarrad Branthwaite. The big striker won two freekicks, including the one that allowed Villa to open the scoring. Though he isn’t really a goal threat, Davis works hard for the team and opens up space for others, which is a great deal more than Samatta does.
Anwar El Ghazi (63) – 5.5
Dutch winger Anwar El Ghazi looked much livelier than Trezeguet in his spell on the pitch. His performance was marred by the key moment of the game though, as he somehow spurned a golden opportunity to increase the Villa advantage to two.
Dean Smith – 6
There is a minute chance for Villa to stay up. A loss would have been disastrous, but there is too much that needs to happen out of Villa’s hands for safety to be a realistic prospect. In terms of game plan and performance, there isn’t a great deal to be criticised, other than a lack of real threat from open play. This is more like the fight that the Villa faithful want to see, but it has come far too late. A good run now could still help provide momentum into next season, especially if it starts soon after this season finishes. Though most of the hope is gone, there is still something to cling onto.
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