Everton 0-1 Aston Villa: Steven Gerrard claims an important win on his return to Merseyside thanks to Buendia’s near-post header
The Villa forward rose to meet a corner from former Everton defender Lucas Digne on the stroke of half-time, before the returning Digne and Matty Cash were hit by a plastic bottle thrown by a home fan from the stands.
Ben Godfrey had a header cleared off the line by Tyrone Mings as Everton pushed for an equaliser, before Dominic Calvert-Lewin squandered a chance from six yards as he stretched for Anthony Gordon’s cross.
The win moves Steven Gerrard’s side up to the 10th in the Premier League table and leaves Everton in 16th place, just three points above Norwich and five clear of the relegation zone.
Here are five things we learned.
Ferguson’s return falls flat
As he prepared to take charge of Everton in his second spell as caretaker manager, Duncan Ferguson demanded his players to run themselves into the ground for their fans.
It was the same message the former Everton striker gave when he took charge of a sensational win over Chelsea in December 2019, following the sacking of Marco Silva.
Ferguson hoped that by getting the fans back on side, he could inspire Everton to produce a similar performance and deliver a much-needed victory. It soon become clear, however, that Gerrard’s Villa were prepared to meet such an an approach head on and it left Everton looking woefully short.
That is not Ferguson’s fault, of course. It is more a damning indictment of their squad, particularly their midfield and full-back options, and it meant that when it came to trying to break Villa down, Everton struggled.
But Everton’s performance here also does not do Ferguson’s hopes of managing the club for an extended spell any favours. If Everton are to move forward as a club, they need more than work-rate alone.
Villa grind out an important win
This was an important win for Aston Villa and Steven Gerrard. The former Rangers manager has made an impressive impact since taking charge in November but if his side hadn’t picked up three points at Goodison Park, it would have extended their winless run to five games in all competitions.
Granted, three of those games were against Chelsea and Manchester United and Villa’s performances under Gerrard have often remained impressive even when they haven’t been winning, but this win will be a huge relief.
What was perhaps most impressive about Villa’s performance here was how they were able to blend skill and steel. They battled to meet Everton head on, with McGinn and the brilliant Jacob Ramsey putting in big shifts in midfield, but were also able to turn and be creative when they got the ball to Coutinho and Buendia in advanced positions.
Coutinho did not make the same impact on his first Premier League start for Villa than he did in his superb 20-minute debut from the bench in the 2-2 draw against Manchester United, but Buendia’s winner was a true moment of class as he turned to head Digne’s corner into the far corner.
While Villa offered little in the second half, the defensive stand and game management from Gerrard’s side were impressive as they ground out the win. Despite the impressive performances against Chelsea and United, Gerrard will have known more than anyone that he needed points. He made sure his side did that today.
Few thrills in scrappy contest
This was always going to be a spicy one. The combination of Ferguson returning to the Everton dugout and Gerrard arriving with his Aston Villa side ensured that Goodison Park was lively at kick-off. That Rafael Benitez was no longer in charge surely helped the feeling around the ground, too.
In such an atmosphere, it was fitting that by the time the football started there was very little of it to be seen. The opening 20 minutes or so were the definition of a midfield battle, with John McGinn and Abdoulaye Doucoure relishing the scrap, in particular.
For a while, while the play was fast-paced and on the edge, it was an entertaining sight: two teams embodying the fighting spirit of their respective managers and battling for every ball.
But the novelty of that soon wore off, as the game descended a half that was dreadfully low on quality. This was not the classic Premier League clash that many would have hoped for – but it was a professional performance from Villa and they deserve a lot of credit from coming away from a difficult test with three points.
Everton set-piece struggles continue
When Everton do eventually appoint a new permanent manager, fixing the team’s deficiencies at defending set pieces has to be high up on the list.
Digne’s in-swinging delivery and Buendia’s glancing header were both excellent in their own right, but Everton cannot allow one of the smallest players on the pitch to make the first contact at the near post.
Conceding goals from set pieces was an issue under Benitez as well, and in conceding their ninth of the Premier League season so far, it means that only Crystal Palace and Leicester have lost more goals from dead-ball situations.
Like many of Everton’s problems this season, they have been clear for all to see but they’ve been unable to come up with any solutions.
Digne returns to haunt Everton
Frankly, this was a ridiculous position for Everton to find themselves in. Just 10 days after completing the switch from Everton to Villa, here was Digne lining up against his former club.
That is came after the sacking of Benitez, who Digne had fallen out with, made the situation even more regrettable from an Everton perspective. By selling Digne, despite Benitez being in a vulnerable position, they had directly strengthened one of their rivals while leaving themselves with a hole at left back.
It was telling as Digne lined up for Villa, Everton’s £20 million signing Vitaliy Mykolenko was on the bench following his disastrous display in the defeat to Norwich last weekend.
Digne was booed throughout his return to Goodison, and was even hit by an object thrown from the stands, but he had the last laugh after setting up Buendia’s header. He’s a player that Everton will desperately miss as they prepare for their latest rebuild.