Everton held Aston Villa to a 0-0 draw at Villa Park, in an entertaining display that saw Everton and Villa remain 9th and 11th in the Premier League. Villa captain Jack Grealish marked his return with a 20-minute cameo off the bench after a lengthy 13 match absence.
Twelve days after leaving Goodison Park with three points, courtesy of an Anwar El Ghazi match-winner, Dean Smith’s side picked up where they left off in the North-West with a continuation of the reverse fixture - an end to end affair with both sides trading blows on the counter-attack.
Story of the match
The first big chance of the evening came from Douglas Luiz receiving the ball from an Everton clearance, the Brazillian dribbled to the byline before picking out Tyrone Mings in the box, who headed the chance inches wide of the near post. Everton’s best chance of the half came from a Lucas Digne cross which beat Emi Martinez, however, Dominic Calvert-Lewin failed to make contact with the teasing cross.
Everton’s flexibility meant they adapted well when Villa attacked and when in transition, setting up with a 4-4-2 which at times transformed to a 5-3-2 and a 4-3-3 on the counter-attack. With Seamus Coleman often acting as a springboard for most of Everton's attacks.
Before the end of the opening 45’ Smith was forced to make a change as right-back Matty Cash pulled up with an injury. Elmohamady filled in as the first half came to a close, with both sides heading in at a stalemate.
Everton gave Villa plenty to think about in the early stages of the second half, as they continued to mount plenty of pressure on Villa with through balls and the likes of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison running the channels.
Everton’s substitute Andre Gomes attempted to break the deadlock on multiple occasions from within the box, firing a shot over the bar, with a second being blocked by Elmohamady in the later stages of the game.
Late attempts from Calvert-Lewin made for plenty of heart-in-mouth moments as the sides tried so desperately to snatch a victory late on. A headed opportunity from the near post was parried away by Martinez, then followed up by a tame Richarlison head which went over the bar. A teasing Richarlison cross was cleared by Mings in the dying stages of the game, preventing Calvert-Lewin from scoring but simultaneously colliding with Martinez.
Tyrone Mings had the opportunity to secure Villa all three points with the final kick of the game, As Grealish found the defender at the back post - mings was unable to steer his effort on target.
Takeaways from the match
Jack Grealish is back: Villa fans rejoiced in the 71st minute as captain Jack Grealish made his first appearance after being sidelined through injury for 13 games. Despite failing to break the deadlock, both Smith and Villa fans can be encouraged by having their skipper back on the pitch after a lengthy absence.
John McGinn getting back to his best: The Scottish midfielder has struggled in recent months, however tonight the midfielder boasted an impressive 86.2% pass accuracy, with four accurate long balls and three dribbles. McGinn was at the heart of a battling Villa performance.
Emi Martinez keeps 15th clean sheet of the season: Since joining from Arsenal for £17m last summer, the Argentinian shot-stopper has proved to be Villa's signing of the season. He has now equalled Brad Friedel's clean sheet record in a season for Villa, with three games left to play.
Stand out players
Everton's Digne supplied his teammates with 9 crosses throughout the game, with 33.3% of those on target. As an attacking outlet, Digne is proved to create plenty of chances as Everton so desperately attempted to break the deadlock. The defender also made two clearances and one interception, proving his worth going both ways for the Toffees.
Coleman also proved to be a dangerous outlet when attacking for the away side tonight, acting as a wing-back often. The defender didn't manage the full ninety but looked dangerous when advancing through the thirds.
However, Villa's John McGinn edges the Man of the Match award, for all the reasons listed above. The midfielder was key in winning battles and putting out fires in the middle of the park, against a tough Everton midfield.