‘Heysel: The Truth’ remembers the day 39 football fans lost their lives 30 years ago during the 1985 European Cup between Juventus and Liverpool

HEYSEL DISASTER BRUSSELS LIVERPOOL V JUVENTUS 28/05/1985 PHOTO  FOTOSPORTS INTERNATIONAL

30 years ago today 39 supporters lost their lives attending the European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool

They were young. They were old and innocent, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Federico Caremani’s account of the Heysel disaster is an uncomfortable read, one he admits that ‘nobody should have to write’, but it is a necessary one if we are to piece together the truth that unites supporters of all colours.

Through tears, autopsies, and post-mortems, Caremani returns to the scene of the crime, where a football game continued as hell unfolded in one section of a stadium that was never fit to host the European Cup.

It was agreed that allowing the game to play out was the right thing to do, with the fear being that had the game been abandoned, the magnitude of the tragedy would have been far worse. Michel Platini said: ‘At the circus, when the acrobat falls, the clowns enter the ring.’

HEYSEL DISASTER BRUSSELS LIVERPOOL V JUVENTUS 28/05/1985 PHOTO  FOTOSPORTS INTERNATIONAL

Juventus fans flee Block Z as Belgian police enter the pitch on horseback in the build up to the European Cup final

ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUALS COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH AND INJURY    An injured soccer fan is carried to safety by a friend after a wall collapsed during violence between fans before the European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool in this May 29, 1985 file photo at the Heysel stadium in Brussels, Belgium. 39 people died, and a further 600 were injured. The 30th anniversary of the disaster is Friday May 29, 2015.  Picture taken May 29, 1985.  REUTERS/Nick Didlick/Files  TEMPLATE OUT

An injured soccer fan is carried to safety by a friend after a wall collapsed during violence between fans

It was the final that had no winners. The record books will say a penalty by Platini decided the game, but Juventus supporters are to this day ashamed that they can call the 1985 title theirs. Caremani writes: ‘There can’t be a trophy, a cup, or a victory with 39 lives lost.’

In truth, it belonged in the hands of the dark and distant past when fanatical, drunken hooliganism reigned across Europe, when guns, scissors, knives and rocket pistols accompanied keys and match tickets in morning memos.

Caremani wanted to remind us of an immense wound in his version of the events that fateful day on May 29, in his revised memoirs published earlier this month, 30 years after the Brussels tragedy.

The account is all the more poignant given Caremani’s family connection with Roberto Lorentini, the doctor who perished in the act of trying to save one of the 39 casualties in Block Z.

His father Othello, who Caremani describes as the book’s actual narrator, had been a close friend with his own, both of whom were present in Belgium.

ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUALS COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH AND INJURY    Police evacuate a victim after a wall collapsed during violence between fans before the European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool in this May 29, 1985 file photo at the Heysel stadium in Brussels, Belgium. 39 people died, and a further 600 were injured. The 30th anniversary of the disaster is Friday May 29, 2015.  Picture taken May 29, 1985.  REUTERS/Staff  TEMPLATE OUT

Police evacuate a victim after a wall collapsed during violence between fans before the European Cup final

(FILES) A file photo taken on May 29, 1985 shows rescuers and policemen searching for victims at Heysel football stadium in Brussels. May 29 marks the 30th anniversary of the day 39 people died when a wall collapsed after Liverpool fans charged their Juventus counterparts prior to the 1985 European Cup final at the run-down Heysel Stadium. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGETDOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

Rescuers and policemen searching for victims at Heysel football stadium in Brussels.

After the tragedy, Lorentini became head and founder of the Association for the families of Brussels victims – and this is the only book on the tragedy that has received the full approval from the families affected.

As Andrea Lorentini, the son of Roberto, mentions in his introductory note, the book is designed not so much as a reminder of where the blame lies – of the lack of police intervention or solidarity found among non-Juventus supporters and the press both in England and Italy – as it is to ‘facilitate an awareness, so that tragedies, such as that in Brussels will not be repeated’.

The pocket of the now renamed King Baudouin stadium, the ‘fatal, lethal trap’ as Caremani recalls, was officially designated to Juventus supporters, gatecrashed by unruly Liverpool hooligans, which caused a crush as the bianconeri scampered for the narrow exits four feet wide; which caused the wall to fall, killing 39 and inflicting injuries on dozens more.

