Football: Saunders on level

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The Independent Online
Everton. . . . . . 2

Stuart 22, Rideout 70

Aston Villa. . . . 2

Fashanu 66, Saunders 74

Attendance: 35,544

THE first day of the Premiership season, brought the first game of two halves. Mike Walker's revised Everton took the first, Aston Villa the second to produce an enthralling draw.

A red-letter day too for the debutants. Everton's early slick passing efficiency owed much to the understated skills of their pounds 2.2m midfield technician Vinny Samways.

A delightful chip to the ever-threatening Anders Limpar, Everton's best player, caused consternation in Villa's defence in the 10th minute and it was the former Spurs man's blocked shot which should have produced a volleyed goal for Matt Jackson. But Everton's deserved lead came from the perseverance of Graham Stuart, who first robbed Villa's makeshift right-back Kevin Richardson before curling his cross-shot high into the far corner.

Stuart's two goals in a 3-2 win over Wimbledon last May helped keep Everton up, but if this one appeared to promise a bright new dawn, John Fashanu, on his Villa debut, was the man to bring back the clouds. He might have been back in a Wimbledon shirt 21 minutes into the second half when rising the highest to glance home a near-post corner from Villa's second debutant, Phil King.

Everton might have wilted last season, but looked like gaining what would have been only their third victory over Aston Villa in 13 League meetings when Stuart's cross from the right was flicked on by Tony Cottee for the former Villa striker Paul Rideout to turn the ball into an unguarded net.

The goalkeepers both saved in less than a minute from shots by Dwight Yorke and Limpar before King, the former Sheffield Wednesday man, opened the route to goal for Villa once more. His cross-field ball picked out Ray Houghton who crossed for his former Liverpool team-mate Dean Saunders to glance a header past Neville Southall.

Cottee missed two chances which might have started Peter Johnson's reign as chairman at Goodison with a win, but a draw was just about right.

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