EFL Cup: Aston Villa 1 Everton 2 - Report
Unai Emery might be regarded as a cup specialist but a knack for knockout football has so far been absent from his Villa reign.
The Spaniard’s record in domestic cup competitions since taking charge last November now reads three defeats from three matches, with a 2-1 Carabao Cup defeat to Everton closing the quickest route to silverware this season at the first opportunity.
Less than a week after stumbling out of the Europa Conference League blocks at Legia Warsaw, Villa looked even more out-of-sorts against the Toffees, submitting a performance which occasionally risked veering into the realms of slapstick.
The visitors, who snapped a nine-match winless run against Villa, were deserved winners thanks to goals from James Garner and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, with Boubacar Kamara’s late goal proving a mere consolation.
The final whistle was greeted with boos from one of the lowest attendances at Villa Park for several seasons, defeat also ending a run of 10-straight home wins in all competitions.
Just as in Poland, Emery’s decision to make five changes to his team backfired with those players introduced to the starting XI failing to make a case for more regular inclusion.
Leander Dendoncker, laboured in his first start of the season and lasted only till half-time, as did the experiment of fielding captain John McGinn at left-back. Leon Bailey went off injured after half-an-hour, while Youri Tielemans – a player who has publicly voiced his desire for more chances – again failed to take one and committed the error which led to Calvert-Lewin's game-killing second.
At least Robin Olsen, starting in goal in place of Emi Martinez, prevented the damage from being worse with several good saves.
The trouble was the Sweden international was partly culpable for James Garner’s 15th minute opener. Dendoncker’s backpass had far too much juice on it but even that withstanding, Olsen’s clearance was desperately poor. Amadou Onana pounced on the ball, split Villa’s defence with a pass to Garner and with a firm right-footed finish he fired the Toffees ahead.
Bailey had at least been involved in a few bright moments in attack but on the half-hour mark his night came to a premature end with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
Villa were fortunate not to concede again before the break. Olsen partially redeemed himself by preventing a McGinn own goal following a passage of play which bordered on slapstick. Calvert-Lewin then fired into the side netting, admittedly from a tight angle, after the Villa keeper had blocked his initial effort.
Dendoncker, McGinn and Jhon Duran, who ballooned a shot over the bar late in the half, were all withdrawn at the break in a sign Emery was at least taking the tie seriously.
But Tielemans, spared the axe, then committed the error which put Villa in a deeper hole. His pass for Ezri Konsa had nowhere near the required strength and Calvert-Lewin was able to nip in and race toward goal, before sliding his finish beyond Olsen.
Villa at least showed some life with a neat passing move which ended with Pickford impressively denying Diaby with his legs.
Olsen then denied Calvert-Lewin a second with a strong save and that became important when, with seven minutes remaining, Kamara’s shot went through a sea of legs to deceive Pickford.
Villa finally looked a team playing a cup tie but Pickford saved from Diaby, with Luiz acrobatically firing over in stoppage time.
Villa (4-4-2): Olsen, Cash, Konsa, Torres, McGinn (Digne HT), Bailey (Zaniolo 31), Luiz, Dendoncker (Kamara HT), Tielemans (Kellyman 78), Diaby, Duran (Watkins HT) Subs not used: Carlos, Traore, Marschall (gk), Martinez (gk).
Everton (3-4-3): Pickford, Patterson, Keane, Tarkowski, Branthwaite, Mykolenko (Young HT), Onana (Doucoure 78), Garner, Harrison (McNeil 65), Calvert-Lewin (Beto 72), Danjuma (Gueye 72) Subs not used: Chermiti, Godfrey, Dobbin, Virginia (gk)