Reopening the wounds of one of football’s darkest days is not Caremani’s intention. The pain and suffering of the families who lost their loved ones at a football match is one that only those involved can truly quantify.

ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUALS COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH AND INJURY    Victims are seen on the ground after a wall collapsed during violence between fans before the European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool in this May 29, 1985 file photo at the Heysel stadium in Brussels, Belgium. 39 people died, and a further 600 were injured. The 30th anniversary of the disaster is Friday May 29, 2015.  Picture taken May 29, 1985.   REUTERS/Staff  TEMPLATE OUT

Victims are seen on the ground after a wall collapsed during violence between fans before the European Cup final

But, as with the Liverpudlian families of the Hillsborough disaster four years later have continued to fight for justice, their Italian counterparts are still looking for accountability, still searching for answers to a forgotten trial.

Why have only a handful of Liverpool perpetrators and only a select few of the Belgian authorities been brought to justice?

Why did UEFA persist with using a stadium for a cup final that would never have been able to house two of the biggest clubs in Europe?

Why were Liverpool allocated two thirds of the stadium?

These are questions that Caremani poses and attempts to answer through personal accounts over the course of 200-odd pages.

‘What happened was avoidable. It could have been avoided. It should have been avoided.’ The words in the opening paragraph to Roberto Beccantini’s foreword sets the tone to a moving, updated edition that is dedicated by Caremani to ‘the 39 who died at Heysel, to keep their memory alive.’

(FILES) A file photo taken on May 29, 1985 shows supporters fleeing the scene of riots at Heysel football stadium in Brussels. May 29 marks the 30th anniversary of the day 39 people died and more than 600 others were injured when a wall collapsed after Liverpool fans charged their Juventus counterparts prior to the 1985 European Cup final at the run-down Heysel Stadium. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGETDOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

A photo taken on May 29, 1985 shows supporters fleeing the scene of riots at Heysel football stadium in Brussels

The first book was published in 2003, but despite the passing of years, Beccantini argues that nothing has changed: Italian football has stagnated while the rest of Europe has advanced, has moved both with technology and cultural nuances.

He uses the example of Mario Balotelli, the Liverpool and Italian striker, who struggles for national acceptance due to the colour of his skin, but the latest match fixing scandal lays testament to the slightly archaic landscape that scorches the country.

The quest for the truth is 30 years along a sullied path, neglected by sections of the media, and society at large, but this aims to spurn the indecent temptation to let bygones be bygones.

Juventus fans hold posters with the names of the victims of the Heysel stadium tragegy, during the Italian Serie A football match Juventus vs Napoli on May 23, 2015 at the Juventus stadium in Turin. The tragedy occured when a wall collapsed in the stadium under the pressure of people and crushed Juventus fans as they tried to escape Liverpool supporters during the European Cup Final between Juventus and Liverpool killing 39 people on May 29, 1985 in Brussels.  AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLOMARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images

Juventus fans hold posters with the names of the victims of the Heysel stadium tragegy, during the Italian Serie A

File photo dated 05-04-2005 of a banner being carried onto the pitch during the first meeting of the two clubs since the Heysel Stadium tragedy. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Within the series of tragedies which left an indelible stain on the game and the reputations of those who governed and policed it, what happened at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels on May 29 1985 rests somewhat uneasily. Issue date: Tuesday May 26, 2015. See PA storySOCCER Heysel Overview. Photo credit should read Phil Noble/PA Wire.

A banner being carried onto the pitch during the first meeting of the two clubs since the Heysel Stadium tragedy

CoverEuropean success was something that bound the two clubs prior to Heysel. The tragedies since have only served to make these ties stronger, as shown by the goodwill in 2005 when the two met in a Champions League fixture.

Juventus will once more be in a Champions League final next week, as the Old Lady bid for more European glory against Barcelona in Berlin, at a state-of-the-art stadium in Germany’s capital fit for a World Cup final in 2006, and an apt setting for another game of high risk and high reward.

There is no romance in this tale, only suffering, but if solace can be found this week, it is in the knowledge that football has never been the same since that day in Heysel. The sport has been reshaped, as stadiums such as the one in Berlin were born out of the safety standards set by UEFA as a result of collective outrage.

‘Heysel, The Truth’ is an essential read for all football supporters either oblivious to a deliberate tragedy or manipulated by attempts to bury the past.

