Aston Villa winger Anwar El Ghazi produced a sublime finish to cap off a thrilling encounter that severely dented the Champions League aspirations of Everton.
With Everton’s hopes of securing a top four finish fading fast, the onus was on the Toffees to push the tempo. The opening 10 minutes produced an even contest with possession split evenly, but the deadlock would soon be broken through the irrepressible Ollie Watkins.
The Aston Villa striker pressed Mason Holgate into a mistake before outmuscling the centre-half to break away.
Holgate continued to tussle with Watkins all the way to goal, but the forward would not be denied, finishing off a truly unique solo goal by prodding the ball beyond Jordan Pickford.
The lead would not last long when Dominic Calvert-Lewin reintroduced himself to the scorer’s sheet from a corner.
The forward had scored just once in his last seven outings, but showed great movement to ghost in at the far post and head over Emiliano Martinez to level the scores.
Chances were coming thick and fast at both ends as each time displayed the urgency their seasons require if their European aspirations are to be met.
Calvert-Lewin came close to bagging a brace when beating his marker to Lucas Digne’s cross. But for the quick reflexes of Martinez, DCL would’ve had his wish.
Jordan Pickford then produced a fine double stop to deny Bertrand Traore. Speculation has rumbled as to who Gareth Southgate will select in goal in this summers European Championships. On this evidence here, Pickford was doing his chances the world of good.
The stopper was again required to produce a magnificent save on the half-hour mark, this time denying Watkins from close range. The ball ultimately fell to Anwar El Ghazi who did beat Pickford, but couldn’t beat the woodwork, smashing his drive off the crossbar to ensure parity remained.
Villa were piling on the pressure as the half wore on, again hammering the woodwork as Ross Barkley tried his luck from distance.
The frantic goalmouth scrambles at both ends continued as the half drew to a close. As the half-time whistle blew, the question on everyone’s lips was how was it still 1-1.
After pausing for breath during the interval, both sides quickly set about laying waste to each other’s defence.
Watkins continued to menace Everton’s backline on every occasion, while Richarlison pulled a low strike wide from a dangerous position.
Substitutions and an inevitable drop in tempo disrupted the flow of the game after the hour mark. For the first time all game it appeared like the match could be in danger of drifting towards a draw.
With 10 minutes remaining, sharp interplay down the right crafted a yard of space for Traore who picked out El Ghazi on the opposite flank.
The winger produced a sublime curling finish from the edge of the area to avert the likelihood of stalemate.
Everton pushed as their hopes of Champions League qualification faded, but couldn’t find the breakthrough as Villa emerged with a thoroughly entertaining 2-1 victory.