Everton (0) vs Aston Villa (0) – Our Villans dominate but can’t find the winner

Sunday, January 14th, 14.00 – Goodison Park

Referee: David Coote

One benefit of writing game reports is that you get to make a forensic assessment of the game and, in doing so, you realize that our Villans’ performances do not change that dramatically from game to game.  Fortune, good or bad, and the performance of the opposing team has much more to do with the result than we first conclude.

In fact, we noted in the Pre-Game assessment of this fixture that, from now on, our Villans are going to find opponents doing whatever they can to disrupt our game-plan.  Everton found a new variation to be spoilers, by getting under our Villans’ skins.  Ask Moussa Diaby, who was bundled over unceremoniously more than once, or Durán who was shoved in the back to elicit a response, or the constant taunts by Coleman, and the heavy slide tackle by Tarkowski on Moreno.

Our Villans were sucked into reacting and this contributed to reducing the amount of time and energy that we should have been exerting to get the breakthrough goal.  Still, we did have 69% of possession and our passing accuracy was a laudable 85%.  Even better was that we limited the hosts to only two shots on target that came from the same attack, and we achieved a shutout away from home.  We even had the ball in the back of Everton’s net only to be overturned by VAR after another elongated review.

Much of the credit for the shutout goes, obviously, to Emi Martinez who saved both shots he faced but, also to Boubacar Kamara who was a standout as the defensive midfielder.  At other end, Pickford made one outstanding save and was solid overall, as was the Toffees’ defense.

Unai Emery’s response at game end was appropriate.  We created enough good chances to take all three points and, if we continue to play solid games like this, we’ll win most of them.  Certainly, having fully fit Pau Torres, Jacob Ramsey, and Youri Tielemans in the side will tip games in our favor.

So, what did happen in the game?  Well, it certainly was not an auspicious start when Martinez carelessly passed to Douglas Luiz in the 6th minute with speedy Onana close by.  The Belgian bundled Douglas aside and slid into Martinez attempting to reach the loose ball before Luiz cleared.  That could have been an Everton goal, worse still, our goalie could have been injured.

It was not until the 13th minute that we strung a good number of passes together.  It started with Diego Carlos finding McGinn running left to right on the halfway line, and our captain one-touching the ball on to Diaby in the inside-right channel.  Our sleek Frenchman carried for 25 yards drawing the attention of Branthwaite and Mykolenko.  With those defenders preoccupied, Ollie Watkins cut behind and into the penalty area, where Diaby found him with a perfectly timed and weighted pass.  Despite Tarkowski closing in and Pickford coming well off his line, Ollie was able to get a quick shot away that looked headed for the far corner of the net.  Fast feet is a Pickford strength and he threw out a right leg for his first save of the game.

Shortly after, we were able to draw Coleman, Harrison, and Onana forward as Lenglet, Kamara, and Luiz exchanged passes on the left touchline.  The last pass, from Luiz, was one-touch, and it found Moreno open, and he carried down toward the penalty area before curling the ball for Watkins, Diaby and Bailey, all waiting just outside the 6-yard box.  The very quick Mykolenko anticipated, nipped in, and cleared his lines. The ball ended up with Coleman, but his attempted clearance was partially blocked by Moreno and Kamara was able to gather and he switched the play over to Bailey on the right.  That came to nothing as Kamara and Bailey were not on the same page but we had established that we were going to take control of the game.

Just a minute later, Moreno again found space down the left and Lenglet fed him.  Alex then waited for McGinn to slip behind Coleman and fed him.  Our captain was intent on a first-time relay across the face of the goal, but Tarkowski, in close attendance blocked that for a corner, our first corner of the game at the 17-minute mark.

The corner was a short one, another Austin MacPhee creation.  Bailey and Luiz went over together with Bailey feeding Luiz with all eleven Everton players in the penalty area while our Villans had McGinn, Diaby, and Moreno lined up just outside the box.  Luiz passed to McGinn who passed back towards Luiz, but it was slightly behind our Brazilian and he left it to Bailey who found Moreno with a perfect chip.  Moreno chested it down and rifled a bullet into Pickford’s left corner.  Villa had scored, but maybe not.  Everton players were vociferously complaining about Lenglet holding Danjuma and Bailey being offside.