To truly appreciate the sport we all hold so dear to us, and that continues to represent a common thread that penetrates social boundaries, Caremani returns to the Belgian inefficiency, UEFA mismanagement and the vile opportunism that has tarnished the sport ever since.

Some people say that football died that day. Liverpool, and all English teams, were banned from European competition for five years after the horror, but the actions of those supporters who turned a football stadium into a slaughter house have left memories that are exercised in these pages, as Caremani chronicles the legal action taken by the victims and lights a candle for the young, old and innocent who perished thirty years ago.

‘Heysel: The Truth’ by Federico Caremani was published on May 12 2015 and is available on Amazon.co.uk 

Everton 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur: Kane caps brilliant season in style

Ben Grounds at Goodison Park

  • Harry Kane scored his 31st goal of the season as Spurs secured Europa League spot
  • Everton lost their third game in four to finish the season in the bottom half for the first time since 2006
  • Tottenham usurped Liverpool in fifth while the Toffees dropped to 11th on the final day
Harry Kane became the first Tottenham player to score 21 Premier League goals since Gareth Bale

Harry Kane scored his 21st Premier League goal of the season

It was a fitting end to the season for both these sides. The hosts, Everton, entered the season full of promise but disappointed their fans once more, deservedly losing to slicker opponents, who looked determined to put right the sense of ennui that has pervaded them ever since their faint Champions League hopes were extinguished upon the blooming of spring.

It was fitting for Spurs that a season that has tailed off somewhat ended with a game won by the man that has plunged 24 points on his own for them, more than any other player in the top flight. As Spurs have appeared to be collectively on their travels for weeks, Harry Kane has endured a goal drought by his standards.

Kane celebrates his goal with Eric Lamela

Kane celebrates his goal with Eric Lamela

His cool finish to cap a resounding win at St James’ Park aside, Kane has looked in need of a rest before the European Under-21 Championships in the Czech Republic ever since his debut in March for the senior squad.

But he looked back to his best at Goodison, heading in his 31st goal of the season midway through the first-half to give the visitors a lead they deserved and managed to hold on to with greater ease than the scoreline suggests.

Of even greater satisfaction to Gareth Southgate will be the performance of Eric Dier at full-back, whose cross enabled Kane to rise above Phil Jagielka to nod home the winner.

Kevin Mirallas was left frustrated by Hugo Lloris in  his first-half duel

Kevin Mirallas was left frustrated by Hugo Lloris in his first-half duel

Whether Dier is used alongside Jagielka’s teammate John Stones as a centre-half in the tournament remains to be seen, but his accurate assist here capped a first-half performance full of running that will strengthen his case for inclusion, especially with service as good as this for Kane.

If the pair were the clear positives from an afternoon high of tidy Tottenham possession, but short on notable incident, the toil endured by a disjointed Ross Barkley most certainly represented a note of overarching concern.

Barkley is not Southgate’s problem this summer, but his ineffective, erratic 45 minutes before being hooked was another cameo of the nation’s longer-term unanswered conundrum.

It was further evidence of his need for a rest. Barkley has shown himself to be a fine prospect, with the build of a boxer and feet of a ballet dancer, but his season has unraveled in fits and starts at best.

James McCarthy and Gareth Barry struggled to contain Eric Lamela

James McCarthy and Gareth Barry struggled to contain Lamela

One pass measured dangerously to the opposition here, another fizzed unnecessarily into the belly of the young full-back Brendan Galloway there, this was further proof that Barkley has found his inhibitions, when his contemporaries on the continent are shedding theirs.

If Barkley did too little to impact the game, Kevin Mirallas was doing too much, at one point tracking back to regain a ball he would lose inexplicably when dribbling towards his own goal.

It was typical Mirallas, but in truth it was only he who looked like scoring for Everton on an afternoon when Hugo Lloris’ goal was excellently marshalled by Jan Vertonghen and Fazio.

On three occasions in the first-half, Mirallas found himself looking at the whites of Lloris’ eyes, but only once did he force the Frenchman into a save, in the first of his duel, when he telegraphed his shot when put through by Barkley.

It was a costly miss, as Kane pounced shortly afterwards for his 21st Premier League goal of the season after 24 minutes, mirroring a club record set by Jurgen Klinsmann and equalled by Teddy Sheringham and Gareth Bale.

