Late blow stuns Fergie
After 90 minutes at Goodison Park, Alex Ferguson's decision to leave Wayne Rooney behind seemed like the latest act of managerial genius in a long career of defiant stances.
Everybody associated with Manchester United believed a difficult afternoon had been overcome. Ferguson had drawn the sting from the crowd, fervent supporters of the institution of marriage had nothing to get angry about and United were coasting. 'Rooney shagged your gran,' came the song from the terraces but it was the United fans who were singing it.
Then injury-time came along. Leighton Baines delivered a cross which Tim Cahill headed in to make 2-3. Nobody believed it was anything more than a consolation. Baines, however, then found space once more, Cahill again asserted his aerial superiority and Mikel Arteta drove in an equaliser. United have played two away games this season and dropped points in the final minutes in both of them.
"I don't know how that can happen from a comfortable position," Alex Ferguson said afterwards, a mild-mannered reaction which might not have reflected his words in the privacy of the dressing room.
But Ferguson will never allow a glimpse into his private world. In a week in which he protected Rooney, he will have reminded his team-mates in a more forceful manner of their responsibilities. And he won't have been talking about marriage.
Rooney was ready to play on Friday with Ferguson taking the decision yesterday morning. "We made the decision simply because Wayne gets terrible abuse here and we're not going to subject him to it. We have got a fantastic squad so we are using it. Wayne will play against Rangers in the Champions League on Tuesday."
Although last night it appeared that it was the fear of further revelations in this morning's newspapers that forced his withdrawal.
After a rough opening, United were demonstrating the resilience of their squad as they took a two-goal lead into the closing minutes.
But there are defensive problems in this United side and Everton exposed them in injury-time.
United were hanging on and in the end, David Moyes was the angriest manager (at least in public), storming onto the pitch and accusing referee Martin Atkinson of failing to play the correct amount of injury-time, ending the game as Everton went on the counter-attack.
"People come to see a football game, not to see a referee," Moyes said later. "They come here for excitement and I can't believe that he has blown when he did but no doubt it was by the letter of the law."
Atkinson was the referee when United left it late to beat Manchester City last season, scoring the winner in the sixth minute of injury-time, although only four minutes had been indicated.
Despite two goals being scored in injury-time yesterday, Moyes claimed the referee only played 30 seconds more than the allotted time.
It might distract people from other problems but Moyes was not concerned with Rooney's absence.
"I never really considered it, I was more concerned about the system United were going to play, whether they'd use an extra midfielder or what they'd do."
The absence of United's best player meant nothing to him, he claimed. It was a nice line but everyone will be hoping United keep him off the field. It won't happen.
Rooney won't be left out on Tuesday and he won't want to be next Sunday when Liverpool visit Old Trafford.
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