Villa Park, Saturday evening, t-shirt weather. The scene was set for Aston Villa to take the stage at home against Europe-chasing rivals, Everton. With a good track-record against the Toffees over the past two seasons, Villa had their eyes set on a vital 3 points to invigorate the side after last week’s defeat.
Smith’s team lined up almost unchanged from the side that lost to Chelsea seven days ago, with only Emi Martinez slotting back in after arriving back in the country the same morning. Everton were without four key players in Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Pickford and Coleman – big blow for the travelling support.
The first half was a tale of no quality in the final third. Villa had the better chances, namely an early Mings header from a set piece that was well saved by Begović. Another well-executed set piece from Villa ended up with an Ings strike over the bar. Everton threatened too, with Rondon and Gray producing a couple of decent chances. Overall, the sides ultimately cancelled each other out in the first 45.
Half-time was where it all changed. Villa were now without McGinn following a concussion substitution, and Nakamba stepped up to fill the midfield spot. The home side came out for the second-half looking energetic and determined for three points, and early chances for both sides injected real energy into the game.
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The 61st minute saw Matt Targett leave the field for Leon Bailey – a tactical decision that would lead to great reward. The Jamaican made his home debut in front of nearly 42,000, and he seemed to thrive off the support of the home crowd.
5 minutes later, wonderful play up the right wing saw the ball threading through the channels, from Ings to Luiz, who placed a perfectly weighted ball at the feet of a driving Matty Cash. Cutting in on his left foot, Villa’s number 2 smashed home an excellent first goal for the club in front of the Holte End, before sprinting to his onlooking family in the Trinity Stand – passion.
From then, Villa were invigorated. Villa Park had erupted and Everton seemed to crumble. Cash won a corner minutes later, and a delicious cross from Bailey looked to travel straight into the back of the net for the second. However, it was the head of Lucas Digne that guided the ball inwards – but that didn’t stop the celebrations.
A vibrant Villa Park wanted more. Everton could not contain Bailey, Luiz or the quick feet of younger Ramsey. Cash continued to run riot, and the defence grew stronger over Everton’s weakened front line.
The third goal sealed the deal. An incredible cross from the outer boot of Danny Ings travelled cross field to a free Leon Bailey, who ran onto it and piled forward. He struck the ball into the back of the net with such force that he would unfortunately be substituted again after a whirlwind 20-minute cameo. The home side and their fans were grinning ear-to-ear in what was an unbelievable spell of attacking fluidity and success.
With Bailey sore, Ashley Young arrived to take his spot. Shortly after, Matty Cash pulled up and was replaced by Traoré, with Villa sliding back into a back four to round off the game. After several substitutions for both sides and the come-down from a thrilling ten minutes, the final ten were much more tame. Villa did enjoy lots more possession and some chances, but ultimately the game was finished.
After a mixed start to the season, and a frustrating trip to Stamford Bridge a week prior, Villa needed this boost before a run of tricky fixtures. Everton could not be underestimated, coming into the game unbeaten with a win taking them to joint top of the league. However, injuries and an uninspired display allowed Villa to enjoy some lovely football in the second-half and earn all three points.
Fingers remain crossed that all those substituted with injuries or slight knocks recover well before another trip to London midweek, and more importantly the visit to Old Trafford on Saturday. With new and improved squad depth and some incredible attacking talent, things can only look up for Aston Villa. Watch this space…
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