Everton 1 - 0 Man United
Goodison Park, under the lights, when the big teams come to town. There's nothing like it and in recent seasons it's become an occasion to savour for Evertonians and one to fear for media darlings like the Manchester sides.
The anticipation of the kind of evening that unfolded at the Grand Old Lady was palpable in the days leading up to the Blues' season opener against United — one they've had to wait an extra couple of days for while the rest of the Premier League kicked off their campaigns on Saturday and Sunday— and their heroes delivered as Marouane Fellaini got Everton off to the perfect start to 2012-13.
In seasons past, Duncan Ferguson, so often the man for the big occasion, scored some crucial headed winners against Sir Alex Ferguson; now watching on from the stands, the Big Man saw the Belgian Beast rsse above stand-in defender Michael Carrick and power home the game's only goal just a few minutes short of the hour mark.
In truth, that match-winning strike was just reward for a superb all-round performance. Rio Ferdinand was one of three central defenders missing for United but it's unlikely the visitors would have been able to cope with Fellaini had they been at fill strenth. The big-haired midfielder's display was one that might have yielded more goals had he not clipped the game's first real chance off the post after a marauding run had taken him easily past Carrick and into a one-on-one situation with David de Gea, albeit one made almost impossible by the tight angle.
He would later spurn a chance to double the lead when he planted a header straight into the goalkeeper's arms but, in the final reckoning, it didn't matter. As has become customary, David Moyes's side defended deeply and resolutely to shut down United's probing passing game and effected a defensive rearguard action that rendered second-half substitute Robin van Persie's debut almost meaningless.
Despite both teams finding their legs as they came off their respective pre-season programmes, the first half was at times played at a frenetic pace, with chances arriving coming for both sides. As expected, United enjoyed the lion's share of possession but it was a famiilar Everton line-up — Moyes's starting XI featured just one change from the 4-4 draw at Old Trafford, Phil Neville lining up in central midfield with John Heitinga on the bench — that carved out the best chances in the first 45 minutes.
After Fellaini had been denied by the woodwork, De Gea was forced into four crucial interventions to keep the scores level at the break. First he had to palm Steven Pienaar's looping header over the bar, then he pushed the South African's low, placed effort away from goal before he made two one-handed stops to deny Leon Osman from point-blank range and Leighton Baines from a deflected direct free kick.
At the other end, Nani curled a speculative effort narrowly wide and Phil Jagielka was on hand to twice deny Danny Welbeck but it was Wayne Rooney who could have had United in front first through any of three chances. Tim Howard's fingertips helped his free kick past the post, the American was fortunate to see a later header come straight to him, before the ex-Blue planted a free header well wide in first-half stoppage time, much to the home fans' relief.
Everton's sense of the big night was not lessened by the half-time break and, roared on by a deafening crowd, they began the second half with the same purpose with which they'd begun the second. Indeed, less than four minutes after the restart, Osman had thundered a shot off the underside of the crossbar with De Gea beaten all ends up but the ball dropped a yard in front of the goalline and was hacked away.
Eight minutes later, though, the goal that would garner the Blues' first opening day points in four seasons arrived after Pienaar's attempted cross had been deflected behind and Darron Gibson picked Fellaini out with a perfect corner from the right-hand side. Fellaini easily out-matched Carrick and buried the header, Ferguson-style, into the corner of the goal.
United responded just as expected and came within inches of leveling matters within 10 minutes of Fellaini's goal. Antonio Valencia's cross from the right eluded both Tony Hibbert and Paul Scholes, dropping to the feet of United debutant Kagawa, who smartly laid it off to Tom Cleverly six-yards out. His shot appeared bound for the back of the net but Jagielka dangled back a leg and stopped it on the line before it was belted away to safety.
Despite all their possession, huffing and puffing, that would prove to be United's best chance of the game as Everton dug in their defences and dared the deposed Champions to break them down. Van Persie made his entrance with 22 minutes to go and he served up an excellent chance for Kagawa in the 79th minute but the onrushing Howard did enough to put the enterprising Japanese midfielder off at the crucial moment and his attempt to dink the ball over the 'keeper dropped safely over the bar instead.
