Despite having to make four injury-enforced changes to the starting lineup, Rafa Benitez would have been pleased at the hour mark yesterday at Villa Park. Everton and Aston Villa had shared a pretty even first half with both sides trading chances and coming close to take the lead more than once.
However, a minute after Demarai Gray had tucked the ball just wide of Emiliano Martinez’s near post, Lucas Digne had unforgivably allowed Matty Cash to blaze past him onto a through ball and then fired home at the near post with Asmir Begovic a step away from where he needed to be.
Ten minutes later the game was effectively over as a contest after Leon Bailey streaking onto a looped ball from Danny Ings had left Ben Godfrey for dead and gleefully smashed home another possibly saveable shot past Begovic to make it 3-0. In between, Digne had even conceded an own goal, getting just enough on a wickedly inswinging corner to beat Begovic.
Speaking after the game, the manager was disappointed with how things had turned out.
“We started the game quite well and in the first half had a lot of situations on the counter-attack where the final decision was not right – but we were very close.
“In the second half we had a couple of chances, that could have meant everything was totally different. Then we conceded the goal and very soon conceded a second and it was difficult for us.
“Salomon, Demarai Gray and Alex Iwobi [had chances], so we had two or three situations where it could have been different.
“We made mistakes and we made them too early, too close, then it was difficult to react and that is something for the future, hopefully, we can manage. Either not concede, or if we do concede, react like we did in our games at home.
“The two goals were too close and then it was more difficult.”
The home side had the better start to the game, though Everton grew into it as the half proceeded and Benitez lamented the injuries which meant a shortened bench.
“We started with too many problems, because we came with some issues, but the team fought really well. But when you concede two goals in a few minutes, we know from the experience the other day [against Burnley], it is very difficult to change things.
“The team was very good in the first half, it is just, sometimes, if you have these players available, you can make substitutions and have fresh legs and keep the level.
“In some positions we were short of players and needed to manage how we could.”
Next up for the Blues is a trip to Queens Park Rangers for a difficult Carabao Cup Third Round clash with their hosts conceding in time added on yesterday to lose 2-1 at home to Bristol City.
Benitez’s unbeaten start as Everton manager has now come to an end, but he is adamant his side can and will bounce back, particularly calling out Demarai Gray for another excellent performance.
“It was a good performance from the team in the first half and at the beginning of the second half. We were missing the right decision in the final third but overall the team was good – and Demarai played well.
“I was pleased we had the chances but disappointed because the final decision was not right. And when we then conceded the first goal, we conceded again too soon after.”