Defensive issues remain as Benteke batters Everton

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesMarouane Fellaini led the Everton comeback with a second half brace, including a goal in stoppage time.

This starts on a tangent but it is a necessary diversion. Witnessing Mike Jones' officiating for the third time this season, he is simply not good enough. Earlier this season, Jones and company disallowed two legitimate goals against Newcastle. Against Norwich, a Norwich player threw Leighton Baines to the floor. The result? Norwich free kick. But he saved his best for today. Jones gave an offside, despite being 30 yards away from the decision, and his linesman stood there, flag by his side, doing nothing. Each as clueless as the other, they failed to agree on several decisions in the match.

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Complaints about the officials aside, there was a game going on and it was certainly an enthralling one. Everton have gone 18 league games since their last clean sheet against Aston Villa and on this evidence, it was easy to see why. For some reason, this fixture has a habit of serving up goals and the defending descends to amateurish levels.

In the infancy of David Moyes' stewardship, Everton thrived on their defensive capabilities. Moyes' obdurate and unrelenting team could poach a goal and rely on defensive strength for the necessary clean sheet. Fast forward several years and those traits have evaporated.

The move away from a defensive setup is understandable given the greater ability within the squad. However, the problem for this current crop is finding the correct balance between attack and defence. Goals are not an issue, with Everton failing to score just twice this season. The real difficulty is in defence.

Defensive issues have plagued the team all season. In this instance, player capitulation and puzzling managerial decisions appeared to be the main contributing factors. John Heitinga's day began in rotten fashion and got progressively worse before his 65th minute withdrawal. Culpable for each Villa goal, this was a day to forget for the Dutch defender and sections of the home crowd took umbrage at his perceived lack of effort and application.

As bad as Heitinga was, it stemmed from Moyes' decision to keep faith with the erratic defender. After his midweek error, many expected Heitinga to make way, but Moyes stuck by him. The decision backfired spectacularly and his confidence will have taken a battering here. Phil Jagielka's strong central performance in the latter stages made his earlier use at right back even more galling.

Elsewhere, the return to fitness of Darron Gibson and Kevin Mirallas continues to improve the midfield. Overworked due to the chaos emitting from the Heitinga-Christian Benteke mismatch, Gibson still managed the most passes and is instrumental in both attack and defence. Mirallas threatened infrequently but he appears to miss the burgeoning partnership created with Seamus Coleman.

In attack, Everton had their two best performers. Victor Anichebe continued his recent renaissance and capped it with a sharp turn and finish. Certain aspects require fine tuning but his hunger is a welcoming sight after many sulking displays in the past. Behind Anichebe, Marouane Fellaini led the fightback with a second half double. Quiet in recent weeks, Fellaini stamped his authority on proceedings and led by example in the second half.

Aston Villa's best performer was also in attack and Benteke made a mockery of the Everton defence at times. A real handful, the Belgian took his goals superbly and will be a key factor as Villa look to avoid relegation. With pace to burn on the break, Villa carried a threat throughout but their inability to defend is painfully apparent.

Draws are killing Everton this season and the inability to turn those draws into victories is sapping the life out of this European push. Coming back from 3-1 down, there is a case for saying point gained. Nevertheless, the visitors are not in the relegation zone by accident and Moyes said afterwards that this was two points dropped. A daunting trip to Old Trafford now comes with added pressure after the failure to win here.

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