Kane guides his stooping header into the corner after 24 minutes

Kane guides his stooping header into the corner after 24 minutes

Mirallas nearly made amends when he neatly set himself up but sent his half-volley inches over, and the Belgian then latched onto Galloway’s pass but having been forced wide by the grounded Lloris, he lifted his hooked shot onto the roof of the net.

Seamus Coleman then arguably had Everton’s best chance of an equaliser in first-half injury-time, but his angled shot was tipped clear by Lloris, whose shirt-throwing at the final whistle suggests he could be on his way this summer.

Spurs were the better side, and despite Mirallas’ three openings, few inside the ground could argue with the result, especially after Roberto Martinez decided to withdraw the winger with 20 minutes remaining.

Seamus Coleman is closed down by an impressive Nacer Chadli

Seamus Coleman is closed down by an impressive Nacer Chadli

Moussa Dembele was an imperious presence before being withdrawn himself early in the second-half, the slippery Christian Eriksen provided the Everton defence with constant questioning while Nacer Chadli, playing the game as ever in his slippers, looks set to build on an impressive second season at White Hart Lane.

The quality of Tottenham’s possession was a feature of a game that will not live long in the memory, but while Ryan Mason was happy to control the gentle tempo, Everton never looked like being able to conduct anything themselves.

The Toffees have a squad full of isolated pieces that on this evidence look a tired, tentative outfit in need of reconstruction. Where Nabil Bentaleb showed his strength and versatility – deputizing for Danny Rose at left-back – to form part of a fluid system that played without pressure, Everton did not look like they were enjoying themselves beyond the light relief of being inundated regularly with Liverpool’s deepening woes at the Britannia Stadium.

There were too many heads down, and half-hearted clapping of poor balls when really what there ought to have been was a clear game plan to eradicate the glaring gap between the isolated Romelu Lukaku and a midfield that constantly conceded possession and were never in the right place.

The Spurs players salute their fans at the final whistle

The Spurs players salute their fans at the final whistle

Galloway emerged from an uncertain opening 45 minutes with a great deal of credit after the interval, but there were very few straws to be clutched at for the hosts.

The slow pace of Everton’s play has often been levelled at them this season, so you can imagine what a meaningless game to end a forgettable season would offer.

Passes trickled, throw-ins were fouled and extra touches were seized upon by a side with marginally more to play for, a Europa League group stage place given Spurs’ attainment of fifth – one position higher than last season.

While Mauricio Pochettino will take a degree of satisfaction from that improvement in his first season in charge, the ill-discipline shown by Steven Naismith towards referee Jonathan Moss just about summed up a frustrating day for the Toffees, extinguishing any hopes Martinez had of avoiding a heavily anti-climatic lap of appreciation.

Steven Naismith came on for Mirallas but offered little

Steven Naismith came on for Mirallas but offered little

The only genuine sense of gratitude on show came with 10 minutes remaining when Sylvain Distin was given a token cameo on his last appearance after six years’ service.

The French defender was given a rousing send-off by a sell-out crowd starved of quality, but his departure is one of several issues Martinez will need to address in the coming months if his unswerving optimism is to avoid coming under intense scrutiny.

Three defeats in the final four games checked a run of five wins and a draw to remind Evertonians of the bleak winter that derailed a campaign and perhaps act as a warning of the bleakness that lies ahead.

Twelve months ago, the Merseyside club were celebrating their highest Premier League points tally, but the current crop look a shadow of the same squad that attained those 72 points.

Everton’s inability to juggle the demands of both domestic and European football equated to being 25 points down on last season, consigning them to the Premier League’s bottom half for the first time in nine years, and it is by no means a certainty that finishing eleventh will be a dose of one-off mediocrity.

Everton: Howard 6; Coleman 6, Galloway 5 (Distin), Stones 6, Jagielka 5, Barry 5, McCarthy 6, Barkley 4 (Besic 6), Osman 5, Mirallas 5 (Naismith), Lukaku 5. Subs unused: Robles, Atsu, McGeady, Kone.

Tottenham: Lloris 6; Bentaleb 7, Dier 7, Fazio 7, Vertonghen 7, Mason 7, Dembele 7 (Stambouli 6), Chadli 7 (Soldado), Eriksen 7, Lamela 7, Kane 8 (Townsend). Subs unused: Vorm, Yedlin, Winks, Onomah.

