Aston Villa v Everton
Everton produced a display as ruthless as it was stylish to outclass a youthful Aston Villa team and reinforce a ripening sense of early-season optimism.
After Manchester United had been swept aside last Monday, it was all about how they would follow the result up in the Midlands.
This display had all the answers.
The decisive blows were landed in a first half that bordered on perfection for the visitors.
Steven Pienaar’s brilliant opener thumped the hosts right between the eyes and they quite simply never recovered.
Everton’s slickness and ingenuity in the final third was far too much for the dizzied youngsters and Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic scored the goals which had the points wrapped up inside 45 minutes.
Ciaran Clark’s sending off on the hour added to the sense of oblivion for Villa with the defender punished for hauling down Jelavic as the Croat poured through a gap.
It was all the beleaguered hosts could do to halt a rampant Everton team who also gave a late debut to new signing Kevin Mirrallas.
The Belgian even had the ball in the net, only to be denied a perfect start by a linesman’s flag.
That decision came amid a host of second half chances that went awry for the Blues with Tim Howard a virtual spectator.
So when the American finally had something to do, his inaction probably contributed to his error as he allowed Karim El Ahmadi’s swerving shot to slide in off his palms.
Before kick-off the home side welcomed their new manager, new signings and a new season at Villa Park.
But just as quickly as an air of optimism swelled inside the famous Midlands arena, it came gushing out as Pienaar cruelly burst the hosts’ bubble with a lavish swipe of his right boot.
The build-up was all one or two touch and hinted of a style of short, sharp incisive attacking play that Everton’s fluid forward line is now capable of producing.
The Blues are blessed with talented, intelligent players and Naismith, Baines, Osman and Felllaini all got involved before it came back to the South African in a pocket of space 25 yards from goal.
One touch got it out of his feet and the second sent an extravagant but beautifully controlled shot arcing high and beyond the startled Shay Given – the veteran grasping wildly at thin air as the ball seared the net behind him.
It was not too dissimilar to a peach Pienaar had scored at the other end of the pitch three years ago, but there was little action in front of the Holte in the opening 20 minutes of this contest.
Rattled by the early goal, the hosts were chasing shadows and Jelavic twice headed good opportunities high and wide as the Blues threatened to hammer home their superiority with more goals.
Osman had a goalbound effort desperately blocked and Gibson sent a dipping volley narrowly over the bar.
The game was barely a quarter old but the difference in attacking threat was already abundantly clear.
Soon enough the scoreline reflected it.
Pienaar slipped a ball in behind the right back and the unlikely figure of Jagielka marauded into the space behind, wrapped his right boot around the ball and sent a plump, powerful cross swinging into the box.
The last person Villa wanted to see arriving was the in-form Fellaini and the Belgian’s firm downward header had enough oomph to burst through the squirming hold of Given and into the back of the net.
Everton were turning in a flawless opening half and the third duly arrived.
Fellaini’s power and poise were evident as he shrugged off a swarm of flimsy would-be tacklers and slipped in Baines.
The left back is rarely anything other than precise.
His cut-back yearned to be dispatched and Jelavic surreptitiously checked out into the space to provide the customary clinical one-touch execution.
Half-time arrived and 3-0 was kind to a Villa team who had been brutally exposed in every department.
The 3,000 travelling fans were showering the gripping display in typically rousing song - including several chants of 'One Kevin Sheedy' in support of the Blues legend following his recent bowel cancer diagnosis.
Little changed after the break, and Clark’s sending off added to what was already a nightmarish first home game in charge for Paul Lambert.
And before the defender had even taken his seat on the bench, Sylvain Distin had rattled the woodwork with a header and Pienaar had stung Given’s hands with a half-volley.
The Blues were threatening to run amok and that added to the sense of shock as Villa claimed a consolation.
El Ahmadi pulled the trigger more in hope than expectation, but with the ball swinging all over the place in the air, a bamboozled Howard could only fumble it into the net.
It mattered little. Everton are looking good.