Osman puts Europe in reach for Everton

Aston Villa 1 - Everton 3
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The Independent Online

Everton can enjoy the Carling Cup final today whether Liverpool win or lose. Either way, the blue half of Merseyside has all but proved they will last the Premiership pace now. This comprehensive win moves them eight points clear of fifth-placed Liverpool and the Champions' League qualification that comes with finishing fourth is no longer a fantasy for David Moyes' men.

Everton can enjoy the Carling Cup final today whether Liverpool win or lose. Either way, the blue half of Merseyside has all but proved they will last the Premiership pace now. This comprehensive win moves them eight points clear of fifth-placed Liverpool and the Champions' League qualification that comes with finishing fourth is no longer a fantasy for David Moyes' men.

Villa had been talked up as a potential top-six side, but will not be any more - they were lucky to lose by so few. The mark of a good team is how they respond to adversity, and Everton showed true class in bouncing back from an FA Cup defeat by Manchester United, the previous Premiership defeat by leaders Chelsea and a draw with Southampton. They were without the suspended James Beattie and had injury problems, too.

Everton lost their captain and key central defender Alan Stubbs to a knee injury in training on Friday, but apart from an early Villa attack, which Joseph Yobo dealt with superbly, were rarely tested.

Moyes, who even allowed himself a glance up at third-placed Arsenal, now only seven points ahead, said: "I can sense the excitement, but with 10 games to go we can't quite see the finishing line yet. I could see in the players' eyes they had the hunger to win that game. They played very well too and deserve all the credit for where we are."

David O'Leary admitted it was the worst performance during his reign as Villa manager. One of the kindest words he used about his side was "diabolical", but he added: "David was worried about relegation when we played at a similar stage last season, but now they are right up there and deserve to be. They give hope to us all."

Everton took a deserved 17th-minute lead when the impressive Tim Cahill, back from a ban, crossed from the left and Olof Mellberg and Marcus Bent both unsuccessfully stretched for the ball, allowing it to bounce to Leon Osman, who headed in the sixth and possibly easiest goal of his debut season.

The pre-match good cheer in the Holte End was quickly turning into ill-tempered jeers, while the Everton fans at the other end were having a party. Much of Villa's frustration was aimed at their signing from Manchester United, Eric Djemba-Djemba, who looked lost. He did, however, act his way into winning a 29th-minute free-kick from which Nobby Solano grazed a post with a curling shot from 25 yards out.

An equaliser at that stage would have been harsh on Everton, just as it was when it finally came a minute into the second half, Solano tapping in after Juan Pablo Angel had failed to convert a Thomas Hitzlsperger cross from a yard out.

The Villa cheers lasted less than two minutes before they fell behind again. Bent crossed and Mellberg left the ball apparently thinking keeper Thomas Sorensen would claim it. He had not considered Cahill running in behind him, though, and the Everton midfielder gratefully headed in, leaving Villa's captain and keeper to argue.

Djemba-Djemba, already booked, could have been shown a red card soon after following a challenge on Cahill, but much to the disappointment of the Villa fans, player-friendly referee Graham Poll let him off with a warning. O'Leary ended their misery in the 57th minute when he withdrew the Cameroon international for Lee Hendrie.

It was pouring now and there seemed no way back for Villa or their justifiably miserable supporters. The outcome was confirmed in the 67th minute when Osman scored his second with a close-range finish after neat passing from Mikel Arteta, a star in the making on loan from Real Sociedad, and an assist from Cahill.

Villa could have added another couple of goals before the end and, apart from the singing Everton section, the ground was almost empty at the final whistle.

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