COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
Villa started the brighter and wide men Milner and Young were making inroads against both Hibbert and Baines. Howard had to be alert to a dipping cross-cum-shot from Milner but from then the Blues started to put one or two moves together. After a Baines corner, Neville (on his 400th career game) smashed in a shot that Friedel tipped over.
On 20 minutes, Jo with a mazy run and a bit of luck found Baines and his low cross was tapped in by Fellaini for his 9th of the season — his celebration was his most animated to date. Two minutes later and things got even better when Cahill met a Baines corner, hit the bar, and was first to the rebound to head home for his 9th of the season and celebrated in usual style in punching the corner flag.
The travelling faithful were up for it now, taunting Villa with the 'were going to Wembley twice' chant. Villa seemed quite shocked by events and it was the Blues looking dangerous every time they ventured forward. Then Villa almost gave up on playing footy against us and went much more direct, long balls for Young and Milner to chase and the punt down the middle for the giant Carew caused panicky moments and saw Hibbert, who was finding Young a right handful, booked for a clumsy challenge and Baines to be less than secure against Milner.
Then on the half hour mark these tactics brought Villa back into it as the Blues rearguard was blocking and hacking at everything with no real conviction. Milner crossed over the defence, the ball was played back in and amongst all the bodies Carew got in a shot that hit Lescott on the line and went in.
The Blues still looked potent when they could get forward and Jo had a shot blocked but the whole back four plus keeper looked vulnerable to incoming salvoes. Hibbert in particular was struggling and in danger of a second yellow.
Half-time and the chat was along the lines of "this isn't over yet unless we stop the crosses coming in."
The second half started with Villa on the up and the cohesion between back four and Howard was quite panicky, no-one seemed to trust anyone which resulted in moments of madness. Then, some 10 minutes in, we had an attack that saw an unlikely outcome as Neville played a ball to Pienaar's feet, not much seemed on so he turned past the fullback and then hit it from all of 20 yards with pace and accuracy, found the corner with Friedel not even moving. Pienaar's first of the season, two goals in front... what could go wrong now?
Well, two minutes later and we give away another freekick in a dangerous area, a very dangerous area as it turned our when Milner hit a belter over the wall and past a despairing dive by Howard.
The misfiring Hibbert, who in truth had had a 'mare, was replaced by Jacobsen in an effort to keep the lively but 'diving' Young under more control; this lad could sell advertising space on his boot soles.
Another couple of minutes passed and it got worse still when Lescott made a hash of what should have been a routine clearance (panicky back four again) and in trying to retrieve his error tried to hook the ball over his head, his foot was high, seemed to catch the Villa player's head and the ref gave the pen. Barry duly smashed it down the middle as Howard dived left. 3-3... could someone nick it?
Villa looked the more likely with sub Delfouneso, Young and Carew going close. Saha replaced Jo but to little effect and, although we had a few forays forward, nothing dangerous took place.
Final whistle and you didn't know whether to laugh or cry, having been two goals to the good on two occasions and seeing those advantages clawed back each time through less than composed defending was hard to take.
Overall, I thought it was a cracking game to watch and the time just flew by. The two teams vying to be best of the rest both showed in this humdinger the frailties that will keep them best of the rest.
In Everton's case I thought once again when confronted with the direct physical tactics we find it hard to stand up to them. With Howard looking shaky and the back-four looking shaky, you wonder who sparks this uncertainty off — is it Howard or the back-four? Under these bombardments, no-one seems sure of anything.
On the plus side, we showed that we can put moves together and score from them — in fact I thought our goals to be well crafted where Villa's goals were very scrappy (free-kick excepted) yet aided and abetted by ourselves.
Today I thought showed the real impact of missing Arteta and not having a keeper in the Martyn or Southhall class or wide midfielders with the required defensive strength to their game. Man of the Match... hard to call in this one; I would go with Neville or Fellaini.
Still a great warm-up game for next Sunday and although Man.U will start as big favourites I think, as they are not likely to go 'direct', we may yet see Wembley twice.
See you there, our end, Entrance J. UP THE BLUES
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