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Lukaku wins Belgian battle

26 Oct 2013 19:16:53

Lukaku wins Belgian battle

Romelu Lukaku won the battle of the Belgians at Villa Park but Everton substitute Leon Osman ensured there was some cheer for the watching England manager too.

Lukaku's head-to-head with compatriot Christian Benteke, back in the Aston Villa XI after hip trouble, looked like being the decisive battle and it was the on-loan Chelsea striker who scored the Toffees' opener in a 2-0 away win.

But substitute Osman made an equally vital contribution, providing the pass for Lukaku's 68th-minute effort and then slotting home a neat finish of his own with nine minutes remaining.

With Ross Barkley quiet and Leighton Baines less influential than in recent weeks, Osman's efforts at least gave something for Roy Hodgson - in attendance along with FA chairman Greg Dyke - to chew on.

It might have been different had Benteke converted a seventh-minute penalty for Villa, but Tim Howard produced a sensational one-handed save.

It was the first of several important stops by the American in a first half that somehow ended goalless despite a raft of fine chances at both ends.

The result means Everton now have five wins from their last six, while Villa's home form is starting to become a real concern.

Everton took just 30 seconds to create their first opportunity, Kevin Mirallas whipping a cross towards Lukaku who fired wide under pressure from Ron Vlaar.

At the other end Benteke gave the ball away with his first two touches only to earn a golden chance to mark his return from the spot.

A chip into the area from Andreas Weimann had given Benteke a run on goal and he was only stopped when Seamus Coleman clipped his heels in pursuit.

Benteke's spot-kick was powerful enough but Howard guessed right and then thrust a glove up for a sensational save.

Villa then conspired to miss two glorious chances in the space of as many minutes.

Benteke was on the end of the first, played in this time by Aleksandar Tonev's clever touch in the 23rd minute. He waited for the ball to drop and again found Howard's reactions too good as he shot across goal from 10 yards.

Yet Leandro Bacuna, arriving at the far post, was begging for the pass. Weimann spurned an even better chance moments later, a mysteriously absent offside flag giving him space and time to run at Howard.

But he somehow got the ball caught under feet and the keeper made a sliding tackle.

If Villa could have been three up, Everton were soon missing gilt-edged chances of their own.

Brad Guzan matched Howard's effort with a fine save from Lukaku after he got a strong header on Coleman's cross and Barkley was inches away from the opener when a deflected effort from 25 yards looped over the keeper and on to the crossbar.

The breakneck speed slowed somewhat but a 0-0 scoreline at the break hardly seemed believable.

A most unlikely stalemate seemed to be in the offing until Lukaku struck.

Leighton Baines broke down the left wing before playing the ball infield for Osman. He spotted Lukaku arriving in the area and the striker swept home Osman's pass with a clincial left-footed effort.

His celebrations had barely subsided when he was appealing for a penalty against Vlaar. The Dutchman's hand did make contact with the ball but there was no obvious intent.

With 15 minutes left the quiet Gabriel Agbonlahor shot straight at Howard from a wonderful position eight yards out.

Villa's hopes died in the 81st minute when Gareth Barry held the ball up deep in the penalty before cutting back for Osman.

He addressed the ball cleanly and slotted a low shot inside Guzan's far post to secure the points.


PA

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