New season, new manager but the same old story at Villa Park. Paul Lambert may have replaced the unpopular Alex McLeish but for Aston Villa regulars, the suffering goes on. This famous old ground was under a cloud last term when the home supporters turned on McLeish during a campaign that brought only four home league victories – just one of them in this calendar year, against Fulham in March.
On the evidence of this game another hard season beckons as Everton outplayed an inexperienced home side who were flattered to have lost only 3-1. Steven Pienaar, Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic put the game beyond Villa before half-time as Everton built on last Monday's impressive opening victory over Manchester United. Villa, despite losing Ciaran Clark to a red card, pulled a goal back through Karim El Ahmadi but Lambert is still looking for his first point since leaving Norwich City for the Midlands.
It was not so long ago, during Martin O'Neill's reign, that Villa were rivalling Everton to be "best of the rest" yet a look at the two teamsheets suggested a worrying deficit on Villa's side. None of Lambert's three new faces on show yesterday – Ron Vlaar and El Ahmadi, both recruited from Feyenoord, and Matthew Lowton, the full-back from Sheffield United – have Premier League experience. Moreover, with Emile Heskey, James Collins and Carlos Cuellar all gone and Alan Hutton and Stephen Warnock marginalised, there were five homegrown players aged 23 or under in Villa's starting XI and the first half in particular was men against boys.
Lambert stressed the result was "my responsibility" but added: "You can't give a team a two-goal start, especially a team like Everton. The only pleasing thing is we kept going in the second half but by then the horse had bolted." It took Everton just three minutes to seize control as Pienaar struck. David Moyes had made re-signing Pienaar a priority of his summer transfer business and little wonder given the South African's impact on Everton's fortunes after returning from Tottenham on loan in January. For once Everton have carried their late-season resurgence into the next and Pienaar, with his movement and eye for a pass, is at the heart of it. Collecting the ball from Steven Naismith, he crowned a sequence of one-touch passes by curling a precise strike beyond Shay Given from the edge of the box.
Everton kept coming and after Jelavic had nodded just over from a corner, it was no surprise when Fellaini doubled the lead with a downward header from Phil Jagielka's cross. What was a surprise was the helping hand given to the Belgian by Shay Given, who fumbled a ball coming directly at him into his net. Fellaini was involved again in the third goal in the 43rd minute, playing in Leighton Baines to cross to the near post where Jelavic applied the kind of first-time finish which has already become his trademark at Goodison. "The downside for Paul is he met a really hot Everton team today," said Moyes of his fellow Glaswegian.
Not until first-half stoppage time did Tim Howard have to make a save – from Barry Bannan's deflected drive – and Villa's bad day got worse when Clark tugged at the shirt of Jelavic as he broke through just before the hour; the contact was minimal but referee Michael Oliver dismissed the young defender. Moyes felt with justification that Everton should have scored "another three goals". Given foiled Pienaar and Darren Bent, before the crossbar kept out Sylvain Distin's header and substitute Kevin Mirallas's headed goal was ruled out for offside. "I said to the players at times it was as good as I've seen for a long time from Everton," added Moyes. "We have always been good finishers; I have to watch that it doesn't work in reverse."
For Lambert, there was a crumb of comfort in El Ahmadi's swerving shot that somehow sneaked through Howard's fingertips. Andreas Weimann also hit a post late on, but the defeat means that Villa have now gone 12 top-flight games without a win – when that last happened in 1986/87, they were relegated.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Given; Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Baker; Herd (Lichaj, 59), El Ahmadi, Bannan (Weimann, 70); N'Zogbia; Bent, Delfouneso (Holman, 46).
Everton (formation 4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Naismith (Coleman, 64), Gibson (Mirallas, 71), Osman, Pienaar; Fellaini; Jelavic (Heitinga, 87).
Referee: Michael Oliver
Man of the match: Pienaar (Everton)
Match rating: 7/10
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