Barclays Premier League
Everton vs. Manchester United
Venue: Goodison Park
Kick-off: 16:10 BST
Manchester United’s impressive recent away record was ended at the home of David Moyes’ former employers as Everton recorded a 2-0 victory at Goodison Park and a first double over the Reds since 1970.
First half goals from Leighton Baines via the penalty spot and Kevin Mirallas on the stroke of half-time were enough to keep Everton in the chase for fourth spot, despite United dominating possession, who remain seventh in the table, six points behind Tottenham but with a game in hand.
The opening 20 minutes saw Nani, Romelu Lukaku and Seamus Coleman have shots blocked whilst Ross Barkley sliced his shot over after Chris Smalling’s headed clearance fell to the promising 20-year-old.
A Wayne Rooney ball over the top of the Toffees’ defence found Smalling, whose first time effort fell straight into the hands of ex-United keeper Tim Howard.
At the other end, Everton had a penalty appeal correctly dismissed by referee Mark Clattenburg after Steven Naismith’s volley from Coleman’s cross hit the returning Jonny Evans in the armpit.
A seamlessly harmless free-kick inside Everton’s half was hoofed forward by veteran Sylvain Distin, but Lukaku’s knock down found Naismith, whose first time shot went well wide of David De Gea’s goal.
Lukaku then saw his shot strike the hand of Phil Jones, who can have no complaints about the awarding of the penalty and the booking that followed, as Leighton Baines struck the ball down the middle of the goal, to give Everton the lead.
United responded well as Alex Buttner – in for the injured Patrice Evra – saw his cross cleared at the near post by John Stones, before Nani’s cross was also cleared, this time by James McCarthy.
A lovely flowing move from the hosts saw Stones bring the ball out of defence, before neat link up between Coleman, Naismith and Mirallas, whose first time cross along the floor just eluded the on-rushing Lukaku and went behind for a goal kick.
Mirallas then doubled Everton’s lead, as he beat the offside trap after Coleman’s through ball, and the Belgian coolly slotted home first time into the bottom right-hand corner.
Stoppage time at the end of the first half saw a Rooney corner hit the back of Gareth Barry, but fortunately for the on-loan Manchester City man, the ball fell kindly into Howard’s hands.
Rooney himself had a great chance to half the deficit within the first minute of the second half, but after passing up two great opportunities to shoot, he was dispossessed as the ball went behind for a corner.
Barkley was booked for impeding Smalling on the right-hand touchline, before the resulting free-kick from Rooney was cleared as far as Shinji Kagawa, only to see his powerful shot comfortably saved by Howard.
A surging run from Coleman saw his shot sliced wide before Antolin Alcaraz – on for Distin at half-time – saw his header fall straight into the hands of De Gea.
Howard then caught Kagawa’s header after Buttner’s cross to the back post before a sublime through ball from Mirallas found his international teammate Lukaku, only for his shot to be saved by De Gea.
Javier Hernandez looked sharp after replacing Evans, as his shot was blocked before he teed up Darren Fletcher on the edge of the box, only for yet another sliced shot to go wide.
Mirallas then had a powerful run down the right, before his cross fell just behind Naismith, who couldn’t get any control on his first time effort as the ball looped over the bar.
A fantastic save by De Gea kept the game alive after a superb counter-attack from Everton saw Coleman play in Naismith, whose curling effort was turned behind by the flying Spaniard. The resulting corner was initially dealt with before Mirallas received the ball and cut in from the right, but his effort flew past the top right-hand upright.
Another Everton break came about after Buttner’s cross was cleared, as Lukaku’s shot from Coleman’s pull back was blocked behind for yet another corner.
It took until the 87th minute for Howard to be seriously tested as Hernandez played in Rooney, who should’ve done better, as the American pulled off an immaculate save to preserve his and Everton’s clean sheet.
Antonio Valencia saw his cross-come-shot fall wide without troubling before Mirallas failed to double his tally, as his shot was deflected over.
The final action of the game saw Smalling head wide from Rooney’s cross when he really should have scored.
United failed to make their large share of possession count, creating very little, as their four match winning streak on the road came to an end.
Everton, normally dominant with the ball at their feet, relied on counter-attacks to win them this match, but a precious three points to keep them hot on the heels of Arsenal, with just a one point gap separating the two sides.
As for United, they sit six points behind Spurs who are in sixth, having played a game less than the North London outfit, and have an eight point cushion over their final day opponents Southampton, again with a game in hand.
Struggling Norwich City are up next for United at Old Trafford next Saturday in a 5:30pm kick-off, the first of three consecutive home games, before their trip down to the South coast on May 11 to end the season.
Man of the Match: Darren Fletcher – the Scot is starting to become a regular in Moyes’ side, which is a testament to the character of the number 24, having only returned from his serious illness back in December. Not too many noticeably performances from the boys in Red, but Fletcher looked composed on the ball, spread the play about nicely, seemed urgent yet used his experience in a difficult situation and hostile environment. He was always there to provide an option as he looked to link the play between defence and attack. Completed the 90 minutes and was tireless throughout. He looked like he could’ve gone on to play another 90 minutes straight after, as he is showing no signs of that nasty illness that kept a fan favourite out of the game for so long.
Manchester United team and player ratings: De Gea 7; Smalling 5, Jones 4, Evans 6 (Hernandez ’61 – 6), Buttner 6; Carrick 6, Fletcher 8; Nani 4 (Valencia ’61 – 5), Mata 5, Kagawa 5 (Welbeck ’75 – 5); Rooney 5.
Unused subs: Lindegaard, Giggs, Fellaini, Januzaj.
Manager: David Moyes
Everton team: Howard; Coleman, Stones, Distin (Alcaraz ’46), Baines; McCarthy, Barry; Mirallas (McGeady ‘90+4), Barkley (Osman ’70), Naismith; Lukaku.
Unused subs: Robles, Hibbert, Deulofeu, Garbutt.