Theo Walcott secured a point for Everton late on against Aston Villa at Goodison Park on Thursday evening, with a turgid encounter ending 1-1.
Despite plenty of attacking endeavour there was a clear lack of quality in the final third, with neither side recording a shot on target in the first half.
Villa broke the deadlock with a little over 20 minutes to play, as Ezri Konsa connected with Conor Hourihane’s superb free-kick to divert the ball past Jordan Pickford.
The points should have been secured late on, but Anwar El Ghazi somehow managed to turn Jack Grealish’s wicked cross over the bar from just three yards out. Dean Smith’s side were made to rue the missed chance, with Walcott’s looping header three minutes from time denying Villa three precious points.
Key Talking Point
Carlo Ancelotti was clearly left frustrated following his side’s dismal display at Wolves at the weekend, and this performance won’t have pleased him too much either.
The Toffees looked toothless up front and created very little in the way of clear-cut chances.
With a plethora of big-money signings on the pitch, Pepe Reina had very little do as the usually fragile Villa defence soaked up everything Everton had to offer, with an unlikely late Walcott header rescuing a point late on.
The most likely avenue of success for the home side looked like being the marauding runs of Lucas Digne, and while the Frenchman’s performance will have pleased Ancelotti, a team who has spent as much as Everton shouldn’t be relying on a left back to produce an attacking threat.
Starting XI: Pickford (6); Coleman (5), Keane (6), Holgate (6), Digne (7); Iwobi (4), Davies (6), Gomes (7), Bernard (5); Calvert-Lewin (6), Richarlison (6).
Substitutes: Branthwaite (8*), Walcott (5), Gordon (5), Kean (6), Sigurdsson (6).
Having endured a nightmare Premier League debut at Wolves last weekend – immediately conceding a free kick and losing goalscorer Leander Dendoncker from the resulting set piece – 18-year-old Branthwaite proved he’s made of stern stuff to bounce back here.
After Mason Holgate hobbled off after just 16 minutes, the youngster was handed his home debut and his performance didn’t disappoint.
A display full of character, strength and poise, Branthwaite immediately settled into the Everton backline and never looked flustered.
The former Carlisle man will have much tougher tasks ahead of him if he is to become a regular in the first team set-up, but the mentality shown to put his debut behind him bodes well for a bright future.
Key Talking Point
Villa’s shaky defence yet again came back to haunt them. Smith’s side were in control and looked good value for three points against a poor Everton side.
The club may still yet have a say in the relegation fight as the season nears its conclusion, though if they are to go down this game will be one they look back on as the big missed chance.
Reina had barely had a touch of the ball with just three minutes to play, yet somehow one of the smallest men on the pitch, Walcott, produced a header to deny his side the win.
Villa only have themselves to blame for not taking maximum points from their trip to Merseyside and relegation is looking ever more likely.
Starting XI: Reina (6), Elmohamady (7), Konsa (7), Mings (7), Targett (6); McGinn (6), Douglas Luiz (8*), Hourihane (7); Trezeguet (5), Samatta (5), Grealish (6).
Subs: El Ghazi (6), Davis (6).
Manchester City are monitoring their former midfielder with a view for a potential transfer, and based off this performance it’s not hard to see why.
The Brazilian has fast emerged as Villa’s most important player in recent weeks, producing some brilliant performances at the heart of the Villa midfield.
His display at Goodison Park was undoubtedly the best on the night, constantly demanding the ball and driving his side forward when others were beginning to shrink under the pressure.
A constant threat going forward and able to provide defensive solidarity ahead of a leaky Villa defence, if Smith’s men are to avoid the drop then he will be central to their efforts.
The Toffees travel to Sheffield United on Monday for their penultimate game of the campaign, before rounding off the season at home to Bournemouth.
Meanwhile, Villa host Arsenal in their final home game of the season on Tuesday, with a trip to West Ham to follow.