Everton did not miss Mikel Arteta but, as so often, they did miss a lot of chances – and lo, an otherwise excellent display failed to yield a victory. It is a familiar story for Everton supporters, some of whom can no longer contain their frustration.
The day began with dissent as about 300 fans, seemingly unmoved by the chairman Bill Kenwright's insistence that he is doing his best to sell the club to someone wealthy enough to spend as freely as the Premier League's aristocrats, marched to the stadium chanting "Let go if you love the club".
The presence on the bench of two loan recruits, the Dutch winger Royston Drenthe and the Argentinian striker Denis Stracqualursi, was not enough to convince supporters the club emerged from the transfer window in a better state than when they went into it.
The manager David Moyes called on his team to lift spirits and they obliged, starting with a verve that foiled the visitors' plan to profit from the negativity engulfing Goodison. "We asked our lads to really be at it and keep the crowd quiet but, in fairness, Everton began very brightly while we were insipid in the first half," said the Villa manager Alex McLeish. Phil Jagielka had a header cleared off the line in the seventh minute and moments later Shay Given produced an instinctive save to deny Leon Osman.
The sales of Yakubu and Jermaine Beckford, along with the injury to Louis Saha and lack of fitness of Stracqualursi, meant Everton were again forced to start without a specialist striker but Osman and makeshift centre-forward Tim Cahill combined splendidly to break the deadlock in the 19th minute.
Following a deft swivel and pass from the Australian, Osman sent a composed low shot past Given from eight yards.
Marouane Fellaini was dominant in midfield and Osman, flitting inventively between the lines, was performing in a way that explained why Moyes did not obstruct Arteta's transfer to Arsenal. "He [Osman] has always had the same type of abilities to Arteta," said Moyes.
Osman, Jack Rodwell and Fellaini all went close to extending Everton's lead with long shots before the break. Villa improved in the second period but the home side continued to create the clearer chances, notably when Jagielka flicked a close-range header over the bar on the hour mark. Then, suddenly, the mood in Goodison Park was plunged back into darkness when Stilian Petrov curled a superb shot from 30 yards into the bottom corner. McLeish suggested that, after five years at Villa, the former Celtic player may finally take the Premier League by storm. "He used to smash in goals like that left, right and centre in Scotland," said McLeish.
Everton soon found their range again. In the 69th minute, after a Cahill header was brilliantly saved by Given, Fabian Delph was penalised for a challenge on Jagielka. Baines converted the penalty. Five minutes from time Marc Albrighton curled a delicious cross in from the right and Gabriel Agbonlahor outjumped Distin to head in.
Everton's substitute Greek striker Apostolos Vellios had two chances to put the hosts back in front but missed badly in the 89th minute and was then denied by another fine Given stop. "Our performance was really good but we needed to finish better," lamented Moyes, not for the first time.