Everton v Aston Villa
Everton’s players drew off the raw passion of their supporters to produce a superb display against Aston Villa - and were exceptionally unfortunate to be pegged back twice in a 2-2 draw.
There are few clubs where the players and supporters can work together with such fervent synergy - and Everton were positive from the off.
The only problem was that the visitors hadn’t read the script and stole a point from a grossly one-sided contest.
The 2-2 scoreline failed to reflect the hosts’ dominance and, despite a performance teeming with authority and no lack of quality, they were forced to settle for a point.
Villa twice defied logic to scramble level and escape with an improbable share of the spoils.
First it was skipper Stiliyan Petrov who gloriously curled home a goal out of absolutely nothing to cancel out Leon Osman’s beautifully crafted opener and then, after Leighton Baines had restored the hosts’ lead from the spot, it was Gabriel Agbonlahor who completed the raid.
It was incredibly harsh on David Moyes’ side, who provided a timely reminder of their qualities but, as has frequently been the case in the past against Villa, were left bemused as to why they didn't win.
Moyes started with his new signings on the bench, but there was a huge boost for the Blues with the return of Seamus Coleman a mere five weeks after damaging ankle ligaments against Villarreal in pre-season.
There was also a chance for Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, who made his first start of the season. Louis Saha remained absent from the matchday squad, so Tim Cahill was deployed as a lone striker against a team he had notched against seven times over the years.
Skipper Phil Neville was only fit enough for the bench and, with vice-captain Mikel Arteta having left the club, Phil Jagielka’s growing stature was embodied by the band around his arm.
Coleman, in fact, took less than a minute to show Blues fans what they have been missing as he collected Jagielka’s astute pass, breezed his way beyond an over-zealous Steven Warnock and motored up the line.
His pull-back was cutely pinched by Osman who went down under the challenge of Richard Dunne. The referee was not interested, but had it not come after a mere 43 seconds he may well have been.
That early threat was symptomatic of a bright start by the Blues and before the contest was even 10 minutes old, Jagielka had seen a header cleared off the line and Osman had forced Shay Given into a point-blank stop with an adroit turn and low shot from near the penalty spot.
Osman was looking as sharp as anybody out there and it came as little surprise to see him add another goal to his resume of sublime strikes against the Villa.
His goal in the corresponding fixture last year was pure class and this ranked alongside it.
Tim Cahill seized upon an errant pass and drove wide around centre-half Dunne. Osman, meanwhile, ghosted into the space he vacated to collect Cahill’s expertly delivered assist and pass the ball plumply into the Park End net.
Even with less than 20 minutes gone it was a comfortably deserved advantage and the goal only increased the pressure as the Blues pressed their boot on Villa’s throat.
There was urgency all over the pitch. Coleman’s waspish presence and boundless energy left Warnock a mess by the interval, Jagielka skippered with authority, Fellaini owned the midfield, Osman’s creativity left Villa’s defenders dumb-struck and Cahill’s brawn and passion set a superb example to his teammates.
The pertinent questions by the break were why it was only 1-0, and how could Villa be so poor?
Fellaini blazed narrowly over, the improved Jack Rodwell watched as his thunderbolt flattened both Fabian Delph and Shay Given’s feet, leaving the Irish stopper to watch aghast as the ball trickled beyond the post.
Those chances were only the most notable of many good situations as the hosts asserted their authority in all areas of the pitch and Alex McLeish was left with a lot of work to do at the interval.
If they needed a favour they got one within minutes of the restart as Michael Oliver inexplicably failed to award the marauding Baines a penalty.
The England man destroyed Barry Bannan down the flank and the young Scot nibbled at his heels sending Baines sprawling. Oliver was staring right at it thus making his reticence somewhat alarming.
The full cost of that poor decision was then immediately revealed as Petrov scored spectacularly out of nothing to grab a thoroughly undeserved leveller.
On a day of such drama, it couldn’t have all been plain-sailing for the hosts and they responded with the same gusto they had exhibited all afternoon.
The crowd roared and off they went again. Everton weren’t to be denied and soon were back in front.
Given did well to repel Cahill’s stooping header but as the ball squirmed upwards, Delph clattered the waiting Jagielka and this time Oliver made the right call.
Not long after Baines had dispatched with aplomb, Royston Drenthe was given a rousing welcome and the Dutchman produced a couple of pacy bursts to announce his arrival.
But just as it seemed the victory the Blues deserved would be crowned, a rare raid into Everton territory saw Marc Albrighton given far too much space and time and he crossed for Agbonlahor to level.
It was a bitter blow for the hosts and try as they might – Apostolos Vellios and Ross Barkley in particular – they couldn’t find the winner their performance merited.