Villa win 2-1 at Everton and Dave Woodhall’s smiling again.
There have been plenty of records set this season and tonight we saw another – surely the first time it’s taken until May before two teams faced each other in the league. Perhaps it’s because Villa against Everton is the most-played top-flight etc and the rest wanted to catch up for a bit.
It was also the latest stage in what seems to be Villa’s never-ending list of ‘get them out of the way’ fixtures before the summer holiday while Everton had the incentive of being able to going above Liverpool (I think it’s a teams who play in blue thing) if they won.
Yet again the team and the formation were (almost) same as last week, Matty Cash coming back from suspension being the only change. Consistency and a settled side are noble aims when you’re doing well, and this weekend we’re celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the ultimate proof of that, but saying that the Villa have been doing well lately is stretching a point.
Maybe the upcoming Youth Cup semi-final is seen as more important than warming the bench at Goodison although that still wouldn’t explain the continued absence from the starting line-up of the 23-year old Keinan Davis – and saying Keinan would have been a popular choice to start the game is further proof that these are strange times.
I suppose you could just about understand Ross Barkley’s appearance, against his old club and after a better than usual display against the Albion. I could also perhaps understand Dean Smith wanting to let some of the players who have stood him in such good stead over the past couple of seasons have a few games with the pressure off. But I couldn’t understand why, with there being no pressure on either him or them, the manager/head coach hasn’t told them to go out and play with equal freedom.
And tonight he did. Or maybe he always had but this was the sort of day when what hadn’t come off lately, did. Right from the off Villa were first to almost every ball. There was a spark to the performance that’s been missing for a few weeks and when we’re playing well we’re a match for anyone. Ollie Watkins quite rightly grabbed the headlines as he dominated the Everton defence throughout and could have had more than his tenth minute opener, a typical goal where he won the ball and finished off with confidence. Watkins’ workrate is reminiscent of Dean Saunders although he has much more to his game, not least the ability to score regularly.
Everton’s equaliser from a corner was well-worked rather than a mistake from any Villa defender and the rest of the first half was as good as anything we’ve seen all season. Bertrand Traore could have scored twice in the same attack, Anwar El Ghazi hit the bar, Barkley hit the post. The second half wasn’t up to the same standard and the boss maybe could have changed things round but with ten minutes to go Traore ran through the Everton defence to lay the ball off to El Ghazi, who placed the perfect curling shot from twenty yards out. Neither player might be the long-term answer but in their own way they’ve already provided so many memories.
Davis and Jacob Ramsey did eventually make their delayed entrance into the game but it was to run down the clock rather than in an attempt to change the result and you can’t hope for more than that from what seemed a tricky away game. Three points from a team with European ambitions represents a good day’s work and throws up a dilemma that would have seemed unlikely a couple of weeks ago. Should we try to sign Ross Barkley permanently? A few more displays like this and it could well happen.
And a few more displays like like before now and we could be dusting down the passports. Whether that would have been a good thing or a long-term hinderance we’ll never know.