Premiership: Everton 2 Aston Villa 3
They say a change is as good as a rest - and once again it took a switch of scenery from Villa Park to bring out the battling best in Aston Villa during a frantic finale at Goodison Park.
Having lost their killer instinct in front of their own supporters, Martin O’Neill’s happy travellers dramatically got back to winning ways in the Premier League away from home.
The Villa manager hinted beforehand that his team’s counter-attacking style was better suited to playing on the road - and so it proved, with the archetypal smash and grab raid.
Villa led through Steve Sidwell’s quickfire cracker before Joleon Lescott’s half hour equaliser sent the teams in all square at the interval.
Ashley Young thought his opportunist finish had won it when he capitalised upon Phil Jagielka’s error on 54 minutes, only for Lescott to level again deep into stoppage time.
Still Villa’s away day specialists weren’t finished, however, sealing their fifth win on opposition territory of the season thanks to another sublime breakaway goal from Young with virtually the last kick of the game.
Having made eight changes for Thursday’s disappointing UEFA Cup defeat at home to MSK Zilina, O’Neill restored the entire starting XI who were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw by Fulham last weekend.
It was clear the manager’s big-hitters would prosper where their understudies so dismally failed when Sidwell smashed them into a lead with the quickest goal of the Premier League season after just 34 seconds.
A cushioned pass from James Milner teed up Sidwell who caught the ball as sweetly as can be, arrowing a stunning 20 yard screamer beyond the outstretched hand of Everton keeper Tim Howard.
However, O’Neill made a point of praising the Toffees resilience before the match and the Irishman was proved right as the hosts recovered and dominated the remainder of the first-half.
Although a combination of the credit crunch, TV coverage and the run up to Christmas meant there were some spare seats in the crowd, the Goodision faithful still created a partisan atmosphere.
Not even the loud penalty appeals of the home fans could convince referee Martin Atkinson that Martin Laursen’s firm but fair aerial challenge on Fellaini and James Milner’s clean tackle on Victor Anichebe were fouls.
Villa keeper Brad Friedel stood up strong to repel Cahill’s close range volley after poor clearances from Carlos Cuellar and Curtis Davies allowed Leon Osman to head the ball into the dangerzone.
Moments later the veteran stopper plucked the ball out of the air when Fellaini was allowed to get his head to Arteta’s left wing corner, while it took the intervention of Cuellar to clear another of the Belgian’s efforts off the line.
There was nothing Friedel could do about Everton’s inevitable equaliser on 30 minutes, when he was left hopelessly exposed by a defence which had kept three successive Premier League defeats.
Leon Osman glanced on Arteta’s inswinging free-kick and Lescott was given the freedom of the six yard box to poke the ball past Villa’s No.1.
Victor Anichebe then swivelled sharply to force a smart save from Friedel after marginally failing to reach a cross from Osman, who himself volleyed over from close range.
Villa’s only bright moments of the first-half besides Sidwell’s goal came when Martin Laursen headed wide from a corner and Young’s free kick drew a routine save from Howard.
There was nothing routine about Friedel’s stop at the start of the second half as the former Liverpool and Blackburn keeper’s trailing hand somehow tipped Fellaini’s header onto the bar from Osman’s corner.
Having picked Everton’s pockets early in the first-half Villa repeated the feat on 54 minutes thanks to a moment of madness from Jagielka.
The Toffees defender inexplicably rolled an under-hit back-pass to Howard and he
paid the price when Young showed great anticipation to intercept the ball and clip a clinical finish past the keeper from just inside the area.
Young had another chance to hit Everton on the break, but chose to cut inside and wasted the opportunity after Gareth Barry forced the ball into his path.
Everton threw everything at their visitors in the closing stages and came almighty close to an equaliser when Friedel failed to collect a cross before Joseph Yobo headed wide from point blank range.
Eventually the home side’s pressure told when Lescott’s acrobatic hooked effort flew past Friedel after Jagielka and Arteta worked Osman’s cross into the dangerzone.
Yet still the drama was not over. With Toffees’ thoughts still on their equaliser Gabby Agbonlahor touched the ball through to Young who caught the hosts defence napping to slide a fine finish past Howard.
Goals: Sidwell 1, Ashley Young 54, 90+4 - Villa. Lescott 30, 90+3 - Everton.
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville (van der Meyde 84), Yobo, Jagielka, Lescott; Arteta, Osman, Fellaini, Pienaar; Cahill; Anichebe (Baines 86). Substitutes: Nash, Castillo, Jutkiewicz; Gosling, Kissock.
Villa (4-5-1): Friedel; Cuellar, Davies, Laursen, L Young; Milner, Sidwell, Barry, Petrov, A Young; Agbonlahor. Substitutes: Guzan, Knight, Harewood, Reo-Coker, Gardner, Shorey, Delfouneso.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (Yorkshire)
Bookings: Everton - Fellaini (foul), Villa - L Young (foul).