It took an interminably long time for VAR to judge Bailey offside, much to everyone’s annoyance.  Not to worry, our Villans almost scored in the 28th minute.  Luiz floated one of his incisive passes for Watkins to run onto in the penalty area from left to right.  As Ollie controlled the pass, Tarkowski was leaning on his shoulder while Diaby cut behind both players towards the 6-yard box.  With Ollie running, but ready to shoot from the right corner of the 6-yard box, Tarkowski had his foot ready to block while Pickford had advanced to cut down the angle.

What makes Watkins so valuable is his ability to immediately adjust to circumstances.  A shot would inevitably be blocked, so he threaded a pass between Tarkowski’s legs for Diaby just inside the box.  It left Pickford stranded wide of his left post, and it would have been a tap-in for the silky Frenchman.

Unfortunately, at that moment we needed strength as well as speed, as the Irish international, Seamus Coleman, leaned on Diaby just enough to impede him from reaching the ball.  In fact, Diaby did the next best thing, he beat Coleman to the ball, now wide of the goal, pivoted, and passed back to McGinn entering the penalty area.  Our captain saw three blue shirts ready to converge on him, so he let the ball run to Luiz.

Our Brazilian wizard already knew who was best positioned to get a shot on goal and it was not himself.  Leon Bailey was one-on-one with Tarkowski twenty yards to his right.  A little double fake froze two defenders, and he slipped over a perfect pass to Leon, that our much-improved Jamaican took on his left foot, let run to his right, and immediately took a powerful shot to the near post.  Pickford is not the England goalkeeper for nothing.  Jordan dove to his left and got a strong left hand to the shot and pushed it away for a corner that was cleared.

That attack, comprising passes from Carlos to Luiz, to Watkins, to Diaby, to McGinn, to Luiz to Bailey, to a shot by Bailey (six Villans in total) extended from the edge of Villa’s penalty area with only Pickford of Everton having any contact with the ball and lasted less than one minute.  Without Coleman’s defensive speed and skill, and Pickford’s reflexes and strong hand, one of those two outstanding opportunities would have turned into a goal and a likely victory. 

Our Villans continued to dominate possession for the balance of the half, but Everton’s defense remained solid.  Then, just before the halftime whistle, the Toffees got the chance they were waiting for.  As Danjuma received a pass inside his own half, he saw that Carlos was moving forward to put Calvert-Lewin in an offside position.  The only problem for Carlos was that both of them were in the Everton half.

The Dutch Nigerian instantly struck a pass with the outside of his right foot around Carlos for his striker to run onto.  Calvert-Lewin is fast, and he had the first step, so there was no chance of catching him.  It was one-on-one with Emi Martinez who confidently came out to cover the angle then dove to his left, but also extended his legs to the right.  Sure enough, Everton’s frustrated striker (no goals since Oct. 29th), pulled the shot to his left only to see it hit Emi’s feet and rebound off himself, and to his right. 

Still, the danger was not yet cleared and Doucouré gathered and attempted to dribble through Moreno and McGinn only for the ball to ricochet to Garner standing right in front of the goal, on the edge of the area.  This unpretentious midfielder struck the ball for direction, with no wind-up, only to have Carlos deflect it.  Martinez had to stop his dive to the right and drop to his left to push the shot around the post.  Remarkable save.  The whistle went for halftime, with our Villans frustrated that their possession domination had not yielded a goal and Everton probably ruing that they had missed the chance gifted by Villa’s error.

Our Villans continued to dominate in the second half but Evertonian grit at the back limited clean opportunities for clinical finishing.  A beautiful pass by Kamara seemed to have given a path to goal for Diaby in the 58th minute only for the young center back, Branthwaite, to slide and force Diaby to regroup.  Moussa found Watkins to his left and Ollie who had barely a sniff at goal, was determined to take a shot.  With McGinn steaming up on his left with nobody defending, a pass to his captain was called for and would have had a higher probability of success than Ollie’s blast against Tarkowski’s leg.

