Composure and class underline Villa Park win

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Ben Hoskins/Getty ImagesTim Howard was at his finest for Everton on Saturday in saving Christian Benteke's penalty and registering a clean sheet.

Though dubbed the battle of the Belgians beforehand, with Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku leading the respective forward lines, it was the victor in the battle of the American goalkeepers, Tim Howard, who provided the platform for this impressive away win.

Howard kept out a Benteke penalty with a sprawling dive, and denied Benteke again before saving from Andreas Weimann. There were one or two heart-stopping moments in possession, but this was Howard at his goalkeeping best.

- Report: Aston Villa 0-2 Everton

Added to the resolute work of those around him, the early heroics of Howard helped Everton secure their first clean sheet against Aston Villa in 18 league games, with the previous shutout against those in claret and blue arriving in February 2004.

On the back of the telling intervention of Howard, Everton slowly began to warm to their task; Ross Barkley rattled the woodwork while Brad Guzan twice prevented Lukaku from opening the scoring in the first half.

Quite how the first half ended goalless was something of a mystery; both sides viewed the art of defending as an optional extra during an open, end-to-end first half. As the action wore on after the interval, with the home side in the ascendency, Roberto Martinez needed to act and did so.

Much maligned this season following a number of lacklustre performances, Leon Osman entered the fray for a subdued Barkley. Fortunately, for Everton and Martinez, Osman turned in a match-winning contribution courtesy of an assist and the goal that clinched the points.

The introduction of Osman sparked the otherwise quiet Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar into life, and the three swiftly combined, slicing through the home defence to hand Lukaku his fifth goal in five league appearances.

Osman then grabbed the second, as the midfielder applied the finish to another cleverly constructed goal, and there was plenty to admire about the manner in which Everton closed out the match.

The defensive-minded prone-to-failure approach of yesteryear has given way to an assured, measured style that allows Everton to dictate proceedings from a position of comfort. Aside from the obvious shift regarding ball retention, this is perhaps the most noticeable change under the new regime.

Clinical when necessary, composed when required, there was an authoritative air about Everton's football once the visitors edged in front. Calmly retaining possession, waiting for the opportune moment to strike, this tough examination had descended into a procession by the final whistle.

In terms of individual showings, having assisted Osman for the decisive goal, Gareth Barry further underlined his worth and the Blues boast a 100% record with him in the team (five wins from five); the Toffees have won none of their four matches without him.

The midfielder continues to bolster the team thanks to sound positional sense and much-needed leadership. Furthermore, with only Michael Carrick (80.2) and Yaya Toure (80.1) averaging more passes per match (73.8), Barry is taking over the attack-building duties of Darron Gibson.

Alongside him -- and it is becoming a pleasing, distinctly familiar theme -- James McCarthy excelled. The instant impact and value of both toward this Everton side is beyond the even the most optimistic supporter; the best compliment to pay the pair is how the departure of Marouane Fellaini and the injury to Gibson are currently an afterthought.

Nevertheless, in spite of the style evident in the closing stages, the slow start marring each half will need addressing if Everton are to maintain their imperious home form against Tottenham next weekend.

The positives easily outweigh the negatives at present, yet the upcoming fixtures are sure to provide a sterner test of the credentials of this group. Until then, though, Martinez and his troops can reflect on a grand start to his Goodison tenure.


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