A dramatic finale, in which Everton's Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Aston Villa's Carlos Cuellar were sent off, could not disguise the fact that a contest between two clubs with top-six aspirations fell far short of the entertaining standards they set last season, when the net bulged 15 times in three league and cup collisions.
The goals, with Bilyaletdinov opening the scoring and John Carew equalising, were squeezed into little more than a minute's play each side of half-time. But neither Tim Howard nor his fellow American Brad Friedel, who was making his 200th consecutive Premier League appearance, had to cover himself in glory during a curiously tentative game.
Bilyaletdinov, a £12m signing from Lokomotiv Moscow, received a straight red for a high challenge on the Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov with four minutes remaining. Cuellar, who had already been booked, followed in the 89th minute after a seemingly fair tackle on Yakubu Ayegbeni, referee Lee Probert's decision perhaps influenced by an incensed Goodison Park crowd.
Injury-plagued Everton thus recorded a third successive 1-1 draw at home against Midlands opposition. David Moyes insisted that his side have a strong squad when everyone is fit, but feared they might be too far behind the leading group by the time that happened. "We're not playing with a great deal of confidence but I felt we nullified Villa quite well," the Scot said. "The one thing Everton have got is resilience."
His Villa counterpart, Martin O'Neill, accepted that a draw was "a fair result overall". However, he argued that Mr Probert had erred on one of the two late dismissals. "The first was absolutely correct – it was a nasty challenge," he said. "But he got the second one wrong. I've seen it again and Carlos got a toe on the ball."
Everton's hopes of improving on the stalemates with Wolves and Stoke were scarcely enhanced by Moyes' continued faith in a lone-striker system. Louis Saha, the player with half of their modest total of 12 league goals before yesterday, remained on the bench until the final stages, leaving Yakubu to plough a lone furrow up front.
It was a measure of the dearth of goalmouth action that the closest either side came to scoring before first-half stoppage time was an opportunist volley by Villa's former Liverpool left-back Stephen Warnock. Even then the ball bounced twice on its way beyond the far post.
The impasse ended after Tim Cahill reached a pass launched down the right flank ahead of Richard Dunne, who looked favourite to get there first. The Australian's hooked cross was contested by Yakubu and James Collins, the ball breaking for Bilyaletdinov to side-foot his second goal in English football and ruin Friedel's hopes of marking his landmark with a clean sheet.
O'Neill withdrew James Milner at half-time and the change reaped an instant dividend. Howard did well to parry Gabriel Agbonlahor's deflected shot only for the ball to fall to Carew, whose drive found the net – the Norwegian's first goal of the season.
Carew's lively cameo saw Agbonlahor redeployed as a right-sided attacker, and Villa swiftly began to look the more likely winners. A booming 30-yard drive by Petrov was deflected behind for a corner, and at every set-piece Dunne and Collins piled into the home penalty area in the hope of repeating their success in the defeat of Chelsea.
The introduction of Saha at last ensured support for Yakubu, who might have sealed the points in the closing minutes after Villa's towering back line inexplicably made a mess of clearing Sylvain Distin's long throw-in. The Nigerian failed to connect with his attempted overhead kick.
Referee: Lee Probert
Man of the match: Carew
Match rating: 5/10Reuse content