Aston Villa pulled off yet another dominant performance today against Everton, and unlike last weekend they managed to secure the 3-2 win. With other results in the league, it assures that Villa will finish above Burnley and QPR so long as Villa don't lose out and those teams don't win out.
The first half saw Villa absolutely dominate Everton, who looked almost hungover from their 3-0 win over Manchester United last weekend. The now-familiar midfield trio of Tom Cleverley, Jack Grealish, and Fabian Delph were given a little extra assistance from Charles N'Zogbia and bossed the run of play. Despite referee Mark Clattenburg not awarding several obvious fouls to Villa, the home side managed to jump out to a 1-0 lead on a beautiful header by Christian Benteke. His 10th goal in 9 matches came off of a long-distance cross from Fabian Delph on the left side. The pinpoint pass found the Belgian's head and he had no trouble slotting it in in the 10th minute.
Then, on the brink of halftime, Benteke made it a brace (his 11th goal in 9 matches) with a beautiful running shot where he was left unmarked while Jack Grealish took a corner. The corner sailed above everyone in front of the box and Benteke came streaking in up the right-hand side and made an off-balance shot that sailed unstoppably into the goal.
The second half saw Everton showing a bit more pluck than they did in the first. They came out charging at the Villa goal, but the defense handled them fairly easily. That was until the 59th minute, when another dumb defensive mistake caused Villa to give up a penalty. Rather than simply clearing the ball out of the box, Villa tried playing it out, and Ron Vlaar ended up getting tangled up with an Everton player in the box for the penalty. Romelu Lukaku cooly slotted it past a diving Shay Given to make it a 2-1 match.
Tom Cleverley scored an absolute wonder goal just five minutes later, though, to give Villa a 3-1 lead and make everyone breathe more easily. On a counter, Leandro Bacuna slotted a beautiful through ball to a sprinting Cleverley who curled the long-distance shot past Tim Howard. All that was left from there was to see things out, which Villa did despite giving up a goal in the second minute of stoppage time to Phil Jagielka.
The win doesn't assure Villa safety, but it moves them much closer to that mark. A point from any of the remaining three matches probably does it. All in all, a great day at Villa Park and a continuation of some of the best form we've seen from Villa in ages.
Now to the quick thoughts:
- Shay Given got the start over Brad Guzan after the American's poor performance at Manchester City last week. I'm not convinced that Guzan needed to be dropped, but Given handled himself admirably in the starting role. The penalty might have been savable, but the second goal came after Given had been pushed to the ground. Hardly his fault that Clattenburg couldn't call a foul to save his life.
- QPR are 8 points behind Villa and Burnley are 9 with 3 matches left to play. If Villa lost every match remaining, both teams could catch up by winning all of their fixtures. But given the way both clubs have played, that seems highly unlikely. And if Villa grab another win, both teams are out of that particular chase. The win today was a huge moment for Villa avoiding relegation.
- Four weeks, four matches in which Villa have been the better team against tough opposition: Spurs, Liverpool, City, and Everton. And three wins from four. Tim Sherwood's Villa might be the real deal.
- Sunderland winning isn't good, but their remaining schedule is such that they could easily lose out and pose no threat.
- Speaking of losing out: Newcastle. Their 3-0 loss to Leicester today was bad in that it let Leicester keep their run going, but it also allowed Villa to leapfrog them into 14th. So... hooray?
- What a day at Villa Park. Do this again next weekend, lads.