Romelu Lukaku took another step towards securing the right to lead the Belgian line at next summer’s World Cup finals as Everton advanced their progress under Roberto Martinez by moving into third place in the Premier League.
The 20-year-old striker, who scored both goals as his country clinched their place in Brazil by beating Croatia a little over two weeks ago, struck his fifth in as many league matches before the substitute Leon Osman, whose entrance after an hour tipped the balance of an even contest in Everton’s favour, added a second.
In the 216th edition of the most played fixture in English history, both goals came inside the last 22 minutes as Villa, without a clean sheet in 16 matches, suffered a fourth defeat in their last five Premier League matches here.
Lukaku’s goal gave him the honours in his face-off with compatriot Christian Benteke, his rival for the No 1 striker’s berth in a Belgian side which has only once featured both, after the Villa front man had an eighth-minute penalty brilliantly saved by the Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Indeed, until Everton’s on-loan Chelsea forward swept the ball home from Osman’s pass after 68 minutes, the Belgians had been usurped by the Americans as Howard and his United States understudy Brad Guzan took turns to demonstrate their quality.
Howard kept Everton in the game as Villa began strongly. Sporting a bushy black beard, he denied Benteke again after 23 minutes and claimed the ball at the feet of Andreas Weimann two minutes later, although the Austrian ought to have been flagged offside. When play switched to the other end in a breathless first-half, Guzan saved a point-blank header as Seamus Coleman’s cross found Lukaku.
Much as he admired Howard’s penalty save, Villa’s manager Paul Lambert felt his side missed an opportunity to add to their victories over Arsenal and Manchester City this season. “It was a terrific save by the goalkeeper and he had a really good game but we should have been three up,” he said.
Martinez, who has seen his new side win five of their last six matches, agreed. “For the first 25 minutes we had him to thank for being in the game and no one deserved the clean sheet more than Tim,” he said. “Without him it would have been a very difficult second half.”
Yet he was not surprised that Lukaku should provide such a decisive influence in the end. “He is improving every game, getting stronger. He has a terrific potential. He is powerful, good in the air and his link-up play has been impressive
“It did not surprise me that Chelsea sent him out on loan again with the resources they have because they want him to play every minute, to experiment and develop and get to the next stage of his career and the next 10 months will be to their benefit as much as ours. Romelu is enjoying his football, the fans love him and Chelsea will get back a player who has been well looked after.”
Howard’s save from Benteke’s spot kick was indeed exceptional. Benteke, tripped clumsily by Seamus Coleman, picked himself up and positioned the ball on the spot. The Villa striker, with five goals to his name so far in the domestic season, struck the ball firmly towards the top left-hand corner but Howard, reading Benteke’s intentions, flung himself full length and managed to turn it over the bar with his left hand.
Villa were just beginning to flag when Osman replaced Ross Barkley. Within eight minutes, linking with Leighton Baines, he set up Lukaku to break the deadlock with a first-time left-foot shot from the edge of the box and, after Gabriel Agbonlahor had squandered a chance to level, scored himself from similar range after Baines and Gareth Barry had combined.
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Guzan; Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Luna (Clark, 45); Westwood, Delph; Tonev (Helenius, 77), Agbonlahor, Weimann; Benteke.
Everton (4-3-2-1): Howard; Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; McCarthy, Barry, Pienaar (Naismith, 80); Mirallas (Deulofeu, 90), Barkley (Osamn, 60); Lukaku.
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Greater Manchester).
Man of the match: Osman (Everton)
Match rating: 8/10