Truth be told, the last 10 minutes were nailbiters, mostly because the tremendous shift Moyes's players had put in had wiped them out by the game's closing stages. Osman was replaced by Seamus Coleman in the 80th minute but Pienaar, Fellaini and Gibson, were all exhibiting heavy limbs by this point and Nikica Jelavic, who didn't really get a sniff of goal all evening, was forced off with cramp with a few minutes to go.
That allowed Steven Naismith to make his first appearance and Heitinga made a cameo appearance in injury time to allow Fellaini to milk the applause for a man-of-the-match display from a delirious Goodison faithful. All the while, the entrenched Blue wall stood firm and, save for a late effort by Anderson, United had shown themselves unable to find a away around it, over it, or through it.
The performance was typical of the Blues in these types of games on home soil — tenacious, determined and stubborn in midfield and defence — but there was much to admire going forward as well, albeit more so in the first half. Gibson was assured and unruffled alongside the pugnacious Neville and though Pienaar faded as an attacking influence, his work rate in tracking back never faltered as the home side stood firm.
Indeed, there wasn't a poor performance in a Blue jersey — only Tim Howard didn't excel because he didn't really need to! Indeed, after Jelavic hobbled off the field with cramp, Sylvain Distin had to be carried off having expended every last drop of energy to preserve the lead.
So, three glorious points to start the campaign and a statement from Moyes's boys that Everton could be serious contenders in the top six this season if they can use this victory as a springboard to making a strong start to the first third of the campaign.
Player Ratings: Howard 6, Hibbert 8, Jagielka 9, Distin 8, Baines 8, Osman 8 (Coleman 7), Gibson 8, Neville 7, Pienaar 7, Fellaini 9* (Heitinga -), Jelavic 7 (Naismith -)
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949 Posted 21/08/2012 at 08:35:36
I would also dispute the 8 for Osman, given that he seemed in a trance for the first 30 minutes before those two great shots.
953 Posted 21/08/2012 at 08:50:51
954 Posted 21/08/2012 at 08:58:16
Bill's rubbing his hands in glee with almost two weeks left in the transfer window.
040 Posted 21/08/2012 at 13:47:17
066 Posted 21/08/2012 at 15:22:45
Oh, and Martin, 'bitching about the chairman', this of all chairmen (my eyes rolled when his big gob came on screen after 90 with I am the Walrus next to him) is legitimate activity any minute of the day for us, whatever happens on the pitch. Off the pitch he has fucked us over. There's a difference mate.
071 Posted 21/08/2012 at 15:58:41
073 Posted 21/08/2012 at 16:06:26
090 Posted 21/08/2012 at 16:57:57
Mike Gaynes - there wasn't a 5 out there, on either side. It was footie at its best. Nani and Valencia getting past Baines is their job - their primary task. Distin covering Baines is a big part of his job. By the way, did you notice them trying to injure (imo) Leighton very early on? I did from where I was sitting. And that's not trying to pull rank on you Mike, its just that there's no way TV coverage can see all that. Love to have you sitting next to the brother and me to see LB the LB weaving his patterns around befuddled 'defenders'.
094 Posted 21/08/2012 at 17:39:04
A brave post. Everybody else is likely to rate you as a miserable, mean-minded mental midget.
But not me. I see you as a visionary, to the extent that I invite you to re-post this comment when Fellaini has been sold so that I can grovel at your feet.
Either that, or promise to re-post it yourself on September 1st and simply say you were wrong. Grovelling not required.
Neither of us know which of the two things will happen.
Are you in for that?
095 Posted 21/08/2012 at 17:55:54
428 Posted 22/08/2012 at 21:25:04
Richard Tarleton, may I ask why you decided to add such a negative comment after such a remarkable performance?
Anyway, I may be a day late in posting this but with Mirallas itching to get going, things look promising.
541 Posted 23/08/2012 at 10:19:16
685 Posted 23/08/2012 at 20:27:05
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