Everton 2 Aston Villa 1
Football managers are regularly talked of as father figures, but sometimes there is no substitute for a few words of advice from the real thing.
Certainly that’s what Kevin Mirallas, Everton’s matchwinner against Aston Villa, credits with his improved form this during this campaign.
Mirallas has played in every one of Everton’s 24 Premier League games under manager Roberto Martinez.
It’s a contrast to a stop-start debut campaign where Mirallas, 26, only managed to show occasional glimpses of his talent.
And the Belgium international, a £6m signing from Olympiakos 18 months ago, says that some tough words from dad Jose have helped toughen him up.
“My mentality changed,” Mirallas explained. “I can play strong and well in every game now. Before it was one game well, two games not so good.
“Now I can play with good consistently in five games. I spoke with my father. My dad told me that I had good quality but sometimes my mentality wasn’t good and that had to change.
“I spoke to some of the other players and the manager too. But it was my father, Jose, who made the difference. He came here to see me in December and spoke very well to help me. Now I can enjoy these games all the time.”
Injuries to loan forwards Romelu Lukaku and Lacina Traore meant Mirallas was used in a less familiar central striking role against Villa at Goodison Park.
However, he rarely gave the visitors’ defence a moment’s respite and crucially produced the game’s moment of genuine world-class quality to secure the points for Everton.
With the scores level Mirallas cleverly positioned himself to win a foul from Republic of Ireland defender Ciarán Clark 30 yards from goal with five minutes left on the clock.
He curled the resulting free-kick in spectacular fashion over the Villa wall, past the despairing dive of Brad Guzan and into the top-left corner of the net.
“Sometimes it is Leighton Baines who takes the free-kicks, sometimes it is me,” added Mirallas.
“I just felt good and said to Bainesy ‘I’m taking it, it’s for me, ok?’!
“It was very important for us to win this game. Our next game is Tottenham away and we will be going there for three points. It is not finished with us and fourth place.”
Everton were earlier frustrated in long periods of the game by a stubborn Villa side that packed men behind the ball and looked to stifle the hosts’ creativity.
Irish winger Aiden McGeady, on his home debut, looked the one player in a blue shirt capable of producing something and he struck the post early on with a curling shot from the right.
But it was the visitors who had opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark following a mistake by teenage midfielder Ross Barkley.
The tireless closing down of Fabian Delph paid off as he picked the pocket of Barkley and Leandro Bacuna picked up the ball. The Dutch winger exchanged passes with Christian Benteke and then angled a low shot through the legs of goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Martinez made bold substitutions in the second period introducing Steven Pienaar at half-time and then Steven Naismith in the 70th minute.
The pair would combine four minutes after Naismith’s arrival to get Everton back on levels terms. Gareth Barry threaded the ball into Pienaar’s feet on the edge of the box whose deft flick sent Naismith through and the Scot calmly placed a low shot past Guzan.
Everton smelt victory and delivered the telling blow with that bit of brilliance from Mirallas.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard 6; Stones 5 (Naismith 70; 7), Jagielka 7, Distin 6, Baines 7; McCarthy 6, Barry 6; McGeady 7 (Hibbert 87; 6), Osman 7, Barkley 5 (Pienaar 45; 8); Mirallas 8.
ASTON VILLA (3-4-1-2): Guzan 6; Vlaar 6 (Albrighton 80; 6), Clark 5, Baker 6; Bacuna 7, Westwood 6, Delph 8, Bertrand 6; Weimann 5 (Tonev 87; 5); Benteke 6, Holt 5 (El Ahmadi 61; 6).
Referee: Robert Madley.
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