LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) -Everton's first match of the post-Rafa Benitez era began with a 1-0 Premier League defeat by Aston Villa on Saturday amid a tense and feisty atmosphere at Goodison Park where the visiting team were hit by missiles thrown from the crowd.
A lively first half ended with Emiliano Buendia scoring with a flicked header that arced over Jordan Pickford in goal and the provocative celebrations led to a bottle being launched from the stands and hitting the Villa players.
Lucas Digne, who was booed by Everton fans on his first return to Goodison Park since last week's transfer https://www.reuters.com/article/soccer-england-eve/update-1-soccer-villa-sign-france-defender-digne-from-everton-idUKL1N2TT0M4, provided the assist and he was also hit by an object.
Villa's Matty Cash, who went down after being hit by a bottle, told BT Sport: "Crazy, it hit me straight in the head, it's not nice but three points, we'll take that.
"It was a tough game, they threw everything forward in the last 15 to 20 minutes and we said we had to deal with the horrible part. We picked up the three points, massive."
Everton later said they arrested the supporter who threw the bottle after security identified the culprit with CCTV footage.
Duncan Ferguson, in interim charge at Everton for a second time after his brief caretaker stint in 2019, had asked his players to show "fight and determination" but scoring opportunities were in short supply in the first half.
Tempers flared in the second period even as referee Craig Pawson attempted to control proceedings and dished out nine yellow cards during the game.
Winger Anthony Gordon's introduction greatly improved Everton's attack in the second half but his team mates failed to convert his delightful crosses into the box.
However, Villa held on to provisionally move up to 10th with 26 points as manager and former Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard celebrated another win on enemy turf by kicking away the match ball and saying, "Still got it" with a smile.
Everton are 16th on 19 points, five points above the relegation zone, having secured one league win since September.
"The character was second to none and the graft was really there," Pickford said. "It'll come, we are working hard on the training pitch and then go out and express yourself, it wasn't to be today."
Their sorry state was highlighted by a banner flown over the stadium with the words "22 years of failure Bill", aimed at club chairman Bill Kenwright, while one was unfurled in the stands at the final whistle which read "Time to go".
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)