Aston Villa came into their match against Everton today looking to continue the run of good form that they had been on since the second half of the Arsenal match. Paul Lambert put out an unusual lineup, though, and it seemed pretty apparent that Villa would be sitting back and trying to win with the counter. For the first 34 minutes, the match was as boring as could be. An early Leandro Bacuna foul outside the box led to what was essentially a short corner for Everton. They took it, and Aiden McGeady nearly put a rocket past Brad Guzan, but the post had it covered all the way, and the ball clanged harmlessly off.
From there the match had 0-0 draw written all over it, until Fabian Delph made a tackle at the center of the pitch that sparked a lovely sequence. Bacuna came charging up to get the ball, tapped it to Christian Benteke, and then in a perfect give-and-go went blazing up to the box where he slotted it through Tim Howard's legs.
And here's another angle that let's you see the final run a bit better:
Notice that, if Bacuna had missed, Grant Holt was right there to finish it off. It's fascinating to see the team when the attack is working the way it should.
From that point on, Villa looked the better team, but Everton were absolutely bossing possession. Interestingly, Aston Villa were making sure that while the Toffees had the ball, they couldn't get much done with it. If you've got to be dominated in a possession battle, that's the way to do it.
In the second half, Everton came out bossing the match still, and Villa managed to absorb the pressure very well. In the 60th minute, Paul Lambert made explicit the shift to a bunkering tactic by taking of Grant Holt for Karim El Ahmadi. Holt had another strong match, his third in a row. I'm still not convinced that Aston Villa needed to get him, but he has been far more of an asset than I anticipated.
Nevertheless, it was always going to be tough for Aston Villa to defend a one-goal lead for an entire half, and in the 74th minute, sub Steven Naismith managed to get Everton into the match. He took a lovely one-touch pass from Steven Pienaar and beat Aston Villa's high line to bury in the goal:
El Ahmadi and Ron Vlaar share responsibility for letting Pienaar's ball get through I think. KEA seems to have don nothing, and Vlaar couldn't make a choice between marking Naismith and stopping the pass. Vlaar would be subject to another interesting choice a few minutes later when Paul Lambert subbed him off for Marc Albrighton. It seemed as if Lambert wanted to push a bit more, but Vlaar is an interesting choice. We'll keep an eye out to see if Vlaar is injured.
The suddenly weaker defense made one final gaff, though. Ciaran Clark laid an absolutely stupid tackle and earned Everton a free kick from just outside the box. Kevin Mirallas stepped over the ball and curled in an absolute wonder-goal to give the Toffees the 2-1 lead:
That would be all that Everton needed, as they were able to hang on in the last few minutes to keep the 2-1 victory.
The match is an odd one, to be honest. I can't imagine many Villa fans expected anything out of it, and the team played some decent football. Nevertheless, it's discouraging to see such negative tactics after five straight halves of fun attacking football. It's even more discouraging to go from winning to losing in fewer than 15 minutes.
Villa's defense was solid today, and the midfield actually played well for a good chunk of the match. But this is not a squad that can hang on against 45 minutes of sustained pressure from Everton. The result, in the end, seems pretty inevitable. And it's more disappointing for being a loss in which Villa went down weakly.
The next four matches - West Ham, Cardiff, Newcastle, and Norwich City - are all places we can expect to get points though. It's not worth getting too disappointed over this one.