Villa overcome Everton in a highly contested affair...
On a day when prospective gatecrashers of the top four Manchester City frivolously squandered three points at the Stadium of Light, another two of the Premier League’s nearly men, Aston Villa and Everton met at Villa Park, each with the intention of kick-starting their season.
It was the home side who escaped with all three points as Luke Young's carefully taken goal presented Villa with a 1-0 win in what was an extremely hard-fought Premier League contest.
Both sides came into this Premier League fixture on the back of some less than impressive form. The hosts, Aston Villa, suffered a 6-0 defeat to recently promoted Newcastle last weekend and were knocked out of the Europa League by Austrian giants Rapid Vienna, capping off a tortuous week for caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald.
Everton, meanwhile, came into the match still seeking their first win of the new campaign to ensure that they avoided their worst opening spell since 1999.
Rather depressingly for the midlands club, the volume of empty seats was clear to all, compounding the frustration and disappointment felt due to the hasty departures of manager, Martin O’Neill and key player, James Milner.
To add to the negative atmosphere, Milner’s replacement, Stephen Ireland was ruled out of the match at the last minute due to an injury in the warm up, thought to be a hamstring problem. Former Wimbledon and West Ham midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker attempted to fill the void left by the Irishman.
As the referee signalled the start of the match, Everton appeared to have the majority of the possession with some exquisite touches from possible future England star Mikel Arteta. Villa, however, continued to look threatening on the break with the pace and intelligence of Ashley Young as well as the endeavour of young winger Marc Albrighton.
What appeared an unthreatening throw-in presented Ashley Young with time and space, via Fellaini’s misjudgement of the flight of the ball. Ashley’s namesake, right-back Luke Young, continued a determined run into the box as Ashley elegantly slid the ball into his path before the right-back rounded off an excellent move with a composed left-foot finish past the despairing Tim Howard.
A sense of relief penetrated the atmosphere at Villa Park as the fans jubilantly chanted Luke Young’s name. The under pressure Kevin MacDonald refused to flinch, remaining composed, but surely experiencing the same relief as the fans.
Everton responded well to conceding a goal and following swift passing between Jack Rodwell and Pienaar, the South African international picked the ball up on the edge of the area before proceeding to curl a delightful shot towards the Villa goal. To the relief of ‘keeper Brad Friedel, the ball crashed against the bar before bouncing to safety.
As the half wore on, Everton continued their dominance with an enhanced spell of pressure but the Villa defence remained resolute to prevent any significant efforts being fired in the direction of Friedel’s goal.
Television cameras spotted both Phill Neville and Fabio Capello in the stands. Neville showing support for his team and Capello tracking the progress of any number of possible England internationals with full-backs Baines and Young proving the most impressive of the England contingent in the first-half.
Half-time was signalled after an over elaborate penalty appeal from the Villa players. Marc Albrighton skipped past Steven Pienaar before collapsing inside the area. Unfortunately for the Villa player he was felled by making contact with the turf rather than an outstretched Pienaar boot. No penalty was given as the players geared up for their managerial team talks.
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Ashley Young, operating in a more central role under caretaker MacDonald, continued his good form into the second half of this keenly contested match, latching onto a through ball and striding forward. Young proceeded to turn Everton’s Sylvain Distin inside and out before launching a powerful effort just wide of Tim Howard’s goal.
Speculation suggests that Young could be interested in a move to Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham Hotspur with recent performances going someway to justify any hefty price-tag.
Continuing in that vein of form, Young looked to profit from a menacingly powerful run by John Carew, but the attacker found his effort blocked by the outstretched leg of Phil Jagielka, a block which delayed the trajectory of the ball and allowed Tim Howard to acrobatically parry.
As Villa’s grip on the contest seemed to be diminishing the fans of the midlands club became increasingly frustrated with the perceived majority of refereeing decisions being made in favour of the away side.
The continued creativity of Ashley Young resulted in a competent parry from Tim Howard that fell into the path of the young Albrighton. The midfielder, only yards out, failed to make the correct contact with the ball and was reduced to his knees, head in hands, as the ball flew over the bar.
An anxious finish from each team made for some frenetic play as Everton, desperate for an equaliser, continued to launch attack after attack at the Villa defence. The home team, however, could not be breached as a determined centre-back pairing of James Collins and Richard Dunne relentlessly held the blue hordes at bay.
The evergreen Brad Friedel aided his centre-backs with a commanding performance to ensure his side kept a clean sheet.