Saturday 23 September 2017

Fate smiles on Houllier's men

Everton 2 Aston Villa 2

Andy Hunter

Much has changed for Gerard Houllier since his last visit to Goodison Park but not the sense of reprieve.

Eight years ago, he became the first Liverpool manager to record four successive victories on Everton soil and basked in the pressure being lifted from a winless start to the campaign. Should Aston Villa survive this season, as they should, he will know this was the turning point.

Everton, so depleted by injury there was not a minute's worth of Premier League experience among their seven substitutes before kick-off, believed they had taken the lead for a second time when Jermaine Beckford's 66th-minute shot struck the underside of the bar and landed centimetres over the line. Referee Mike Jones, on the advice of assistant Stephen Jones, said no, and seconds later Darren Bent raced clear to place Houllier's team in front.

The grievances were ultimately shared when Phil Jagielka threw himself over Jean Makoun inside the Villa area and Leighton Baines equalised from the spot. But the visitors, beaten in their two previous outings and spared again when Leon Osman missed an open goal late on, had escaped.

"It was impossible to see from where we are," said Houllier, who described the penalty decision as "a bit soft". "The great technological debate will come back again but I just take a lot from the fact that we won the second half in terms of effort, spirit and quality, particularly in defending and building up the two goals. I am very proud of the players. They showed character and togetherness."

Everton's 11 fit senior players had responded superbly to the task before them and Osman opened the scoring on 38 minutes. Diniyar Bilyaletdinov dispossessed Walker and released Osman who squeezed a shot under Brad Friedel. Bent produced an emphatic finish from Downing's low cross to level moments after the restart before slipping his second past Tim Howard as Everton protested over Beckford's disallowed goal.

"My first thought was that it must be close given the angle that the ball bounced back out," said David Moyes. "It was a hard call for the referees but someone who was watching the game told us it was in within three seconds. That is why we champion goal-line technology."

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