It was a similar defensive effort that stymied us in the 85th minute.  A perfect chip by Lenglet had allowed Moreno to beat Harrison to the Everton goal line and our Spaniard pulled back for Matty Cash (subbed in for Carlos) who was waiting just outside the 6-yard box.  A desperation slide by Mykolenko blocked the shot but Matty was able to set-up McGinn for another effort.  While McGinn was able to beat Pickford who was well off his line, he could not get his shot past Coleman covering for his goalie.

Durán, who came on for Bailey in the 65th minute, was full of running but failed to repeat the dramatic finishing of other appearances.  He found a space to cut through Everton’s backline only to lose his footing as he went to blast a shot and saw the ball go high and wide.  Similarly, when he rose impressively for a header, his timing was off, and it went just wide of the post in the 77th minute.

It was all set for a dramatic finale when Martinez passed to Lenglet who, Torres like, carried the ball towards the halfway line.  Meanwhile, Watkins came back to receive the relay dragging Branthwaite with him.  The ball no sooner reached Ollie, but he had controlled, swiveled, and arrowed the ball down the right touchline for Cash to run onto in acres of space.  Matty raced till he was level with the penalty area and aimed for the near edge of the 6-yard box where Durán, arrived at the spot at the same time, a step ahead of Tarkowski, and got the faintest of deflections to direct at Pickford’s far corner of his net.  The England goalie waved a hand, but the ball still had the velocity of the cross and it appeared destined to be a winner except it curved tantalizingly beyond the far post as our Colombian punched the ground in frustration.

That was in the 88th minute and that effort appeared to confirm that this was not going to be our Villans’ day. 

It almost got worse.  Everton went straight down the field and found the net themselves.  Pickford took a short goal kick to Branthwaite who carried a little before seeing Doucouré breaking through our defense’s high offside line and lifted a perfectly weighted pass for the French midfielder who already had six Premier League goals this season.  Doucouré had a yard on his pursuers and confidently lashed the ball past Emi into back of the net.  To the surprise of only the local fans, the referee’s assistant’s offside flag went up and the cheers ceased.

Once again, Konsa et al had proven to be peerless in springing the offside trap with our Villans not having lost a game in the dying minutes of the game all season.  The only time we came close was at home to Sheffield United (Cameron Archer scored in the 87th minute), but we managed to tie the game at 90+7’.

The significance of the point we gained may not be known until the end of the season.  As we found when Firmino tied the game in the 89th minute of our Villans’ game at Liverpool last season, they were deflated at not having held on to gain the three points which seemed essential for us to qualify for Europe.  Still, they hung on through the 10 minutes of intense injury time to withstand the Reds’ assault with Emi imperious, especially against Harvey Elliott’s shot.  That point saved was the factor that was the ultimate difference between us and the Spurs. Our Villans made it into Europe, Spurs did not.

Emery threw one more role of the dice by bringing on Zaniolo in the 89th minute, but nothing worked for the Italian in his cameo role.

Once more, a cellar dweller proved our undoing.  After scoring against, and beating, Spurs and Chelsea away, and against Man City and Arsenal at home, we were stymied by a team struggling to stay in the Premier League.  Why do we struggle against teams that we dominated statistically?

To a large degree, it is because of the fact that those opponents focus on defense against us.  They always have players behind the ball, and they never take chances carrying out from the back.  Also, their defenders and goalies get lots of Premier League experience preventing superior teams scoring.  Practice may not make perfect, but it can come close.  Of our upcoming fixtures, the one that worries me the most is our home game against Wolves.  They will also play for a tie and we’ll have precious few opportunities to score.  Let’s hope our Villans are incredibly clinical and/or lucky!

Everton: Pickford, Coleman, Tarkowski, Branthwaite, Mykolenko, Onana, Garner, Harrison, Doucouré, Danjuma (McNeil 63′), Calvert-Lewin (Beto 63′)

Unused Subs: : Patterson, Keane, McNeil, João Virgínia, Beto, André Gomes, Godfrey, Youssef Chermiti, Dobbin

Aston Villa: Martínez, Konsa, Diego Carlos (Cash 74′), Lenglet, Moreno, Bailey (Durán 64′), Kamara, Douglas Luiz, McGinn (Zaniolo 89′), Diaby (Tielemans 64′), Watkins

Unused Subs: Cash, Tielemans, Zaniolo, Durán, Dendoncker, Marschall, Iroegbunam, Wright

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