American Exports: Donovan earns praise for heroics
AMSTERDAM — It was a roller coaster Saturday for Americans in Europe, with the high point coming when Everton loan ace Landon Donovan sliced apart Aston Villa to set up the visitors' late 1-1 leveler.
Despite six saves from Tim Howard, the Toffees fell behind when poor defending allowed Darren Bent to bag his fifth career goal against the US No. 1 in the 55th minute. The veteran was at his best to deny Stilian Petrov, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Bent with the game still scoreless.
Brad Guzan, meanwhile, returned to his usual deputy's role, watching on as recovered Villa netminder Shay Given would eventually have his return spoiled by some Donovan initiative.
With just over 20 minutes left to play, the LA Galaxy thoroughbred galloped in from the left to set Victor Anichebe free for the equalizer with a defense-splitting pass.
It was Donovan's second straight weekend notching an assist and the result nudged Everton into the table's top half. After the match, which also saw the American win three free kicks, Toffees boss David Moyes made it clear who was his man of the match.
"It was a really good goal by Anichebe, but it was created by, for me, the best player on the pitch in Landon Donovan," the manager told reporters. "I thought he did great today. He put the cross in, which I thought could have been a penalty kick, and put the pass through to Victor to score the equalizer. ... He has given us something a little bit extra, we just need to finish off a lot of the good play he has given us."
Elsewhere in EPL action, Zak Whitbread was strong at the back as ninth-place Norwich City scored a 2-1 victory at West Bromwich Albion. The defender's 33rd-minute line clearance was key as the Canaries recorded consecutive Premier League road wins for the first time in 18 years.
Brad Friedel and Tottenham missed a chance to go level on points with the top, settling for a 1-1 rally share with visiting Wolverhampton. The netminder logged two saves, including a key second-half stop on Emmanuel Frimpong when the hosts were trailing.
Fulham star Clint Dempsey looked a shade off as the visitors suffered an annoying 3-1 defeat at 10-man Blackburn. Emblematic of the team's showing that saw them hold a 60-40 possession edge, the top Cottager was only able to put one of his six shot attempts on target.
One flight down in the Championship, Jonathan Spector returned to central midfield to help warming Birmingham City rise to seventh with a game in hand thanks to a 6-0 stroll through Millwall. The Brums have won three of four and are unbeaten in five league games.
Robbie Findley came back from an injury setback with 18 relief minutes in Nottingham Forest's 3-0 home loss to Southampton. In missing a chance to climb out of the danger zone, the Reds incredibly extended their goal futility streak at home to 630 minutes.
Across the border in Scotland, Rangers overcame an unlucky Carlos Bocanegra own goal to stay on the heels of first place rivals Celtic with a 2-1 win at St. Johnstone.
A header by Canada forward Marcus Haber caromed in off the US skipper to bring the home side level on 68 minutes, but Nikica Jelavić's second goal of the game nine minutes from time would rescue the points. Maurice Edu also went the distance, seeing a late yellow, while Alejandro Bedoya was an unused sub for the victors.
Over in Israel's honor division, the magical mystery tour of Bryan Gerzicich and Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona played on with a 3-2 triumph at Bnei Sakhnin.
With the Los Angeles native doing his usual 90-minute patrol in midfield, the league leaders fluffed their penthouse cushion to eight points with nine matches remaining before the Ligat Ha'Al championship playoff. Ironi Kiyrat Shmona are now unbeaten in the last 12 away from home, and for 20 straight games overall.
Also, Leo Krupnick and Maccabi Netanya slipped a spot to eighth with a 1-1 home draw against Hapoel Acre.