Aston Villa will hope the story of this match foretells their season. They took time to get going but once they did, they blew away their opponents. Matty Cash struck a fabulous opening goal before Lucas Digne headed into his own net from a corner by Leon Bailey, who soon made it 3-0 in spectacular style.
The Jamaican’s thrilling 21-minute cameo in his first home appearance since joining Villa from Bayer Leverkusen suggests he is going to be a mightily popular character round these parts. Villa fans were singing his praises even before he completed a thrilling demolition of Everton.
“He’s one who is going to be a crowd favourite here that’s for sure,” said Dean Smith, who introduced his £25m recruit as a substitute just after the hour. “He’s got great ability and he gets bums off seats. That’s what supporters at this club want to see.” The only downer on the day for Villa was that Bailey had to limp back off in the 82nd minute, after he felt his quadricep tighten. He will be assessed over the next 48 hours but is expected to be fit for next weekend’s trip to Manchester United.
For Rafa Benítez, there was mitigation in Everton’s first defeat of the season. They played well for the first hour despite being deprived of four key players, with Jordan Pickford, Richarlison and Séamus Coleman adding to a casualty list that already included Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Richarlison’s absence owing to a wounded knee was especially vexing, since he suffered the injury last Monday in a reckless tackle by Burnley’s James Tarkowski that was deemed fair. “The only thing we can do is say we are unhappy about that,” said Benítez. “We have to be very careful with the kind of physical contact that is allowed this season.” With Richarlison out for at least three weeks, there will be a heavy burden on Salomon Rondon, who was given his first full start at Villa Park.
Smith had a pickle of a different flavour. The return of Emi Martínez and Emi Buendía meant he had practically a full squad for the first time this season and his starting permutation was eagerly anticipated. He decided to stick with the 3-5-2 system introduced for the visit to Chelsea last week, with Martínez’s return in goal the only personnel change. For an hour the sides fought evenly in a high-energy contest. Rondon had a couple of chances to open the scoring early on. First, he had a shot diverted wide by Axel Tuanzebe, then he headed the ensuing corner just over the bar.
Villa have been working to develop their own threat from set pieces since they hired a specialist coach in the summer; their efforts nealy bore fruit in the fifth minute, when Tyrone Mings flicked on Douglas Luiz’s in-swinging corner .
But Asmir Begovic, another free signing making his full Everton debut, made a brilliant one-handed save. John McGinn suffered a head injury while trying to beat Michael Keane to the rebound and was replaced before half-time after feeling dizzy.
Despite flourishes from Demarai Gray, both sides could have done with an injection of creativity for the second half. Neither manager made personnel changes but Villa started strong after the break, though they seldom looked like turning possession into penetration.
Martínez had to make a diving save at his near post on the hour to foil Alex Iwobi after Gray pounced on a sloppy throw by the keeper. Gray threatened again five minutes later, curling inches wide from the corner of the area.
Smith cast on Bailey, which had the surprising side-effect of transforming Cash into a devastating raider. The wing-back hurtled down the right and caught Digne unalert as he collected a pass from Luiz then rifled a left-footed shot high into the net from 16 yards. Digne’s day soon deteriorated, as three minutes later he inadvertently flicked Bailey’s corner into his own goal.
The crowd began serenading Bailey, who, five minutes later, had just finished responding to requests for a wave when Ings invited him to chase a pass from deep.
The forward seized his chance, nodding the bouncing ball further in front of him before walloping a ferocious shot on the run into the top corner from the edge of the area.