The first managerial spat between Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard went the Aston Villa man’s way but meant far more than getting one over an old Premier League and England rival. After a false start at Bournemouth and an apparent fall-out with Tyrone Mings, the Villa manager needed a response to ignite the season and quell any unease on the Holte End. Villa duly delivered.
Victory was merited against a toothless Everton but arrived in fraught circumstances with the recalled Mings and substitute Calum Chambers producing goal-saving, match-winning challenges to deny Everton a stoppage time equaliser.
An Everton comeback would have been a heist given Villa’s performance. Danny Ings and Emiliano Buendía scored two fine goals from Ollie Watkins’s assists and with more composure and better choices in the final third the hosts would have scored more.
Gerrard was not complaining, although a potentially serious ankle injury to £26m summer signing Diego Carlos on the Brazilian’s home debut threatens to tarnish his weekend. The manager said he was worried about the injury as Carlos went off for a scan on the ankle.
“We deserved the external criticism we got last week,” Gerrard said. “We asked the players to deliver a response and we got that. The crowd were fantastic and when you get a performance like that we are a good team.
“It was one of our strongest performances in terms of control and possession play and we could have scored more. There were some nervy moments because we lost our focus at 2-1, which shows we still have a lot to learn.”
Lampard claimed his team deserved a draw on the basis of chances created late on. But they came in a chaotic finale when substitutes Amadou Onana and Salomon Rondon finally gave Everton a physical presence that had been painfully lacking up front. His team remain pointless and, in the absence of much-needed reinforcement in the striking department, progress will be kept in check.
Lampard said: “It’s clear we miss a focal point of the team with Dominic [Calvert-Lewin] out. It’s something we are looking at. The feeling you’ve got a goalscorer is not there.”
The same could not be said of Ings. Villa’s first goal of the season came courtesy of quick thinking from John McGinn, quick feet from Watkins and the striker’s natural instinct. When Dwight McNeil was bundled out of possession deep in the Villa half McGinn released Watkins with a trademark pin-point pass.
James Tarkowski, reluctant to be drawn into a foot race out wide, gave Watkins room to assess his options and he chose a low cross into the centre towards Philippe Coutinho. Ings beat the Brazilian to it, turned away from Abdoulaye Doucouré inside the area, and drilled a venomous left-foot finish beyond Jordan Pickford. The power on the shot gave the goalkeeper no chance.
As Gerrard celebrated, Lampard was left to ponder what might have been. Doucouré had signalled a hamstring problem to the Everton bench several minutes before the breakthrough but insisted on playing on. He exited seconds after Ings’s breakthrough. It was Everton’s third injury setback of the fledgling campaign.
Villa controlled most of the second half with Watkins’s movement a constant menace. Buendía, a replacement for the injured Coutinho, had a scissor kick cleared off the line by Vitalii Mykolenko before doubling the home side’s lead.
The Everton substitute Onana, making his first appearance since his £33m arrival from Lille, was dispossessed in central midfield and Buendía released Watkins into the area. The playmaker continued his run and was perfectly placed to tap home the return ball across the face of goal.
That appeared to be that but the contest – and Everton – exploded into life. Straight from the restart Onana burst into the Villa area and centred low to the far post where the former Everton defender Lucas Digne, under pressure from Alex Iwobi, bundled the ball into his own net. Villa struggled under the direct approach of Rondon.
In injury time Anthony Gordon broke into the area and forced a low save from Emiliano Martínez. The rebound was destined for Rondon only for Mings to save his side with a vital challenge.
There was time for Everton to come again but when Rondon’s flick found Onana six yards out Chambers denied the new signing with a crucial touch.
Relief soon abounded around Villa Park.