Aston Villa v Everton
Everton were cruelly denied the chance of gaining ground on Aston Villa in the race for Europe after a 2-2 draw at Villa Park.
The Toffees could have been just one point behind the Midlands outfit as they hunt down a place in next season’s Europa League were it not for an injury time Phil Jagielka own goal.
Tim Cahill opened the scoring midway through the first half with the type of headed goal that has seen him forge a reputation as one of the league’s most dangerous attacking midfielders.
And to ram the point home, he repeated the feat in the second half as Everton showed tremendous character to regain the lead just two minutes after Gabriel Agbonlahor’s 72nd minute leveller.
And even after the own goal, Phil Neville – of all people – could have won it for the Toffees.
Villa had enjoyed the majority of possession in the opening period but rarely managed to penetrate the visiting defence – instead relying on long range efforts to try and breach Tim Howard’s goal.
It meant Everton were able to soak up the pressure and strike on the counter attack – a ploy which nearly paid off in the sixth minute when Cahill picked James Milner’s pocket and surged forward and fed Leon Osman who shimmied into a good position in the box before seeing his effort blocked by James Collins.
A couple of minutes later Howard saved well from Stewart Downing’s low shot from distance and then John Carew prodded over.
Villa did manage to carve out a real chance 12 minutes in when Milner burst into the box after a good move. The England man shot low but Howard produced a brilliant low save.
Another Everton foray saw Osman denied again, this time by goalkeeper Brad Friedel, but the Blues did win a corner and when it eventually fell to Diniyar Bilyaletdinov his venemous effort was repelled by a combination of Friedel and Ashley Young.
Downing and Young both sent in powerful efforts at the other end - the former’s was blocked and the latter’s off target – before Everton struck mid-way through the half.
Osman won a free kick from Stephen Warnock on the right hand side and Cahill expertly nodded in Baines’ excellent delivery.
The home side took a while to regroup but just after the half hour Carew used his power to spin Jagielka, only to rifle into the side netting when scoring looked easier.
Cahill’s blocked effort showed Everton weren’t settling for a one goal lead but the Toffees were indebted to Howard before half time as a quite brilliant point blank save denied Carlos Cuellar an equaliser.
The second half started badly for David Moyes and his side as John Heitinga was forced off through injury, Jack Rodwell replacing him in midfield.
The youngster settled in quickly and the Blues were able to keep a degree of control over proceedings as the game neared the hour mark before Carew forced a corner after a typically powerful manoeuvre.
Soon Louis Saha was on for Yakubu as Moyes freshened up his frontline but it was Villa who found an equaliser when Agbonlahor glanced home Milner’s cross in the 72nd minute to restore parity.
Osman could have struck back straight away but Richard Dunne snuffed out his run into the box and the ball went out for a corner.
Bilyaletdinov whipped it in and Cahill rose magnificently to restore the lead just two minutes later.
Soon Rodwell sidefooted over from the edge of the box after another good Everton move and Saha also went close with their defensive colleagues doing their best to cope with Carew and Agbonlahor at the other end.
And they managed it well until the unfortunate Jagielka headed a Young centre towards his own goal and Howard could only fumble it over the line in added time.
Even then, with the game stretched to breaking point, there was one final chance as the ball fell to Neville at the back post but his low volley was an agonising foot wide.