Donovan stars as Keane has to accept bit part
Aston Villa 1 Everton 1
Sunday 15 January 2012
There was no Thierry Henry moment for Robbie Keane and it would have been hard on Everton if there had been. Ravaged by injuries and playing their fifth game in 12 days, they worked hard for their point and perhaps deserved more, given that referee Mark Clattenburg failed to award them a first-half penalty that, on review, he would probably have given.
Keane, on a two-month loan from LA Galaxy, waited 81 minutes for his first taste of the Premier League since May last year. There was energy and intent from the Irishman but no real hint of game-changing impact, although it would have been expecting a lot for him to make one, two months since his last competitive action, as had Henry for Arsenal.
In fact, it was his Galaxy teammate, Landon Donovan, back with Everton until the end of February, who had had the benefit of two full games before this one to relocate his sharpness, who had the bigger impact.
The American winger's pass laid on the equaliser with which Victor Anichebe cancelled out Darren Bent's goal for Villa and it was his first-half cross towards Louis Saha that led to Everton's frustrated appeal for a penalty.
Villa full-back Alan Hutton got just enough of a push on Saha to prevent the Frenchman making clean contact with his head and those with the benefit of an action replay could easily support Everton manager David Moyes in his contention that it should have been a penalty. Then again, given Clattenburg's history with Everton – he sent off two of their players in a fiery Merseyside derby when he was last in charge of an Everton match in 2007 – maybe he was expecting no favours.
"I thought Landon was the best player on the pitch," Moyes said. "For him to play the full 90 minutes without being taken off is a tribute to his professionalism. It was a great pass for Victor's goal and a great cross for Louis, when I felt we had a good call for a penalty.
"I'll give him a couple of days off now. I don't want him to go back to LA burned out."
In their present condition, Everton need every fit player Moyes can muster. There were six non-starters who would have been in his XI yesterday had they been fit and he was obliged to give the inexperienced 20-year-old Shane Duffy his first start at centre-back in the absence of Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka. A strong, tall player, the youngster looked composed on the ball and made a pleasing impression.
It was no wonder, then, that Moyes was fearful to see Anichebe slump to the ground, with no other player near him. This occurred soon after he had taken his chance from Donovan's fine through ball, 13 minutes after Bent's eighth goal of the season, pushed home from close range on the end of a Stephen Ireland pass, had given Villa the lead.
Anichebe, who came off the bench after an hour, has made only 16 Premier League starts in three seasons because of a succession of injuries and when he appeared to twist his knee trying to keep the ball from going out for a throw-in, Moyes looked to the heavens. "We feared the worst but thankfully it looks like it was just a scare," he said.
Ireland was Villa's man of the match, adding energy and commitment to his clever touches on the ball that had a home crowd sometimes sceptical about his value to the side singing his name.
Their understated hero, though, was goalkeeper Shay Given, who marked his first appearance for six weeks since pulling a hamstring with two outstanding saves either side of Everton's penalty claim, first from a Saha header and then from one of his own players, when Stephen Warnock's attempted clearance almost turned into an own goal.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Given; Hutton, Collins, Dunne, Warnock (Keane 81); Albrighton, Petrov, Clark, Ireland; Bent, Agbonlahor.
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Duffy, Heitinga; Baines; Donovan, Fellaini, Gibson (Bilyaletdinov, 84), Drenthe (Anichebe, 61); Cahill; Saha (Stracqualursi, 88).
Referee Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the match Donovan (Everton).
Match rating 7/10.
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