The competitive rivalry between Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard has moved from the Premier League and England midfields into the dugout, and it was the former who won the first managerial encounter between the pair as Aston Villa secured a fraught but thoroughly deserved first win of the new season . Everton remain pointless and toothless.
A fine finish from Danny Ings and well-worked counter from substitute Emiliano Buendía delivered victory but it took crucial defensive interventions from Tyrone Mings and Calum Chambers to prevent Lampard’s team from pulling off a dramatic comeback in stoppage time. It would have been a heist given how Villa were in the ascendancy for much of the contest.
Gerrard called a truth in his stand-off with Mings by recalling the defender he stripped of the Villa captaincy and left on the bench throughout the opening day defeat at Bournemouth. Mings responded with an authoritative display, albeit against a weak Everton attack that again illustrated Lampard’s desperate need for reinforcement before the transfer deadline. It is a hole that has needed filling since the first day of the window.
The game was played in sweltering early afternoon heat but Villa responded immediately to the Bournemouth setback with an intense, vibrant opening. Philippe Coutinho was deployed by a front two of Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins with Boubacar Kamara impressing at the base of a midfield diamond on his home debut. The hosts looked to exploit space behind Everton right wing back Nathan Patterson, Gerrard’s former charge at Rangers, and remained the more threatening team even after the visitors’ solid back line weathered the early pressure.
Villa’s first goal of the season arrived courtesy of quick thinking from new captain John McGinn, quick feet from Watkins and the striker’s natural instinct in Ings. When Dwight McNeil was bundled out of possession deep in the Villa half McGinn released Watkins in space down the right with a trademark pin-point pass. James Tarkowski, reluctant to be drawn into a foot race out wide, gave Watkins room to assess his options for him and he chose a low cross into the center towards Coutinho. Ings beat the Brazilian to it, turned away from Abdoulaye Doucouré inside the area, and drilled a venomous left foot finish beyond Jordan Pickford. The power on the shot gave the Everton goalkeeper no chance.
As Gerrard celebrated Lampard was left to ponder what might have been with a more decisive substitution. Doucouré had signaled a hamstring problem to the Everton bench several minutes before the breakthrough. He played on, got nowhere near Ings for the goal, and exited moments later. Tom Davies replaced Everton’s third injury casualty of the season with new £33m signing Amadou Onana left waiting until the 35th minute for his debut. Doucouré’s departure closed a damaging spell for the visitors, who thought they had opened the scoring before Ings struck shortly when Anthony Gordon turned in Tarkowski’s header from a McNeil corner. Gordon, who rid Villa Park with his theaters, was just offside.
Demarai Gray was the only Everton forward to make an impression, forcing a rare save from Emiliano Martínez early in the second half, yet was withdrawn as Lampard introduced Salomón Rondón, Dele Alli and Onana, also switching to a back four, in an attempt to rescue a point. Villa would have been out of sight before the changes with more composure and better choices in the final third.
The home side controlled the contest until entertainment belatedly arrived in a chaotic ending. Watkins had a good run halted on the edge of the area by a fine Davies tackle while Buendía, a replacement for the injured Coutinho, saw his scissor kick cleared off the line by Vitalii Mykolenko. The substitute gave Villa the cushion their display merited with four minutes remaining after Onana was dispossessed in the center circle. Buendía pounced on the loose ball and released Watkins on the right. Continuing his run into the box, the playmaker was perfectly placed for Watkins’s return ball across the face of goal and tapped in at the back post.
That appeared to that, yet the game – and Everton – exploded into life seconds later. Straight from the restart Onana burst into the Villa penalty area and centered low to the far post where former Everton defender Lucas Digne, under pressure from Alex Iwobi, bundled the ball into his own net. Villa struggled under the direct approach to Rondón. In injury time Gordon broke into the box and forced a low save from Martinez. The rebound was destined for Rondón only for Mings to save his side with a vital recovery challenge. There was still time for Everton to come again but when Rondón’s flick found Onana six yards out, Villa substitute Calum Chambers produced a match-winning tackle to deny the new signing a dream start.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism