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Villa taught a lesson by Everton's muscle men

Monday, 4 February 2013 - 5:21pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
They say the league table does not lie, but if Aston Villa are the second worst team in English football, that is the biggest fib there is.

They say the league table does not lie, but if Aston Villa are the second worst team in English football, that is the biggest fib there is. The current standings do not just tell tales, they fabricate, distort and present untruths of the most malicious form.

Any neutral with a thirst for watching football at its purist must hope Villa thrive in their quest to get out of their predicament. For large periods of this captivating fixture they played with a style worthy of admiration and applause. Those whose experience of seeing Paul Lambert's side is limited to their recent trips to Merseyside can only observe their plight with bewilderment. Just as they have been the only side to outplay Liverpool at Anfield this season, no visiting side have played better at Goodison.

Everton, still harbouring ambitions of playing in next season's Champions League, were able to muscle their way back to a point, displaying the qualities that explain why they have lost only three league games all season. That fact serves only to underline how good Villa were for 70 minutes. When Christian Benteke headed Villa's third after a swift exchange of passes on 62 minutes, it was the culmination of a piece of artistry that would have sat comfortably in the National Gallery.

What was lacking was the ability to withstand the muscle men, Victor Anichebe and Marouane Fellaini showing that English football is about brawn as much as guile. The Belgian's late double culminating in an injury-time equaliser was cruel on the visitors, but also predictable as Villa's defence showed signs of wilting during the late home surge.

Villa have a fundamental lack of physicality in defensive areas, but the punishment for this flaw will be Draconian if it means they go down. Usually, a 3-3 draw at this venue would be presented as evidence of a young team on the threshold of being the most exciting in the division, but the context of being second bottom means the normal rules of assessment cannot apply.

This must not be seen as anything other than two crucial points dropped in a survival battle, a scarcely believable anomaly but inevitable until Villa starting turning their promise into points. A survival plan usually focuses on how a team can fight their way out of trouble.

"If they keep playing like that then they will win more games than not - that is for sure," said Lambert.

Everton's defence was as vulnerable as Villa's, Dutchman Jonny Heitinga rapidly enduring scapegoat status. He was poor, but it can be an odd place, Goodison. It should be humming because the top four remains a genuine possibility. Instead, you sense the trepidation and there are those craving to apportion blame if that ambition is not realised.

David Moyes had to fend off jeers for substitutions he made at 3-1 down - changes that worked. "They were not popular substitutions but sometimes that's the job. Not to be popular, just to do the right thing," said the Everton manager.

That could be a slogan for every manager and executive in an era where every failure to win at home usually means someone, somewhere is ordered to resign, be sacked or be sold. The psychological damage of so many missed Everton chances in the past lingers, but - as this comeback demonstrated - it is unwise to start preparing for the inquest when there is still so much to play for.

 




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