It was secured by a second-half goal from Ugo Ehiogu against opponents who had been unbeaten hitherto and who also fancy their chances of a serious tilt at honours. Everton, who hit a post and had another effort cleared off the line, will feel aggrieved but such was Villa's quiet authority you suspect they will not be unique.
"It was close," Brian Little, the Villa manager, conceded. "More than one goal would have flattered us. But we've come to a hard place like this and won and a lot of teams will get nothing."
Everton's chance went in a first half in which Andrei Kanchelskis threatened to tear the visitors to pieces and somehow failed to deliver. The Russian winger was quick and elusive, but his final ball fell short of his strengths elsewhere and he was also guilty of missing two opportunities one on one with the Villa goalkeeper.
It may have dawned on the home side that it might be not their night as early as the 12th minute when the 5ft 4in Alan Wright climbed high enough to clear Gary Speed's header off the line. If spirits began to sink, they submerged just before the interval. Kanchelskis scorched past Wright and even when Michael Oakes saved at his feet the chance had not evaporated because the ball flew to Duncan Ferguson. The Scotland striker had an instant to react and, in the circumstances, did well to get anywhere near the target, but with the goal unguarded he hit the post.
The tide turned immediately after half-time, Dwight Yorke thumping a shot against the bar that hit the line and bounced clear. The reprieve was short-lived, however, as Ehiogu swept in Yorke's header in the 63rd minute.
"On the evidence of that they are the best team we've played," Joe Royle, the Everton manager, said. "They are very tight." He will not be the last to say that this season.
Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Barrett, Short, Unsworth, Hinchcliffe; Kanchelskis, Grant, Parkinson, Speed; Ferguson, Stuart (Rideout, 66). Substitutes not used: Limpar, Hottiger, Ebbrell, Gerrard (gk).
Aston Villa (3-5-2): Oakes; Ehiogu, Southgate, Staunton; Nelson (Scimeca, 89), Townsend, Curcic (Taylor, 76), Draper, Wright; Milosevic (Johnson, 85), Yorke. Substitutes not used: Bosnich (gk), McGrath.
Referee: M Bodenham (East Looe, Cornwall).Reuse content