Everton 2-1 Aston Villa: Mirallas stunner completes comeback

A brilliant Kevin Mirallas  free-kick five minutes from time saw Everton beat Aston Villa and move into fifth place in the Premier League after a miserable week.

The Blues were smarting after Tuesday’s derby humiliation and went behind to a Leandro Bacuna strike in the first half of the 198th league meeting between the sides.

But Roberto Martinez’s decision to introduce Steven Pienaar and Steven Naismith proved decisive with the latter finishing well on 74 minutes before Mirallas won it from 25-yards.

Injury to Romelu Lukaku forced Martinez into starting Mirallas as the lone forward, supported by Leon Osman on the left and Aiden McGeady- his first start for the club- on the right.

The only other change from the Anfield embarrassment saw Antolin Alcaraz make way for Sylvain Distin and the ghost of that miserable Tuesday night was almost banished in the opening minutes when McGeady struck the post after cutting in on his left.

Everton took control of possession but failed to impose themselves in front of an expectant home crowd. McGeady had a tame effort which failed to trouble Brad Guzan before Villa found themselves in front with their first effort on target.

Ross Barkley dawdled for too long, allowing Fabian Delph to hook the ball away from the youngster and get Villa moving. Christian Benteke picked out the supporting Bacuna who slotted underneath Tim Howard to make it 1-0.

A few half-hearted boos could be heard from some sections of Goodison as Everton’s week went from bad to worse. Villa- now with their noses in front- looked even more content to put 11 men between Guzan’s goal and the ball, hoping for an opportunity to counter-attack.

But Everton were a changed side after the break and Pienaar’s introduction for Barkley saw their possession turned into more penetrative moments.

The South African resumed his partnership with Leighton Baines on the left side as though they had never been parted and Osman (who had now moved into the centre behind Mirallas) went close with a shot from the left side of the area that was dragged just wide.

Pienaar found space on the edge of the area after an hour but his arrowed effort was straight down the throat of Guzan and for all Everton’s slick play and endeavour it just didn’t seem as though it would be enough.

But Martinez’s bold decision to bring on Naismith for John Stones on 70 minutes proved decisive. The Scot tried his luck as the lone forward with Mirallas dropping into a central support role and Osman filling the vacancy left by James McCarthy who slotted in at right-back.

The re-shuffle may have looked hap-hazard but it worked a treat. Naismith showed good movement around the Villa area before Pienaar’s intricate pass put him through one on one and the Scot slotted beyond Guzan for his third goal in as many games.

Goodison had suddenly found it’s voice and the Gwladys Street end was at full volume as the Blues sought a winner. And it was perhaps fitting that the source of that winning goal came from Mirallas after he was brought down just outside the area.

The Belgian was Everton’s best player from the insipid derby performance, running himself into the ground and trying desperately to find a reply despite the four goal margin.

And the forward endeared himself to the Goodison faithful even further with a sumptuously taken set-piece that curled into the top left corner with five minutes to play.

There was time for substitute Marc Albrighton to fire from long-range- a shot that took a nick on it’s way to goal but didn’t dip in time to trouble Howard- but the final whistle was greeted with relief by Evertonians and Everton’s first league double over Villa since the 1986/87 season was secured.

The game was billed before-hand as one of the biggest tests of Everton’s character and resolve under Martinez and it has certainly done much to dis-spell some of the grumblings over the last week.

But more importantly, on a day where Champions League chasing Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United both failed to win, the three points moves Everton into fifth place and just a point behind fourth placed Liverpool.

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