Villa pushed closer to drop af­ter Wal­cott’s late equaliser saves Everton

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Premier League -

Fail­ing to take chances and an in­abil­ity to hold on to a lead tends to be a de­struc­tive com­bi­na­tion for a side fight­ing rel­e­ga­tion.

As­ton Villa mas­tered that un­de­sir­able blueprint at Good­i­son Park. Hav­ing mo­men­tar­ily ap­peared in Wat­ford and West Ham’s rear-view mir­ror, they may have squan­dered their chance of catch­ing them.

Dean Smith looked ready to kick the near­est wa­ter bot­tle down the M6 af­ter Theo Wal­cott’s 87th-minute equaliser. The loss of two points is not a terminal wound, but it looked and felt it.

Villa had the points in their grasp when Ezri Konsa di­verted Conor Houri­hane’s free-kick past Jor­dan Pick­ford for a 72nd-minute lead. Af­ter an in­sipid sec­ond half, Everton man­ager Carlo Ancelotti looked like he would be de­liv­er­ing a wor­ry­ingly well-re­hearsed ser­mon about un­ac­cept­able per­for­mances.

If this was not the day for Villa to ignite their sur­vival quest, then when? In­stead, Ancelotti was given the op­por­tu­nity to praise his play­ers’ spirit as Wal­cott headed past Konsa’s des­per­ate at­tempt at a goalline clear­ance.

Smith clung on to the pos­i­tives, but it feels too late for that, even if there were enough mo­ments to make you won­der how it came to pass that Villa are star­ing into the rel­e­ga­tion abyss. The fi­nale of­fered a per­ti­nent re­minder why.

A glance at the Pre­mier League ta­ble re­quires a dou­ble take when not­ing a side with a cur­rent Eng­land cen­tre-half on the pitch and prob­a­bly the great­est Eng­land deNigel fender of the last 30 years on the coach­ing staff have con­ceded 66 goals (only Nor­wich are worse).

This is their un­do­ing over the sea­son, even more than the mea­gre goal re­turn which should have been en­hanced on Mersey­side.

“Un­for­tu­nately, a lapse of con­cen­tra­tion cost us. We lost com­po­sure in the fi­nal five min­utes and did not stop the cross. We have been say­ing it a bit too much,” Smith ac­knowl­edged.

Un­til Konsa struck, the temp­ta­tion was to en­dorse the fo­cus on their lack of at­tack­ing po­tency. Here was a clas­sic case of a side full of mid­field­ers of en­deav­our, or­gan­ised enough in work­ing their way to the edge of the op­po­si­tion penalty area but with no one ca­pa­ble or will­ing to work Everton’s goal­keeper Pick­ford.

There must be se­ri­ous ques­tions as to who at Villa Park con­sid­ered Mb­wana Sa­matta the an­swer when he joined last Jan­uary. He lasted 63 min­utes be­fore his in­evitable sub­sti­tu­tion, but the change worked. Af­ter Jack Grealish twice failed to test Pick­ford when well placed on the edge of the penalty area, Villa struck from a set-piece.

An­war El Ghazi should have dou­bled the lead af­ter Grealish’s ex­cel­lent cross shortly af­ter. “If he scores it is game over. It was a big mo­ment,” said Smith.

So it proved, Everton’s des­per­a­tion re­warded when An­dre Gomes crossed and sub­sti­tute Wal­cott se­cured a scarcely de­served point.

“We could do bet­ter in the fi­nal third, but at the end we didn’t want to lose and we wanted to keep our home record and we were able to do that with the spirit,” said Ancelotti in what must have been a rapidly re­con­sid­ered, more op­ti­mistic ap­praisal.

New ar­rivals can­not come soon enough for him, Ancelotti again re­fus­ing to rule out a bid for Southamp­ton’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

An empty sta­dium meant you could hear the cheers from Wat­ford and West Ham as Wal­cott cel­e­brated. “I know we are not out of it be­cause I can see the fight in the play­ers,” Smith in­sisted. “Since lock­down I have been con­sis­tent. We have mer­ited more than we have got. It looks like we are go­ing to have to win the last two. We have hope we can.”

Level: Theo Wal­cott de­nies As­ton Villa vic­tory with his 87th-minute header

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