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