Marouane Fellaini double rescues Everton and ruins Aston Villa's day

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Even in a game of breathless excitement and often logic-defying unpredictability, there was still something all too familiar for Aston Villa. Set pieces continue to be their achilles heel and the loss of two points and a vital victory can be attributed to their dead-ball deficiencies. Until they can defend a corner, they are unlikely to turn one.

The clock had ticked past the 90-minute mark and Villa, procurers of two points from seven games, still led Everton, defeated once here in 10 months. Then Leighton Baines delivered a corner of trademark accuracy, Marouane Fellaini jumped highest at the near post and Villa's advantage disappeared with a nod of the Belgian's head.

Corners, taken by Bradford City's Gary Jones, cost them an appearance in the Carling Cup final. They may deprive them of their place in the Premier League, too. "I'm sick of talking about it," said Paul Lambert, though reflections on their undoing nonetheless followed. "Ron Vlaar has got him [Fellaini] and then he lost him."

In the process, a potentially season-defining result disappeared from Villa's grasp. After Tuesday's home defeat to Newcastle and the humiliation of Cup exits to Bradford and Millwall, exhilaration beckoned. Instead, coupled with Reading's victory over Sunderland, they were plunged deeper into trouble.

In a team of two halves, a front four of speed demons could not quite compensate for the frailties of a defence composed of nervous wrecks. "We always looked a threat," said Lambert. In particular, his target man did. This was a tale of two bruising, battling Belgians who ended with two goals apiece, Fellaini eventually cancelling out the efforts of Christian Benteke.

"We didn't defend well," said the Everton manager, David Moyes. He declined the invitation to single out Johnny Heitinga having substituted the Dutchman after he was partially culpable for each of Villa's goals. "They have got really good attacking players with power and pace. We didn't deal with it that well. If anyone doesn't think Benteke, [Gabriel] Agbonlahor and [Charles] N'Zogbia can't cause you problems, then they are wrong."

They were aided by Andreas Weimann, the other of Villa's eager attackers. They led after 117 seconds. Fed by N'Zogbia, Benteke powered past a lacklustre Heitinga before angling a shot beyond Tim Howard. That signalled a home siege that seemed to last for much of the following 94 minutes, interrupted only by Villa's swift, sharp counterattacking. Everton levelled through their answer to Benteke, Victor Anichebe using his bulk to hold off Vlaar and turning deftly to finish.

Yet while Benteke had struck for the fourth successive match, Agbonhalor's goals have been altogether rarer. Men who have been hit and miss were soon paired on the scoresheet, Agbonlahor netting for the third time in 39 league games by heading in Ashley Westwood's cross. Weimann, skying a golden chance Agbonlahor supplied, could have extended Villa's advantage. "We should have been 3-1 up," Lambert said.

They soon were. Matthew Lowton exchanged passes with Weimann and delivered a curling cross, Benteke plunging forward to head it in. "A world-class goal," said Lambert. Having scored twice on his previous trip to Merseyside, in December's victory at Anfield, the striker repeated the feat.

At that point, twin 3-1 wins, either side of Stanley Park, were on the cards. Instead, for the second successive Saturday, Moyes made changes that were booed. Some Everton supporters had jeered when he removed Nikica Jelavic in the FA Cup win at Bolton; now it was the departure of Kevin Mirallas that irritated them. "They're not happy with my decisions but I'd rather they direct it at myself [than the players]," Moyes said. In any case, vindication came from his side's response. Anichebe and Fellaini, men with imposing, intimidating physiques, led the fightback. "They both came up with the goods," Moyes said. "Victor played really well."

After a one-two with Anichebe, Fellaini placed a shot beyond Brad Guzan to halve the deficit. The Villa goalkeeper then thwarted Jelavic and Sylvain Distin before Fellaini supplied the equaliser and almost a decider. "We had a chance to win it 4-3," Moyes said. "We played really well apart from the first five minutes or so."

So it amounted to a classic that benefited none save the neutral. Everton's pursuit of a top-four finish has been hindered by their drawing habit. This, Moyes felt, was two points dropped. The Champions League may not beckon for them while the Championship looks all too likely a destination for Villa. "I thought we deserved to win the game but you never ease until it's finished," Lambert said. "I can't fault the players' efforts."

But though their enterprising attacking took them to the brink of a cathartic triumph, their defending, with 25 goals conceded in eight winless games, remains wretched.

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