The noise that reverberated around Villa Park in the final moments of the first half told the story.
A rare Aston Villa attack had petered out and a team that was searching for a way to go forward could only go backward. The ball was fed back to centre back Ezri Konsa, who sent it to goalkeeper Robin Olsen, who farmed it out to his other centre back, Pau Torres.
All three were relieved to have possession without being immediately set upon by a pack of Royal Blue shirts but the home fans could only groan as they once again saw a side furnished with attacking talent being forced to retreat.
That had been the dominant narrative of the first half. It became the storyline of the game after Everton built on the exceptional away display at Brentford at the weekend with an even better performance against even stronger opponents. This was not just another win. It was another deserved victory.
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Back to those final seconds before referee Tony Harrington blew for half-time. Against a team they had defeated 4-0 without breaking sweat just weeks ago, when the whistle went it was Villa’s defensive core that had seen most of the ball. Olsen, Konsa and Torres were in the top four players on the pitch for passes at the break, a combined 144 between them. The other player to make the top four was Douglas Luiz, the midfielder who was often sending it back to them as his path forward was blocked. Most of the passes of those four players came as they were hustled and harried by a relentless away side that kept them under pressure.
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