Everton 2 - 0 Manchester United
If Wednesday's disappointing defeat to Crystal Palace, followed by Arsenal's convincing win at Hull earlier today, had knocked some of the wind out of Everton sails, they had two things going for them today that would ensure that, psychologically, they were ready to pick themselves up and win to ensure that the gap between themselves and the Gunners remains a marginal one at a single point.
Firstly, the positive and cerebral management of Roberto Martinez and, secondly, the energy and volume from a packed home crowd determined to make life as uncomfortable as possible for returning former boss, David Moyes, and his Manchester United team. Those factors, combined with an excellent display of containment and counter-attacking football, saw Everton complete the league double over United for the first time in 44 years and kept their Champions League hopes alive.
Moyes, haunted amusingly in the early stages by a supporter dressed in Grim Reaper garb with accompanying sickle before complaints by the United bench forced his removal from the stands, would claim after the match that his team had "played very well" but, in truth, like Arsene Wenger before him, he was played like a fiddle by Martinez. The Scot was given the illusion that his team were in control of this contest as the Blues handed them over 60% of the possession before two rapier jabs dealt the fatal blows that had the visitors on their knees by half time.
The scoreline might not have been as emphatic as against the Gunners and the three-pronged attack lined up slightly differently but it was the same eleven players who had done all the damage to Wenger's men who started this time around, Ross Barkley playing from the first whistle this time with Leon Osman on the bench. The Blues also took a little while longer to really get going but a couple of early bombing raids by Seamus Coleman, who was a constant threat all afternoon, and two early penalty shouts for handball on Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans, both waved away, set the tone for the first half.
The opening goal would come from the penalty spot by the way of another handball in the 28th minute but it was Steven Naismith who had had the best chance up until that point, Romelu Lukaku showing great strength to nod a long free kick forward into the path of the Scottish international but he rushed his shot and ballooned it into the Park End.
It was Lukaku and Naismith racing away on the counter attack, though, who created the first goal, the Belgian collecting the latter's pass just outside the box and then charging towards goal to line up a trademark left-footed shot, the kind that he had swept past Wojciech Szczęsny a fortnight ago. Phil Jones had slipped in the United box but inexplicably raised an arm as the shot came in and referee, Mark Clattenburg, pointed emphatically to the spot.
Leighton Baines stepped up and stroked home another successful penalty, this time straight down the middle as David de Gea dived in vain to his right. It was the first penalty Everton had scored against Manchester United for 42 years.
The security of a 1-0 lead merely enhanced Everton's gameplan of tenacious containment and dangerous counters and a few minutes after Coleman's low cross had just eluded Lukaku in the six-yard box, the Blues benefited from the advantage given to them by Clattenburg (who waved play on despite Juan Mata's late challenge on Baines) to break away and score the second goal. Naismith worked the ball across field and wide on the right to Coleman who slipped a perfectly-weighted ball through the United defence to Kevin Mirallas. Played on-side by Smalling, he collected the pass and whipped it across De Gea and inside the far post. 2-0 and, as it would turn out, game over.
United, for all their manager's post-game praise for their first-half display, didn't manage an effort on target until first-half stoppage when Tim Howard was fortunate that the ball flew straight at him from a header off a corner but even then it was off Gareth Barry and not a red-shirted player.
The loss of Sylvain Distin to a slight hamstring strain at half time had the potential to destablise a settled Everton back line but with the exception of a brief slip in the first minute, an error for which he immediately atoned by snuffing out a chance for Wayne Rooney, Antolin Alcaraz was an able deputy alongside the ever-impressive John Stones.
Everton's shape and modus operandi remained unchanged, though, after the interval and with a 2-0 lead they merely invited United on, daring them to break them down. They lulled Moyes's side into a false sense of security by giving them plenty of possession 20 yards in front of the home penalty area but then continually and dilligently collapsed the space as the reds tried to pick their way through on the edge of the box.
Whether it was Barry, Stones, Alcaraz, Coleman, Baines or the peerless James McCarthy who covered every blade of grass with a performance that underscored his priceless value to Martinez's team, time and time again there was a blue jersey ready to step in and suffocate United's attacks before they could cause any problems.
Shinji Kagawa did get a rare sight of goal from distance shortly after half time but Howard gathered comfortably at the second attempt, while Mata drove a potentially dangerous direct free-kick into the top of the defensive wall. And it wasn't until three minutes from the end that Moyes's side finally carved the Blues' open when Javier Hernandez played in Rooney but Howard did brilliantly to push his shot over the bar.
