MAROUANE Fellaini rescued a point for Everton as they twice came from behind to draw 3-3 with Aston Villa at Goodison.
The Belgian headed home in the 93rd minute to save the day for David Moyes’ side on an underwhelming afternoon when the relegation-haunted visitors threatened to grab an unlikely victory.
Fellaini had already given his side hope earlier in a lacklustre contest, which will be remembered largely as a desperately disappointing afternoon for John Heitinga. But thanks to the rousing finale the point could well prove significant in the Toffees' hopes of European qualification.
They made hard work of it however. For the second time in consecutive games Everton were the architects of their own downfall, with another Heitinga error doing the self-inflicted damage early on. Just two minutes had passed when Villa mounted a fairly half-hearted attack which saw Charles N’Zogbia release Christian Benteke in the area. He should have been comfortably shepherded away from goal, but the Dutch international allowed the forward to glide far too easily past him and roll the ball coolly past Tim Howard.
Everton nevertheless controlled the following 20 minutes without ever looking quite at their best, and in the dug-out their manager must have been ruing the decision to persist with a back four which featured his best central defender at right back to accommodate Heitinga.
But while he may have regretted that selection, he will have been satisfied with the decision to keep faith with Victor Anichebe. The powerful striker had already stung Brad Guzan’s palms with a venomous effort as he attempted to lead the host’s fight back, and he exhibited his strength superbly to turn Ciaran Clark in the area and equalise with a low finish after being supplied by Kevin Mirallas.
That should have ensured Everton were in a position to push for the lead, but instead more sloppy defending quickly saw them behind again. This time a mix-up saw Ashley Westwood’s cross uncleared and serial Everton tormentor Gabriel Agbonlahor rose above Heitinga to head home.
The fresh setback saw the Blues facing the prospect of having to score three to win, something they hadn’t achieved since September but at least Paul Lambert’s side were defending with similar fragility as their counterparts, at least suggesting it was possible.
Mirallas’ probing was another source of optimism, with the Belgian combining smartly with Leighton Baines and Leon Osman, again flourishing in a floating role behind Anichebe.
However Everton needed to rely on Villa’s wastefulness in order to keep in the game shortly after the restart. Heitinga allowed Villa to keep onside as they counterattacked, and Andreas Weiman went clear through on goal with only Howard to beat. Fortunately he blazed his shot high into the Gwladys Street.
It was only a temporary reprieve. With the visitors showing greater desire, and Everton remaining vulnerable to their quick counter attacking it was little surprise when a third goal arrived. Weiman was the supplier this time, sending in a glorious cross for Benteke to climb above Heitinga and plant a defiant header into the net. It looked a long way back for the Blues.
Moyes replaced Heitinga with Oviedo, asking the young Costa Rican to deputise at right back, and Nikica Jelavic was introduced for Mirallas. The change seemed unpopular with the home support, but they quickly had something to engender some optimism. Anichebe showed his strength again to hold-up the ball in the area and set-up Fellaini who rifled home a deflected shot.
The Blues started to press, asking questions of Guzan with a series of corners and Jelavic produced a good reflex save from the Villa goalkeeper. But the relegation-haunted Midlanders were defending bravely.
However six minutes of injury time provided a ray of hope, and with Baines leading the charge the Blues battled back into it. Fellaini climbed highest from a corner to head home at the Park End, and salvage something from a poor afternoon.
GEVERTON: Howard, Jagielka (Capt), Heitinga (Oviedo, 65) Distin, Baines, Osman, Fellaini, Pienaar, Gibson (Naismith, 90) Mirallas (Jelavic, 65), Anichebe.
Subs not used: Mucha, Hitzlsperger, Neville, Duffy.
Goals: Anichebe (22) Fellaini (69, 93)
ASTON VILLA: (4-4-1-1) Guzan, Vlaar (Capt), Clark, El Ahmadi (Holman, 83) Weiman, Bennett, Lowton, N’Zogbia (Sylla, 79) Agbonlahor (Baker, 91), Benteke.
Subs not used: Given, Bent, Bowery, Dawkins.
Bookings: Benteke, Lowton, Agbonlahor, Sylla
Goals: Benteke (2, 63) Agbonlahor (24)
Ref: Mike Jones