Attendance: 39,365

Run Hackney is the Half Marathon for all ages as east London laces up

And they're off! The Vitality Run Hackney Half Marathon gets underway at Hackney marshes on Sunday © Anthony Upton

The Vitality Run Hackney Half Marathon gets underway at Hackney marshes on Sunday © Anthony Upton

Over 1000 local school children made the Vitality Run Hackney Half Marathon a race for all ages, as glorious sunshine greeted its second instalment last Sunday.

Thirteen thousand runners completed the 13.1 mile-event across east London with youngsters running their own tailored half marathon up the final straight as part of the Schools Challenge.

An idyllic flat circuit took racers past the famous Hackney Empire, through Broadway Market and on a winding trip to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Perri Shakes-Drayton was on hand to fire the start gun, as 13,000 runners descended on the Marshes © Anthony Upton

Perri Shakes-Drayton was on hand to fire the start gun, as 13,000 runners descended on the Marshes © Anthony Upton

Local athlete and double European indoor 400m-hurdle champion Perri Shakes-Drayton, who fired the start gun in Hackney Marshes, saluted the many local businesses that were out in force waving banners of support.

“I love the enthusiasm and vibe here today and the weather also helps,” Shakes-Drayton said. “I really like the way the distance was broken down into weekly runs to give children a nice introduction to track and field.

“Getting children started and giving them an opportunity is something I’m passionate about and the Schools Challenge is a great idea.”

Elite runner Matthew Kimutai won the men’s category and Katy Webster took first place in the women’s field, while the wheelchair race was won by Doug Stone.

Kimutai was first past the finish line in a time of one hour three minutes and 21 seconds, with his Team Run-Fast compatriot Sammy Nyokaye five seconds behind him after his first Hackney run.

Elite runner Matthew Kimutai won the men’s category  in 01:03:21 © Anthony Upton

Elite runner Matthew Kimutai won the men’s category in 01:03:21 © Anthony Upton

“I didn’t have a set time in which I wanted to complete the race, but I’m happy with the result,” Nyokaye told me. “I expected 62 minutes, but this is OK for today. The toughest part was around eight-mile mark. I will plan to race in the London Marathon next year.”

Next up for the pair will be pace-making the Highgate 10,000m this Saturday and the team’s manager Tom Payne added: “We’re delighted to have the top two in the men’s. Ideally, we’d have liked to have brought a few for the women’s, but we had one or two injuries.

“The guys we bring to the UK are young generally and they haven’t raced outside of Kenya. Here they can run good times, and once they’ve done that they can hopefully graduate to fast races in Europe.”

Kimutai with his Team Run-Fast compatriot Sammy Nyokaye who was five seconds behind him in second © Anthony Upton

Kimutai with his Team Run-Fast compatriot Sammy Nyokaye who was five seconds behind second © Anthony Upton

The two Kenyan elite men's winners with Ben Grounds in the VIP enclosure © Anthony Upton

The two Kenyan elite men’s winners with Ben Grounds in the VIP enclosure © Anthony Upton

In the women’s event, Katy Webster finished first in a time of 01:17:38. Nene Valley Harriers’ Philippa Taylor, who finished second in 01:21:08 spoke warmly of the uniqueness to the Hackney circuit.

“While I was warming up, I bumped into a friend whose kids were doing the mile event, and it made me realise what a great community atmosphere there is here.

“What I loved the most was the support. I kept on getting messages like ‘Go Sister!’ all the way around, and you’d only get that in Hackney! It was great going through the Olympic Park at the end, as that was at a moment when you’re quite tired, so it really lifts you.”

Left to right: 3rd Rebekah Gardiner, 2nd Philippa Taylor, 1st Katy Webster, Mayor Hackney Jules Pipe 1st Matthew Kimutai, 2nd Sammy Nakoye, 3rd Anuradha Couray at  the Vitality Run Hackney Half Marathon 2015  © Anthony Upton

Left to right: 3rd Rebekah Gardiner, 2nd Philippa Taylor, 1st Katy Webster, Mayor Hackney Jules Pipe 1st Matthew Kimutai, 2nd Sammy Nakoye, 3rd Anuradha Couray at the Vitality Run Hackney Half Marathon 2015 © Anthony Upton

Rebekah Gardiner finished third in 01:22:25. While the Shaftesbury Barney Harriers athlete admitted it was far from her fastest time, she was happy with her podium finish.

