Everton were unable to launch Duncan Ferguson’s caretaker reign in the same magical manner they began the Scot’s previous spell in charge.
Chelsea were blown away on a tidal wave of Goodison Park emotion back in December 2019. But despite Evertonians responding to Ferguson’s call to create a traditional, partisan L4 atmosphere, the game was decided by Emiliano Buendia’s header in first-half stoppage time.
Everton worked furiously and finished the game with 15 shots. Only one of those, however, a close-range Ben Godfrey attempt, drew a save from Emiliano Martinez.
Anthony Gordon came on after the break and set up a hat-trick of chances, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison the main beneficiaries, and Yerry Mina twice came close with headed efforts.
But despite spending a large part of the second 45 minutes in their opponents’ half, Everton couldn’t muster an equaliser.
Villa grabbed the lead with the final touch of the opening half, Buendia finally getting the better of an increasingly busy Jordan Pickford.
For an idea of the quality of Pickford’s stop from Ollie Watkins on 45 minutes, consider he as good as received a standing ovation, regardless that the Villa striker was clearly offside and the linesman’s flag shot up as soon as the Everton keeper flashed out his right leg to brilliantly save a goalbouund header.
Pickford was leaping upwards to turn over a Philippe Coutinho header moments later. But for the away team, third time proved a charm.
Buendia ran in front of the near post to meet Lucas Digne’s right-wing corner, the Argentine’s header directed across Pickford, who probably fell victim to his own terrific form.
Not many keepers would have made contact with the ball as it flew through the air. Pickford did – but the deflection denied Andros Townsend any chance of clearing off the line.
If the applause for Pickford’s save from an offside Watkins told you about the mood of Evertonians coming to this game, then the message had already come across loud and clear inside the opening 60 seconds.
The howls of indignation when John McGinn hauled a fast-moving Richarlison to the ground were indicative of a group of supporters ready to go to battle with their team.
Scottish midfielder McGinn was undeterred, steaming into a couple of physical early challenges.
Villa mixed up their play; robust and confrontational but eager to slow the pace, on occasion, in a bid to douse the Goodison furnace.
Everton first got at the visitors in an attacking sense when Townsend jinked past Douglas Luiz to pass along the floor for Abdoulaye Doucoure.
He immediately turned the ball forward, aiming for Calvert-Lewin but a fraction off with his aim.
Doucoure was involved again when Everton threatened on 28 minutes.
Events had appeared rather inauspicious 60 seconds earlier.
Matty Cash flew into space down the right to square for Buendia, whose first touch carried him away from Yerry Mina.
Godfrey slid in to stop the shot and when the subsequent corner was recycled to Digne on the halfway line, the former Everton left-back was mugged by a combination of Richarlison and Doucoure.
The Everton pair galloped forwards but Doucoure overcooked his pass at the clutch moment, depriving Richarlison of the chance to score what would, surely, have been one of the most popular Goodison goals in a long while.
Villa had the best of the early chances. Pickford was quick off the mark to frustrate Watkins after Mina misjudged a long ball from Tyrone Mings.
The away team’s first shot on target was delivered by the right boot of Buendia and saved low by Pickford after 13 minutes.
Those two episodes sandwiched a Luiz free-kick from distance that dipped fractionally too late to disturb Pickford.
Buendia again after 19 minutes, injecting a turn of pace to escape chasing bodies but driving wide of the left post.
Everton were scrapping furiously, Calvert-Lewin, for example, tore across to stop Digne passing up the line, leaving Goodison roaring and the Frenchman hopping mad.
Mings, the Aston Villa centre-half, routinely looked for a wedge pass over the top. Emboldened by his early effort to free Watkins, he searched out the same player again seven minutes before the break.
Watkins’ first touch was excellent but Pickford closed the angle in a flash and the shot squirted off target.
Both sides were awarded free-kicks in dangerous positions soon after half-time.
Everton first, retaliating after Watkins had foraged down the right but crossed out of the reach of Coutinho in the middle.
Calvert-Lewin was buffeted by Mings about 22 yards out but Demarai Gray’s set-piece deflected behind off Buendia. The corner alighted with Calvert-Lewin but he couldn’t control the header.
Villa’s free-kick came when Mina was adjudged to have impeded Jacob Ramsey’s forward run. It seemed a borderline call and you can bet Everton would have raged if Coutinho was on target rather than a foot too high with the dead-ball strike.
Ferguson didn’t stand on ceremony with his substitutions.
One was enforced, Tyler Onyango on for the stricken Doucoure after 65 minutes.
By then, Gordon and Allan were well in the game – that duo replacing Townsend and Andre Gomes, respectively.
The ubiquitous Gordon created three presentable opportunities within 15 minutes of arriving.
His first touch was a cross inviting Richarlison to leap for header – the attempt flying off target – after Gray’s original run ended with a shot blocked by Mings.
Gordon is very adept at the old-fashioned give-and-go and that’s how he next advanced.
Richarlison provided the return, enabling Gordon to speed forwards and send in one of those deliveries defenders detest, the ball hurrying between backline and goalkeeper with neither party keen to interfere.
Mings left well alone and was mighty relieved when the stretching Calvert-Lewin’s connection sent the ball over.
Mina saw a header drop agonisingly wide after meeting Gordon’s left-wing corner, and another Mina attempt from an Allan centre travelled off target.
Martinez, the Villa goalkeeper, was watching all this unfold around him until Godfrey came close to his first Everton goal.
It was defender Godfrey making first contact on the corner from the left. Calvert-Lewin sent the ball back into the middle for Godfrey to divert on target and produce a one-handed reflex save from the Argentine.
Still Everton ran their socks off. Richarlison and Gray were feted by the home supporters for haring back to halt counter-attacks, Gordon showed intent on and off the ball and a fired-up Allan drove his side from midfield.
Gray walloped over from 18 yards and Gordon sent another free-kick skipped past the post as Everton’s chance-count climbed seemingly by the minute.
Five minutes of added time passed without Martinez being tested as Villa shut-up shop and employed all manner of devices to stall the action. And it was the supporters from the Midlands celebrating at the end.