AMSTERDAM – Everton netminder Tim Howard starred with a dazzling early penalty save in a 2-0 win in a Premier League duel with US teammate Brad Guzan and Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon.
The Sky Sports Man of the Match was on optimum form in the early phase of the contest, with the first of three fine stops coming when he pushed Christian Benteke's spot kick attempt away from his top right-hand corner in the eighth minute.
Not yet finished, Howard (above) then expertly foiled Benteke a second time and Andres Weimann with a slide tackle at the top of the box in quick succession.
Just past the half hour, it was Guzan's turn to keep the game scoreless with heroics at the other end. In incidents mere seconds apart, the former Chivas USA star somehow denied Romelu Lukaku's point-blank header before helping a sneaky Ross Barkley lob shot onto the bar.
Eventually, the Toffees softened up the Villa defense, giving Guzan no chance on Lukaku's 68th-minute decider and Leon Osman's seeing-eye insurance strike with nine minutes left.
Howard, who logged his fourth clean sheet of the season in winning for the fifth time in six games, saw Everton tentatively claim third place. Meanwhile, 14th-place Villa dropped their second league match in a row.
Around the EPL, Geoff Cameron and Stoke City put in a game effort, only to fall 3-2 late at Manchester United.
Though solid for most of the match, the American did lose flick-on man Wayne Rooney on United's first half equalizer. Stoke would grab another lead just before intermission, only to succumb to headers from Rooney and Mexico ace Javier Hernández in the final 12 minutes.
The Potters lost their third straight on the road and fourth in five overall to dangle over the drop zone by goal differential.
Down in the Championship, Atlanta native Duane Holmes made his first Huddersfield Town start in a 3-2 victory over visiting Leeds United.
Late in his 45-minute shift, the slippery 18-year-old wing prospect had a close range chance blocked by a defender. By halting a two-game losing streak, the Terriers rose five rungs to ninth.
Bolton defender Tim Ream had a decent outing, but the home side leaked a 73rd-minute equalizer to settle for a 1-1 share with guests Ipswich Town. Though now unbeaten in five, Wanderers dropped a notch to 21st place.
Eric Lichaj went the full 90 at right back as promotion chasers Nottingham Forest lost in league play for the first time since August, 3-1 at Yeovil Town. The Tricky Trees dropped to sixth place, six points out of the second promotion place.
Fresh Queens Park Rangers signing Oguchi Onyewu dressed but did not appear in a 2-0 defeat at tabletop Burnley. The visitors fell a spot to third place while losing their status as the last unbeaten in the Championship.
Over in the Bundesliga, Jermaine Jones saw a late yellow in 14 relief minutes as Schalke suffered a 2-0 home loss to Ruhr derby foe Borussia Dortmund.
It was otherwise a decent sub outing for the midfielder, who completed 12 of his 13 pass attempts. By losing for the third time in the last four across all competitions at Veltins Arena, Schalke stayed tied to fifth place.
Hertha Berlin injury returnee John Anthony Brooks remained a spectator for a 3-2 defeat away to league leading holders Bayern Munich. Despite their first league loss in five, the capital crew held firm in fourth place.
Michael Parkhurst also went unused as slumping Augsburg fell 2-1 at Bayer Leverkusen. The visitors lost their third consecutive game, slipping to 14th place.
Finally, in Norway's Tippeligaen, Mikkel Diskerud and Rosenborg missed the chance to take a conditional league lead with a late 1-0 loss at outgoing champs Molde FK. Despite a positive showing by the US midfielder, the Troll Kids remained second with a large goal differential deficit to Sunday contestants Strømsgodset and but two games left on the schedule.