“I managed to do this distance in 80.45 at the Reading half, but it was pretty hot out there today so I’m happy,” said Gardiner. “It’s a long distance, so once you feel you’re not quite on track for a certain time, it’s hard to make it up at the end.

“I haven’t done too many half marathons so I’m a work in progress. I was feeling strong from the eighth mile, and that’s when you need to push on to try to get the best time possible.

“I was in third for most of the race, trying to keep the leader in view, but hopefully next time I’ll get first. It was really enjoyable out there, it wasn’t too hilly, and the support was amazing.”

The Schools Challenge has allowed youngsters to complete a half marathon over the course of 13 weeks © Anthony Upton

The Schools Challenge has allowed kids to complete a half marathon over the course of 13 weeks © Anthony Upton

A runner shows off his medal after completing the race © Anthony Upton

A runner shows off his medal after completing the race © Anthony Upton

The idea for Vitality Run Hackney came from Hackney Council’s Cabinet Member for Health, Social Care and Culture, Cllr Jonathan McShane, who took part in the inaugural race last year and ran again this year.

“I would like to say congratulations to every runner and thanks to all our supporters for another huge success for Hackney,” he said. “The borough gave the runners a very warm welcome and the atmosphere was as much a carnival and celebration as it was a race.

“I’m delighted to see this year’s event so well supported with a record turnout of runners and huge local support: it has been a fantastic day.”

Run Hackney was brought forward to the month of May  after sweltering June conditions last year © Anthony Upton

Run Hackney was brought forward to the month of May after sweltering June conditions last year © Anthony Upton

Jamie Warren, Head of Marketing and Commercial at race organizer GO2, added:

“The event continues to inspire the next generation of runners, with over 1000 local primary school children completing the Vitality Run Hackney Schools’ Challenge. It has been another success for Hackney and we look forward to doing it all again next year.”

Pre-registration for 2016 is now open at www.runhackney.com

Runners cross the bridge with ArcelorMittal Orbit and Olympic Stadium in the background © Anthony Upton

Runners cross the bridge with ArcelorMittal Orbit and Olympic Stadium in the background © Anthony Upton

Two exhausted competitors can still afford to smile after crossing the finish line © Anthony Upton

Two exhausted competitors can still afford to smile after crossing the finish line © Anthony Upton

The sun shines on runners as they pass through the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park © Anthony Upton

The sun shines on runners as they pass through the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park © Anthony Upton

Aston Villa 3-2 Everton: Benteke strikes twice to steer Sherwood’s men towards safety

  • Only Harry Kane (15) has scored more league goals than Christian Benteke’s 10 in 2015
  • Belgian striker scores twice in the first-half before Romelu Lukaku’s penalty made it 2-1
  • Tom Ceverley put the game beyond Everton with Villa’s third five minutes later
  • Phil Jagielka scrambled in a second for the Toffees in the 90th minute to set up tense finish
  • Win moves Aston Villa up to 14th, but they remain only two points above the drop zone
  • Everton slip back down to 11th after first defeat in seven games under Roberto Martinez
Christian Benteke was a constant menace to the Everton defence during Aston villa's 3-1 win

Christian Benteke was a constant menace to the Everton defence

Christian Benteke scored twice as Aston Villa stayed two points clear of the relegation zone with a crucial 3-2 win over a lacklustre Everton at Villa Park.

Tim Sherwood’s side were fully deserving of their victory, as the Belgian Benteke pounced to score twice in the opening period to move Villa up to 14th in the Premier League.

The Toffees, who dropped back into the bottom half with this defeat, produced an awful opening 45 minutes, but they temporarily reduced the deficit when Romelu Lukaku scored from the penalty spot.

Tom Cleverley scored Villa’s third with a cooly-taken finish, before Phil Jagielka set up a tense finale with a scrambled effort in stoppage time, but the points stayed in the Midlands.

With two home games still remaining for the Villains against West Ham and Burnley, they will feel that survival is now within touching distance.

Everton entered the 200th game between these two sides – the most played fixture in the top flight – as the form team in the Premier League, with five wins and a draw in the last six games.

But they hadn’t won four in a row against Villa in 30 years, and it rarely looked on the cards on Saturday.

Tim Sherwood has guided Villa to the FA Cup final and  looked relaxed throughout on the touchline

Tim Sherwood has guided Villa to the FA Cup final and looked relaxed

Lukaku appeared on his holidays in the first-half, in stark contrast to the bustling centre forward down the other end, as his compatriot Benteke deservedly scored twice to make it 10 goals in his last nine games.

