Everton v Aston Villa
Marouane Fellaini’s second-half double rescued a point for Everton on an eventful afternoon at Goodison Park.
The Blues were heading for just their fourth league defeat of the season until the midfielder struck twice late on, his equaliser arriving deep into stoppage time.
It bookended an end-to-end encounter which had come to life in just the second minute when Christian Benteke put Aston Villa into an early lead.
Victor Anichebe levelled before Gabriel Agbonlahor sent the visitors into half-time with a 2-1 advantage.
Everton seemed dead and buried when Benteke netted for a second time on 61 minutes, but Fellaini grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the final quarter to ensure the Blues remain unbeaten this calendar year.
David Moyes made one change to his team from the win over West Bromwich Albion in midweek. Darron Gibson was deemed fit enough for his first start since Christmas as he replaced captain Phil Neville in central midfield.
The Blues, sporting their commemorative Everton in the Community 25th anniversary shirts, were dealt a setback in just the second minute when Aston Villa grabbed an early lead.
Benteke raced through the inside-right channel and fired low past Tim Howard. Goodison Park, understandably, was in a state of shock following the Belgian’s tenth league goal of the season.
Everton then sprung to life. Marouane Fellaini side-footed narrowly wide from the edge of the box, while Anichebe stung the palms of Brad Guzan with a powerfully struck effort from a tight angle.
It had been an encouraging response and deservedly Everton got back on level terms on 20 minutes through Anichebe.
The Nigerian international latched onto Kevin Mirallas’ intelligent pass, used his strength to hold off Ciaran Clark before spinning the young centre-back and hammering a low shot past Guzan.
But no sooner had the Everton fans finished celebrating their team’s equaliser, Aston Villa took the lead for a second time.
On this occasion it was Agbonlahor who benefitted from some slack marking, finding himself in space to guide Ashley Westwood’s cross into the far the corner of the net.
It was a precise glancing header from the striker, but the warning signs had already been there – Andreas Weimann had earlier nodded wide from a similar position on the opposite flank.
Again, Everton’s spirit could not be questioned as they came fighting back. However, the best they could conjure up before half-time were attempts from Mirallas and Steven Pienaar, who both blazed over the bar from promising positions.
The match was just as open during the second half, but as Everton pressed for their second equaliser they were susceptible on the counter-attack.
Weimann had already wasted a glorious chance when Benteke struck for a second time, clinically rounding-off a fluent Villa breakaway.
Lowton played a neat give-and-go before expertly crossing from the right. The former Genk forward got goal-side of John Heitinga and planted his header into net at the Glwadys Street End.
Moyes’ response was to throw on Nikica Jelavic and Bryan Oviedo as Heitinga and Mirallas made way. The double substitution had a desired impact as the Blues clawed a goal back almost straight away.
Again it was Anichebe’s power causing problems for the Villa defence, as this time he laid the ball off for Fellaini who fired into the bottom corner from 12 yards out. Game on with 20 minutes remaining.
The final quarter of the match, predictably, was all Everton. Oviedo and Pienaar were both off-target as the visitors’ defence were pushed further and further back.
Six minutes of stoppage time offered one last ray of hope for the Blues – and they took full advantage as Fellaini headed in a dramatic late equaliser.
Baines sent over a trademark corner and the midfielder towered to head in his second of the game, sending Goodison into raptures.
Fellaini even had the chance for a winner, but in the end the Blues settled for a point, one which had looked extremely unlikely midway through the second half.