Villa fight back to hold Toffees

Villa boss Martin O’Neill had challenged his side to win their

remaining six games to give them a realistic hope of overhauling

Manchester City and Tottenham. In the end they were happy to settle

for a point after twice bouncing back from Tim Cahill goals, first

through Gabriel Agbonlahor’s 50th goal for the club and then thanks

to Phil Jagielka’s injury-time own goal. It kept them four points

ahead of Everton who have played a game more. Villa showed plenty

of purpose and invention in the first half but Cahill gave Everton

the lead and Tim Howard made a trio of fine saves at the other end.

Agbonlahor gave them a lifeline after a break but they lacked the

same creativity and puprose and they looked to have been undone by

Cahill’s second before Jagielka’s late gift. Howard was the first

keeper to be seriously extended in parrying away a low drive from

Villa midfielder Stewart Downing after he had turned away from

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov to create a yard of space. Villa started to

exert pressure and John Carew deflected a shot wide at full stretch

from a near post cross by Downing. O’Neill’s side were showing

plenty of purpose and Howard again did well to turn a first-time

shot from James Milner around the post from Agbonlahor’s through

ball. Then Villa keeper Brad Friedel showed his worth in parrying a

Leon Osman piledriver around a post and then blocking a rising

close range effort from Bilyaletdinov. After 23 minutes Everton

went ahead through Cahill’s eighth goal of the campaign. Villa

left-back Stephen Warnock was adjudged to have brought down Osman

although it looked an innocuous challenge. Leighton Baines floated

the ball into the Villa area and Cahill was the first to react in

heading past Friedel Cahill then became the first player to be

yellow carded by referee Martin Atkinson for a challenge on Villa

skipper Stiliyan Petrov. Villa tried to retaliate and Carew showed

his power in shaking off the challenge of Jagielka before slicing

his shot into the side netting. Howard made another excellent save

three minutes before half-time to keep out a close range header

from Carlos Cuellar from Milner’s centre. John Heitinga needed

touchline treatment to his ankle early in the second half after a

challenge from Agbonlahor before being able to continue. But he

quickly went down again and was substituted after 50 minutes and

replaced by Jack Rodwell. Stephen Pienaar’s pass picked out the run

of Yakubu inside the Villa box but his first touch was not the best

and he was crowded out before he was able to get in a shot. The

game was less open than in the first half although Everton were

looking the more purposeful and Bilyaletdinov had an effort blocked

by Richard Dunne. Carew created half a chance from nothing when

surrounded by Everton defenders and saw his shot deflected wide.

Everton boss David Moyes made his first change after 63 minutes

with Yakubu replaced by Louis Saha. With 18 minutes remaining,

Agbonlahor brought Villa level with his 50th goal for the club –

and 15th of the campaign. Milner sent over a cross from the

touchline and Agbonlahor sent a glancing header wide of Howard into

the corner of the net. But two minutes later Cahill struck again to

restore Everton’s lead. There was a question mark over Villa’s

defending with Cahill presented with a free header in converting

Bilyaletdinov’s corner. O’Neill brought on young striker Nathan

Delfouneso in place of Warnock as he gambled on playing three up

front. In injury time Young arrowed over a left-wing centre and

Jagielka could only deflect the ball wide of Howard who tried in

vain to keep it out of the net.