The first came after 10 minutes. Meeting the hanging, early ball from Fabian Delph, Benteke rose in between Jagielka and Leighton Baines to plant his header low to the rooted Tim Howard’s right.

Despite their close proximity with their relegation rivals, there has been a growing sense of optimism swirling around this part of the country ever since Sherwood took over from the departed Paul Lambert in February – and with good reason.

Leandro Bacuna set up Tom Cleverley's decisive third goal at Villa Park

Charles N’Zogbia lets fly under pressure from Everton’s James McCarthy

A goal every six shots compared to one every 16 under Lambert tells its own story, but Villa’s unlikely run to the FA Cup final may’ve masked the fact they had previously only accrued 10 points from the former Tottenham manager’s nine games in charge.

But after Ron Vlaar had missed a gilt-edged chance to make it 2-0 when he rose and missed a header from point-blank range, they deservedly doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time.

It was Vlaar who made amends for that sitter when he again flicked on the impressive Jack Grealish’s corner, this time finding the unmarked Benteke to prod home at the far post. Both Jagielka and his defensive partner John Stones were left for dead by Villa’s sharper movement.

The last time Everton came back from a goal down to win was against Villa over a year ago, but there was no sign of this happening on Saturday. Everton looked tentative and didn’t pursue the ball collectively, as Lukaku cut an increasingly forlorn figure, compounded by a poor first touch.

This wasn’t the same Everton side that had conceded two goals in their previous six games. There was the same sluggishness that defined Roberto Martinez’s side throughout the winter months. Steven Naismith was trying too hard, looking rusty with his passing on his first start since March.

Benteke rises in between Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines to head home the opener

Benteke rises in between Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines to head home

Considering the form Everton have been in, this was a shambolic first-half performance. Shay Given, whose last top flight appearance was against the Toffees in August 2012, had barely a save to make in the opening 45 minutes, as the away side lacked the intensity of that performance against Manchester United at Goodison Park last Sunday.

Martinez sent his players out early for the re-start, their ears ringing from a half-time dressing-down no doubt, and within minutes, the fired-up Lukaku ran at the defence, and shot low with his left-foot from the edge of the box, but Given was equal to it, tipping the ball around the post.

Kieran Richardson wins the ball from Aaron Lennon as Villa recorded a crucial win in their fight for survival

Kieran Richardson challenges Aaron Lennon as Villa recorded a crucial win

The former Chelsea striker, under pressure from Benteke, could then only head over from Baines’ corner moments later. In truth, it was only marginally better from Everton, as James McCarthy tangled with Delph in a show of dissent that went by unpunished.

But out of nowhere, the visitors were given a route back into the game, as Naismith went down inside the box after contact from Vlaar. It was unorthodox, but Lukaku stuttered and then stroked the ball into the corner to halve the deficit with 30 minutes to go.

Romelu Lukaku scored his 19th goal of the season in all competitions

Romelu Lukaku scored his 19th goal of the season in all competitions

The reprieve was short-lived, however.

Within five minutes, Leandro Bacuna picked up the ball midway through his half, and waited for the run of Cleverley behind Gareth Barry into the gaping space between Everton’s stretched defence.

Having picked up the perfectly-weighted pass, the former Manchester United midfielder, a former target of the Toffees, lifted the ball over the advancing Howard for his second goal in as many games.

Tom Cleverley scored Aston Villa's third with a clever finish

Tom Cleverley scored Aston Villa’s third with a clever finish

It ought to have sealed only Villa’s ninth win of the season, but after another Baines corner was headed onto the crossbar by McCarthy, Jagielka looped the ball back over the line from close range.

A draw would have greatly flattered the Merseysiders, and there was barely time for them to mount another attack, as Villa held on to clinch three vital points.

While they remain just two points clear of the drop zone with current occupants Sunderland having a game in hand over their relegation rivals, performances as accomplished as this would suggest Villa have little to fear.

Aston Villa: Given, Bacuna (Hutton 81), Okore, Vlaar, Richardson, Cleverley, Westwood (Sanchez 75), Delph, N’Zogbia (Cole 90), Benteke, Grealish.

Everton: Howard, Baines, Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Barry, McCarthy, Lennon, Naismith (Barkley 75), Mirallas (Osman 75), Lukaku.