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Everton vs. Aston Villa: 5 Thoughts

Tim Howard saves the day, Lukaku wins the battle of the Belgians and Leon Osman proves his worth.

Ben Hoskins

1. Tim Howard gives a flawless performance.

A 2-0 win at Villa Park on Saturday made it two victories on the bounce for Everton, who have recovered admirably since their defeat at the Etihad three weeks ago. But while the final score suggested a fairly comfortable success against Paul Lambert's tenacious Aston Villa side, the result could easily have slipped beyond the Toffees before half time, were it not for a quite superb goalkeeping performance from Tim Howard.

Throughout the last year the American has been prone to lapses in judgement, and the arrival of Joel Robles this summer prompted some to speculate that he could be phased out as the Blues' number one ‘keeper this season. Within 20 minutes at the weekend however, Howard produced three vital stops: two from the hosts' danger man Christian Benteke - the first a brilliant penalty save - and one at the feet of Andreas Weimann, after the Villa forward had sprung the offside trap. Romelu Lukaku and Leon Osman may well have won the game for Everton in the second half, but it was Howard, and his magnificent Rick Ross beard, that kept the Toffees in it.

2. Martinez's substitutions again change the game.

The possession-based footballing philosophy that Roberto Martinez has introduced at Goodison Park this season has been perhaps the most obvious change in the team's style since the departure of David Moyes, but the Spaniard has also taken a drastically different approach to substitutions than his predecessor. Where Moyes at Everton was arguably the Premier League's most reactive manager, adjusting his tactics and personnel in response to changes in the game, Martinez embodies a far more proactive mentality.

Against West Ham United, the introduction of Romelu Lukaku at half time inspired a come-from-behind win, and at Villa Park a Martinez substitution was again pivotal in securing an Everton victory. Leon Osman was brought on to freshen up the away side's attacking threat, and the Blues' midfielder made a telling impact, assisting Lukaku before stroking home the second goal with ten minutes to play. One wonders whether Moyes would have made the same move.

3. Osman proves his worth.

Speaking of Osman, the Englishman deserves high praise for his role in this weekend's victory. The subject of much criticism already this season - some deserved, most not - fans should know better than to discount a player who only 12 months ago was deservedly earning his first England cap at the ripe old age of 31.

The emergence of Ross Barkley has naturally meant that Osman's playing time this year has been limited, but the young playmaker is still just 19, and when his form dips, as it did against Villa, as well as when injuries take their toll on Everton's relatively thin squad, the latter's experience is a great resource to draw on from the bench. Both a leader on the pitch, and an undeniably committed performer, Osman will still have an important role to play this year.

4. Lukaku wins the battle of the Belgians.

Such is the wealth of attacking options available to the Belgian national team that they are frequently forced to choose between two of the Premier League's most dangerous marksmen, both of who were in action at Villa Park this weekend. The Battle of the Belgians was led initially by Christian Benteke, who looked to have continued on from his bruising performance at Goodison Park last season by winning a penalty in the opening minutes. The striker was foiled spectacularly by Tim Howard however, and was subsequently denied again by the Everton stopper in a frantic opening passage of play.

Romelu Lukaku meanwhile, responded in kind with a point blank header that was parried well by Villa's Brad Guzan, before running out of steam in front of goal after surging past three defenders. The on-loan striker would have the final word though, and despite a quiet second half he still scored the crucial opener, peeling away from his marker and sweeping the ball inside Guzan's left-hand post. Benteke will no doubt rediscover his scoring touch, but with five goals in as many games, Lukaku is unquestionably the Red Devil in form.

5. McCarthy and Barry continue to flourish.

The one piece of bad news Everton received during the international break was that of a serious knee ligament injury to Darron Gibson, who will now likely miss the majority of the season following successful surgery last week. It's a good job then, that two excellent players are marshalling the Blues' midfield in the Irishman's absence. Deadline day signings James McCarthy and Gareth Barry have had barely half a dozen games to gel as a partnership, but they already look to be providing a fruitful combination of youth and experience in the middle of the park.

Against Aston Villa, McCarthy completed 58 passes, more than anyone else, while Barry led the game in ball recoveries with 9, as well as being successful with all five of his tackles. If both can stay clear of injuries, or more likely suspensions - McCarthy was fortunate not to see red for a late tackle at the weekend - then Everton should have a strong midfield base going forward, even without the unfortunately injury-prone Gibson.