Duncan Ferguson’s second stint as Everton caretaker manager began with a defeat at Goodison Park against Aston Villa.
The Scotsman took over following Rafael Benitez’s dismissal, but the change did not immediately bear fruit, as Emiliano Buendia’s header in first-half extra time concluded a scruffy encounter.
Villa’s victory was especially sweet for former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and former Everton defender Lucas Digne, who set up Buendia’s goal with a corner.
Following the goal, deplorable scenes ensued as delighted Villa players were struck by objects thrown from the crowd.
Everton will feel their second-half pressure, which was centred on an aerial assault, should have rewarded them as Dominic Calvert-Lewin turned Anthony Gordon’s close-range cross over and Ben Godfrey’s header was scrambled off the line by a combination of Tyrone Mings and keeper Emiliano Martinez.
Everton now have six points from their last 42 games, are looking for a new manager, and are uncomfortably close to the Premier League’s relegation zone.
Everton owner Farhad Moshiri and chairman Bill Kenwright were depending on a ‘bounce’ from Ferguson’s arrival to resurrect a season that had descended into peril and resulted in Benitez’s dismissal.
It did not work on a dull afternoon at Goodison Park, with fans remaining on the Gwladys Street End yelling “sack the board” and carrying protest placards.
A plane also flew overhead prior to kick-off, calling for Kenwright’s dismissal, who was also the object of hostile chanting following the final whistle.
This is a serious dilemma for Everton, as they face not only relegation but also another important managerial decision.
Even the talismanic Ferguson’s presence on the touchline could not elevate the excitement inside Goodison Park for long, with Everton failing to generate a shot in the first half.
It was a depressing performance that demonstrated just why Everton’s one league victory in 14 games has sparked rising anger among the fan base.
Everton improved after the break and threatened an equalizer, but the threat was mostly predicated on a string of long balls rather than any deception, although Demarai Gray and replacement Anthony Gordon made their best efforts to inject some creativity.
Everton, on the other hand, came up short and now face another vital moment, one they cannot afford to do wrong.
This was a Villa triumph built on sweat rather than quality, but boss Gerrard will be just as pleased.
Villa created the majority of the threat in a tight first half, and it was fitting that Buendia’s angled header from a corner handed them the lead, given the Argentine was the game’s most dangerous player at the time.
After the half, Villa had a different challenge as Everton increased the tempo and pressure in the hope that the height supplied by Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Mina, and Godfrey would make a difference.
The visitors lived dangerously at times, but it was a gutsy effort that resulted in three points as their defenders put their bodies on the line to clinch a vital victory.
Buendia’s brilliance was the ideal response to those who feared he would be forced out by Philippe Coutinho’s arrival, who is understandably exhausted as he adjusts to life in the Premier League.