Aston Villa edged a 1-0 victory over Everton in a game that had a number of running narratives. Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard was taking his team to Goodison Park for the first time, and got the sort of reception one would expect. The Villa boss smirked at the Everton faithful at one point, as they purged themselves of built-up tensions from Merseyside Derbies past. Lucas Digne was also returning to face his former club, just nine days after leaving. He marked the occasion by assisting the only goal of the afternoon. Duncan Ferguson, a former Gerrard opponent in those Liverpool-Everton clashes, returned to the home dugout as caretaker manager after the dismissal of Rafa Benitez last week.
The lively Emi Buendia offered Aston Villa’s primary creative outlet early on, breaking the lines with direct runs, and trying a couple of speculative shots from distance. The Argentine winger looked odds-on to open the scoring when a rampaging Matty Cash run set him free in the box. Only a crucial intervention from Ben Godfrey kept Everton on level terms.
The home side had a great chance to go in front when Abdoulaye Doucoure and Richarlison broke free, creating a two-against-one situation at the back for the Toffees. Doucoure could not find his former Watford colleague, and Emiliano Martinez snuffed out the danger.
Steven Gerrard’s side ramped up the pressure as the half went on. A long ball over the top found Ollie Watkins in the Everton box. The striker was closed down by England teammate Jordan Pickford, but it was the second time Yerry Mina had been outdone by a direct ball. The defender had previously headed a long ball over Pickford’s head earlier in the half, exposing a weakness Villa could look to exploit.
Watkins and Pickford went head-to-head again, as the striker saw a header spectacularly saved by the goalkeeper. The fact Watkins was belatedly flagged offside did a disservice to Pickford’s moment of pure shot-stopping bliss, and the custodian let out a wry smile that his efforts were ultimately in vain.
The Villans eventually got just reward for their attacking efforts, when Everton old boy Lucas Digne’s whipped corner found the head of Buendia, who arced a header over Pickford. It was a moment of brilliance, marred only by Digne and Cash being struck by projectiles thrown from the crowd during their celebrations.
Former Everton man Lucas Digne provides the assist 🅰️
The second half saw Everton take charge, with the introduction of Anthony Gordon in place of Andros Townsend. The 20-year-old was central to everything good about the home side’s second half, fashioning a number of chances for teammates. First, he whipped in a sharp cross that Richarlison headed just wide. Next, another well-placed centre found Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The England striker headed the ball towards Godfrey, whose own header on goal was cleared off the line by Tyrone Mings.
Gordon then combined with Richarlison for a tidy one-two, before firing another dangerous ball into the Villa penalty area. Calvert-Lewin was put off his attempt by Ezri Konsa, and another excellent chance went begging. A couple of Mina headers also offered a threat, with the defender sending one wide from a corner and another over after out-hustling Cash.
Ultimately, Everton’s renewal in the second half went unrewarded. Villa held on for an impressive win. Their first half performance warranted victory, but the Toffees can take heart from an encouraging display after the departure of their manager. The key now is securing the results to go with the sort of display they put up in a lively second half.