Statistics are very much in the interpretation. After the Carling Cup defeat at Chelsea in midweek, most Aston Villa fans saw it as no away League wins this season; now, giddy on their improbable elevation to third in the table, they will speak of only one defeat anywhere in the Premiership this season.
If the defeat at Chelsea did anything, other than rob them of Gareth Barry and Martin Laursen, it was to emphasise the magnitude of the job Martin O'Neill has done since arriving at Villa Park in the summer. His success may be the most predictable surprise of the season, but it defies logic to such an extent O'Neill may as well be practising levitation. "It's a funny game," O'Neill said. "If we'd got beat coming off the back of losing at Chelsea, we'd maybe have been thinking this was too heavy for us, but now we can go to Wigan next Sunday as confident as we could be." He admitted that he still sees Champions' League qualification as "an impossible dream".
Gabriel Agbonlahor has the pace, confidence and touch to suggest he may go on to great things, but this, essentially, is an ordinary Villa side. There is no great secret to their transformation, though; they are just, as O'Neill's sides always have been, disciplined and industrious. Nobody exemplifies that work ethic better than Gavin McCann, who, in injury time, was still hurtling through the driving rain to close down anything that moved. O'Neill paid tribute to his centre-backs, Liam Ridgewell and Gary Cahill, who was making his first start of the season after recovering from a cartilage injury. "Immense," he said.
Impressive as Villa were, though, at least in terms of their effort, it would be remiss not to point out that their one spell of sustained pressure came after a horrible collision between Lee Carsley and Tim Cahill had led to the Australian being taken off on a stretcher. As both lunged towards McCann, the Villa midfielder skipped aside like a matador and Carsley's studs embedded themselves into the bottom of his team-mate's knee.
"It shouldn't have caused as much disruption as it did," the Everton manager, David Moyes, said. "There wasn't much in the game, but generally there was a flatness about us. They got the goal, and then they had something to cling on to."
McCann had a shot well saved by Tim Howard, and then, three minutes before the break, came the goal. Agbonlahor held the ball up well on the right and laid it back to Isaiah Osbourne, and Chris Sutton glanced in his floated cross for his first strike since April. Villa had the occasional break, but essentially after that is was all about Everton, and specifically about Andrew Johnson's loss of form.
Whether he has been guilty of diving in his career or not, it is hard to dispute that the recent debate about his supposed willingness to go to ground, and his subsequent determination to be whiter than white have had an impact. "They're just not going in for him," Moyes said. Twice yesterday he was presented with clear chances no more than 10 yards from goal, and on both occasions he missed the target.
Three straight defeats for Everton does not tell the full story either, for in none of those games have they been outclassed. There were boos at half-time, but their fans would perhaps be advised to take a leaf out of O'Neill's book. "I'll look at the table for a minute," he said, "and then I'll duly ignore it."Reuse content