Everton crashed to their second 4-0 defeat in successive matches last night as Milan Baros, the striker Liverpool discarded, ensured they would head into tomorrow's Merseyside derby bereft of confidence and belief.
Everton will argue Villa's opener, the first of Baros' brace, should have been disallowed for handball but their team then collapsed with worrying ease as Villa enjoyed an unusually joyous night. Pre-Christmas reports of developments in the proposed purchase by an Irish-based consortium of Doug Ellis's controlling interest in Villa appear to have been premature, but the mood in favour of change was evident from the swathes of empty seats.
Midlands football is depressed and it needs a successful Villa. Prior to kick-off, 19 other teams from the region had been in action in the five senior English divisions: Nottingham Forest and Walsall were the only ones to record a victory. More than half the teams had lost including Villa's local Premiership rivals Birmingham and West Bromwich Albion.
Neither of last night's protagonists were unhappy about the latter results. Both Villa and Everton are on the brink of the relegation battle and their nervousness was visible in an error- ridden opening.
In the Everton defence Per Koldrup, a pounds 5m summer signing from Udinese, looked as if he had been traumatised by the uncertain start to his Premiership career. After four minutes he and Joseph Yobo hesitated when faced with a simple header down the centre and Luke Moore just chipped wide. Two minutes later an unusually slick passing move released Baros behind Koldrup. The Czech delayed his shot, then could have tumbled under Koldrup's clumsy challenge, before shooting into Nigel Martyn's midriff.
At the other end, James Beattie responded to the barracking he was receiving from the home support with an optimistic, and wide, 30- yard shot. Beattie was targeted because he joined Everton ahead of Villa in January and, given his subsequent performances, Villa fans should be pleased he forsook them. His lack of confidence was highlighted a few minutes later when, unmarked, he ghosted to meet Mikael Arteta's clever cross but glanced his header over.
Inevitably, the breakthrough was scrappy, fortunate and controversial. Ridgewell, attempting to control a lofted free-kick, seemed to handle; more -obviously so did Baros after Gareth Barry had played the ball back in. Everton should still have stopped Baros hooking the ball in.
It was the pounds 7m summer signing's third goal of an indifferent season and his celebrations revealed his relief as much as they irked (perhaps deliberately) the travelling support. 'I think it was maybe handball, but it was our first. goal and it was a very important goal,' the striker admitted.
Villa's second goal had only one similarity with the first, the poor marking. Otherwise it was clinically taken and undisputed, the noteworthy aspect being the identity of the player who stole in at the near post to steer in James Milner's corner neatly. Mark Delaney's last Premiership goal had been scored in the 20th century.
The cushion provided allowed Villa to relax and their play adopted a more confident air. Everton scrapped away but after Sorensen tipped over a Simon Davies drive, Villa twice broke ruthlessly to seal the match. Substitute Juan Pablo Angel played a neat one-two with Baros before drilling a shot between Martyn's legs, then Baros swept in a superb cross from Aaron Hughes.
Goals: Baros (35) 1-0; Delaney (47) 2-0; Angel (82) 3-0; Baros (84) 4- 0.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Hughes, Delaney, Ridgewell, Bouma; Milner (Bakke, 62), McCann, Davis (Gardner, 84), Barry; Moore (Angel, 70), Baros. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), De La Cruz.
Everton (4-4-2): Martyn; Hibbert, Yobo, Koldrup, Neville; Arteta, Cahill (Ferguson, 80), Davies, Osman (Bent, 64); McFadden, Beattie. Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Kilbane, Ferrari.
Referee: M Riley (W Yorks).
Man of the match: Baros.
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