Half an hour into the game the score could have been 3-0 for the home side with all three points in the bag. However, reality has often been cruel to Paul Lambert's side this season and yesterday was no different. A combination of inaccuracy from the healthy-again Christian Benteke and some spectacular keeping from Tim Howard kept Everton still in the game. Six minutes after kickoff Seamus Coleman clumsily ran into Benteke's heels in the area, and referee Anthony Taylor pointed straight at the penalty spot. Taylor is not one of the Goodison faithful's favourite refs, and his latest decision was met with a howl of boos from the away crowd. The jeering turned into cheering seconds later though as Howard guessed correctly to palm away the Belgian's powerful penalty. Benteke then ran onto a through ball but shot to Howard's left and he dived to save. Villa were breaking forward with speed through Andreas Weimann and Aleksandar Tonev, and Weimann did get through on a one-on-one but Howard saved brilliantly again.
Everton for their part had chances too. Lukaku tried to slide a shot across Howard's American understudy Brad Guzan, but scuffed his shot for an easy save. Then Ross Barkley strode forward with purpose and fired a shot at goal which deflected off Ashley Westwood's foot, and dipped over Guzan's despairing reach, only to bounce off the bar. Soon after, Kevin Mirallas broke down the right and crossed but Lukaku's snap header was saved well by Guzan.
Halftime came, and unbelievably the score was still 0-0. Everton had enjoyed more of the possession though Villa looked at their best when they invited the Blues to attack and struck back on the counter. Everton came out looking less committed to push forward in the second half and the game got noticeably duller as chances were few and far between.
Blues fans have gotten used to uninspired substitutions late in the game. Roberto Martinez turned last week's game on its head by pulling Leon Osman out for Steven Pienaar, who scored the winner with his first touch. Martinez had another master-stroke this weekend too - the mostly ineffective Barkley was taken off and Osman came on. With England manager Roy Hodgson watching, Osman promptly squared a ball for Lukaku to score with an opportunistic strike past Guzan.
With just over 25 minutes to go, Villa threw everything forward as the most played fixture in English football was starting to get away from the home side. Gabriel Agbonlahor spurned a golden chance to tie the game, shooting straight at the goalie from eight yards out. It didn't matter a few minutes later when the masterful Gareth Barry controlled the ball deep in the Villa box, and squared for Osman to thread through the crowd and in at the post. Game over. Barry's assist didn't tell the full tale of his dominance in this game. For the third straight game he led the Blues in passes, and has definitely softened the blow of the Toffees losing Darron Gibson for an extended time.
In their historic 215th meeting, the two teams combined to play an excellent football game with chances at both ends and some excellent goaltending to boot. In the end it took another inspired substitution to change the game and tilt it in favor of either team.
Everton: Howard 7; Coleman 6, Jagielka 6, Distin 7, Baines 7.5; McCarthy 6.5, Barry 8.5; Mirallas 6.5 (Deulofeu N/A), Barkley 5.5 (Osman 8), Pienaar 6 (Naismith 5); Lukaku 7.5
Aston Villa: Guzan 6.5; Bacuna 7, Vlaar 6, Baker 6, Luna 5.5 (Clark 6.5); Tonev 5 (Helenius 6) Westwood 6, Delph 7, Weimann 6; Agbonlahor 6.5, Benteke 6.