It was impossible to find a physical obstruction to my view at the excellent Villa Park on Saturday, not a pillar in sight in fact, but as I had to get a seat tantalisingly close to the Everton contingent but actually amongst Villa fans, my view this week was only obstructed by being amongst the partisan opposition rather than the partisan blue noses this week. Tenuous? Yes. Still, let’s move on…..
I’ve always had a soft spot for Villa – there, I’ve said it – since coming to VP to watch some of their European adventures in the early 80s, being a 45 min drive from my home in Notttingham. It was once enhanced by the kindly attentions of a rather odd St. John’s Ambulance carer (and that’s a very different, and even longer story) for my friend who one minute had been talking animatedly about the just-defeated Barcelona and the next minute was munching a kerb stone with indelicately arranged teeth. He wasn’t a pretty sight before his fall, even less so after it.
The blood and gore on Saturday was happily absent, but it could have been worse. The “otherwise mediocre” Anthony Taylor first put his hand on his back pocket where a red card lurked, after McCarthy’s over enthusiastic lunge threatened to take Westwood’s leg off just below the shin. But he thought about it, the Villa players and fans weren’t on his back to send Ginger off, and the punishment was commuted to a yellow. In my mind, despite it being 2/3 through the game, that was a game changing moment. Would we have won with 10? Would we have still attacked as we had been doing to that point? Or would Roberto take a leaf out of DM’s “How to Secure a Point When You Should Have Had All Three” book, and park his remaining troops in a bus in front of Howard. Thank you Mr Taylor, we will never know the answer to my hypotheses, but we did go on to win the game and ensure our fine run continues.
In truth, Villa could have been out of sight well before that moment. The penalty looked a penalty in real-time, only MOTD cameras suggest it was slightly soft, and Coleman manages to concede a second penalty so far this season. He was rescued this time by the unbelievable agility of Tim Howard, who not only guessed right, but managed to get a strong un-Hart-like left hand to a good shot to palm it over. Minutes later, with apoplectic Evertonians calling for offside, he repeated the result with another duel with Benteke. And although a handful of blue noses will have missed it, having been helped on their way from the stadium by the local constabulary after this incident, another “you-have-to-be-joking-that-has-to-be-offside” one on one, this time against Weimann, brings the same result – Timbo saves it, and we’re still 0-0.
Apart from one flowing move ending in a tame shot from Agbonlahor, when 0-1 down, that was almost it from Villa. It almost seemed as if they didn’t believe they could win, that fate was conspiring against them, and it is hard to think of when they seriously threatened our goal after that point. The impressive Delph, who appears to have taken the stupid rash challenge out of his game, was unable to inspire his team mates in to anything resembling a serious threat, and Everton gradually took control so only one result really seemed likely, thanks of course to Taylor.
Our last 30 minutes was almost as good as our first 45 against the Bar Codes. But we will need to get closer to 90 minutes at that pace, intensity, and killer balls if we are to see off the threat of better clubs than Villa as the season progresses. I can’t put my finger on what stops us being more consistent in a game. The contrast yesterday was stark. A first 30 minutes of disjointed passing and a general lack of movement, a period when we seemed to make poor decisions in the final third, and Barkley, chief culprit in this I’m afraid, will only have served to underline to the watching England as well as his own manager, what a gem, but an unpolished one he is, and RM and his technical team have got some work to do. But fantastic that he has the ability, it is just about decision-making for me. In fairness, Lukaku made a couple of similar misjudgements – a side pass to Mirallas, and a touch on for Pienaar, looking like better options on a couple of first half occasions.
The big man of course did what he does, and does it exceptionally well, with a little over 20 minutes left. He did it with the considerable help of the occasionally-maligned Osman, who actually played a better last 20 minutes than he’s played all season, and capped it off with a brilliantly taken goal of his own, after a smart Everton short corner move. I like Osman, I really do, but even though I think his time in the top flight has almost come, he can perhaps eek out his career a lot longer by cameos like this for the rest of the season and beyond. Let’s hope so.
Jags and Buzz were back on it this week after looking a bit dodgy against Hull (well, Distin was), and Baines and Coleman had competent if unexciting games. Seamus still has a bit of naïveté in his defending as the two penalties perhaps show, but he is coming on leaps and bounds, and frankly there is little competition for his place, unless RM fancies Stones there.
Barry was calming throughout, worthy of his praise on MOTD, and actually I thought helped the rather clever playing of Benteke, working out that the ‘other Belgian’ has a rather poor second touch at the moment, as he tries to get back in to the pace of things after injury, and actually let him win the odd aerial unchallenged, knowing we’d pick it up off his toes shortly after.
McCarthy continued his development and had a good game, but for his recklessness on Westwood. It just occurs to me that both Barry and McCarthy could conceivably have seen straight reds in the last two games, leaving us with quite a hole to fill against Spurs with neither of them being available.
Pienaar looked what he is – a class player, but a class player who hasn’t played much this season, visibly tiring in the game, just as the rest of his team were gaining the ascendancy. Mirallas was superb, and Luna and latterly Clark will not have fond memories of playing against him this weekend.
And back to Lukaku – most blues will probably call for him to be Man of the Match, because the talisman keeps scoring. He actually was well-played for much of the game by Vlaar, who was a Villa player along with Guzan and Delph that impressed (the rest of the Villa team looked decidedly poor, especially Bacuna at right back, who could have been given a torrid time if Baines and Piennar had been completely on song). But I’m not voting for Romelu, marvellous though he was, because if it hadn’t been for Tim Howard in that first half, Villa could have been out of sight. And why not celebrate a keeper’s performance from time to time?
And finally. Finally. My undercover mission as a blue nose amongst Villa fans. I was luckily sat next to a lovely, shall we call him ‘mature’, man, who was generous in his appreciation of the good stuff we played, and not claret-eyed about the play from his own team. My cover was almost blown as I leapt to my feet when Lukaku scored, my arms raised high, only to be swiftly lowered by 90 degrees as if in a ‘I can’t believe it’ wide-armed gesture, followed swiftly by hands on hips, and then swiftly taking my seat again. I think I got away with it, I wasn’t keen on being ejected early by over-zealous stewards or bizzies, and I would have missed Osman’s goal and classy celebration, and the fantastic Evertonian singing that continued long after the final whistle.
It’s good to be a blue.