In between, it was Everton who continued to forge the better chances and might have compounded Moyes's misery – not to mention padded their goal difference – had Naismith not side-footed another good Coleman cross over the bar from 10 yards out and De Gea not denied the Scot with a finger-tip save to push his shot wide in the 80th minute.
All in all, then, a comfortable and deserved victory for the Blues that delivers the message to Arsenal that we'll be pushing them all the way for fourth spot. After the questionable approach on Wednesday, Martinez got his strategy and team selection spot on to get the Blues back to winning ways and his players responded with a terrific performance of professionalism, power and patience.
The media's attention will continue to focus on the implications of this result on the man in the opposition dugout but a better story is what Everton's new manager has achieved in his own season of transition: 20 Premier League wins, 13 home wins in the League and 69 points, all records for the Premier League era. You could argue that the first three matches of the campaign were more or less a write-off as the Spaniard got his feet under the table without a reliable striker and when you consider how many of the games where points were dropped this season were ones we deserved to win, it's clear that he is just getting started. The Blues will keep fighting for the Champions League this season until it's mathematically gone but the future looks very, very bright regardless.
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847 Posted 21/04/2014 at 01:14:46
868 Posted 21/04/2014 at 03:15:06
885 Posted 21/04/2014 at 06:27:48
WTF had he been drinkin'?
887 Posted 21/04/2014 at 07:02:38
895 Posted 21/04/2014 at 07:24:21
900 Posted 21/04/2014 at 08:13:38
902 Posted 21/04/2014 at 08:33:10
908 Posted 21/04/2014 at 08:52:54
Will have been glad to get out of the Old Lady, just showing a 2-0 score line!!
Outplayed & out thought it was a good display, after the Crystal Palace fiasco, we will need very much of the same, next Saturday, at Southampton, but with better finishing.
910 Posted 21/04/2014 at 08:56:25
The fact that Moyes thinks they were the better team would suggest Robbie has learned more in ten Months than he did in ten years
912 Posted 21/04/2014 at 09:11:46
913 Posted 21/04/2014 at 09:14:53
914 Posted 21/04/2014 at 09:17:20
916 Posted 21/04/2014 at 09:20:03
917 Posted 21/04/2014 at 09:18:31
43 years away : full report please
919 Posted 21/04/2014 at 09:28:35
920 Posted 21/04/2014 at 09:19:38
My one and only slight disappointment is I don't think Ross is ready to play in midfield the game passed him by and he doesnt seem to know whether to stay back or join the attack. His natural position is just behind the striker but at this moment in time Naismith plays that role very well. The one time that Ross picked the ball up just outside the box and ran straight into the box and nearly scored is his strength.
922 Posted 21/04/2014 at 09:35:41
933 Posted 21/04/2014 at 09:56:58
We have already created a record points tally, 69, and there is no reason why we cannot finish off with 3 more wins which have us accumulating 78 points for the season. One more win and 5th is in the bag, three more wins and who knows!
Great season and the manager has worked wonders in improving certain players!
935 Posted 21/04/2014 at 10:06:27
940 Posted 21/04/2014 at 10:20:14
943 Posted 21/04/2014 at 10:04:46
I wish I could share your optimism in only being "disappointed" with Ross? Personally I'm starting to worry. Occasionally he beats his man and looks dangerous but more often he's anonymous. (If you watch him when the opposition has the ball, he truly hasn't got a clue.) This is a forum for debate, so here goes - I'd take the money!
967 Posted 21/04/2014 at 11:53:07
I thought Moyes did a decent job at Everton initially but after watching Man Utd yesterday, I was shocked at how bad they have become. The last time I saw such a decline in a team so quickly was with Aston Villa after they won the European Cup in the early eighties. Let's hope it's an omen for Everton and it's not too long until we're Champions again after such a barren spell!
984 Posted 21/04/2014 at 14:00:37
You are a poet Lyndon.
223 Posted 21/04/2014 at 21:59:50
On the pitch Coleman was immense, as was McCarthy.
Stones looked like he was relishing the challenge of head to head with Rooney. On we roll with the 4th spot still a real possibility. COYB
680 Posted 25/04/2014 at 21:34:45
666 Posted 28/04/2014 at 12:14:08
The irony is delicious.
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