ASTON VILLA 3 EVERTON 2: SHAY Given’s return to the Aston Villa goal for a first Premier League appearance since August 2012 might have been the major talking point ahead of kick-off here, yet by the conclusion of this match the source of discussion came, once again, at the opposite end of the field.
There were no prizes for guessing the architect of Everton’s downfall as Christian Benteke’s ninth and tenth goals in his last eight top-flight appearances helped Villa secure a win which lifted them up to 14th.
It was a vital three points — such are the fine margins in this basement battle, defeat would have seen Tim Sherwood’s men plummet into the bottom three.
There is a feelgood factor surrounding the FA Cup finalists right now, though the worry, for Sherwood, is that he could find himself this summer rebuilding a team now showing its real potential, rather than simply
adding to it.
He can take heart from Fabian Delph’s loyalty in penning a four-year deal, when he could have walked for free this summer.
But loan ace Cleverley’s options for when he soon becomes available on a ‘Bosman’, are sure to be expanding by the week, so well is the Manchester United midfielder performing at present.
And then there is Benteke, whose exit Sherwood will not block if the €40m-rated striker signals his intent to leave.
Sherwood said: “Is this summer just as important for me to keep hold of what I’ve got as what I bring in? Absolutely. I can’t think of too many footballers who would have signed a four-year deal like Fabian Delph did when he could have gone to the top four.
“Maybe Aston Villa is a club they want to show loyalty to. Let’s hope they all follow suit.”
Benteke’s two first-half goals put Villa in firm control until his Belgian team mate Romelu Lukaku threw the Toffees a lifeline from the penalty spot
Cleverley soon restored the two-goal cushion but Phil Jagielka’s header late on — allowed despite furious protests from Given, who insisted he was fouled in the build-up — made for a tense finale.
“It was unlucky that the referee missed that but I was very pleased with Shay’s performance,” said Sherwood, who restored Given to the side following a blunder by Brad Guzan against Manchester City last week.
The visitors were a pale of imitation of the side who swept aside Manchester United in such devastating fashion last week.
“It was a total below-par performance,” admitted boss Roberto Martinez.
(4-3-2-1): Given 7; Bacuna 7 (Hutton 81), Vlaar 7, Okore 7, Richardson 6; Cleverley 8, Westwood 7 (Sanchez 75), Delph 9; Grealish 7, N’Zogbia 7 (Cole 90); Benteke 8.
Howard 6; Coleman 5, Stones 5, Jagielka 6, Baines 5; Barry 4, McCarthy 5; Lennon 4, Naismith 5 (Barkley 75), Mirallas 5 (Osman 75); Lukaku 6.
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