Youth has its fling as Red Devils honour Charlton
Manchester United 1-0 Everton
Published 04/04/2016 | 02:30
The game was hardly a worthy memento to a player who oozed class in so many ways during one of English football's most glittering careers but Bobby Charlton could at least celebrate a goal that nodded to the rich tapestry of youth at Old Trafford he holds so dear.
Charlton cut an emotional figure before kick-off as Old Trafford's south stand was renamed in his honour amid much fanfare.
But while there was a familiar lack of quality and entertainment on the pitch, one glimpse of it early in the second half succeeded in bringing a huge smile to the face of the most famous Busby Babe and, with it, three precious points for Manchester United in their pursuit of Champions League qualification.
Indeed, there was not much to recommend this game but its bewitching goal, scored by Anthony Martial, 20, and created by Marcus Rashford and Tim Fosu-Mensah, both 18, both academy graduates.
It also happened to be United's 1,000th Premier League home goal and could prove a very important one as Louis van Gaal scrambles to salvage their season, and save his job in the process.
Victory moved United above West Ham United into fifth in the Premier League, a point behind Manchester City, ahead of a testing trip to face Spurs at White Hart Lane next Sunday.
As for Everton, it was their third successive league defeat and fourth in five matches in the competition.
This is the best squad the Merseyside club have had for years but they lie 12th in the table, level on points with Bournemouth, and the boos that greeted the final whistle were instructive.
The team are punching well below their weight and the pressure is mounting on manager Roberto Martinez, whose boundless optimism at times seems to veer into the realms of denial.
Neither team were great, far from it, but, contrary to what Martinez thought, United merited their win.
Phil Jagielka headed the ball against the crossbar for Everton and was also denied by a good save from David de Gea but, for the most part, they were cowed and subdued.
Charlton had seemed genuinely overwhelmed by the affection afforded him as United supporters, brandishing flags 'celebrating 60 years as a United legend', rose to their feet to acclaim him.
A survivor of the Munich air disaster who went on to become United's all-time record goalscorer and, as part of the 'Holy Trinity' with George Best and Denis Law, lit up Old Trafford for years, Charlton has probably been as hurt as anyone this season by the anaemic football.
He could at least savour the sight of the kids stepping up to the mark.
The goal certainly served as a welcome respite from the drudgery that had preceded it, with rushed, sloppy passes and a lack of momentum.
Then came that moment of rare quality, with Fosu-Mensah, only nine minutes after his introduction as a half-time substitute, quickly making his presence felt.
Daley Blind sprayed a raking pass out to Juan Mata on the right. The Spaniard controlled the ball dead, waited and then rolled it into the path of Rashford.
Spotting Fosu-Mensah making a dart for the space behind, Rashford back-heeled the ball into the path of his on-rushing team-mate, who sent the ball across the six-yard area, beyond Seamus Coleman, to where Martial steered home.
It was all about the exuberance of youth.
There is optimism to be found in the zip and zeal of Martial, Rashford, Jesse Lingard, who ran himself into the ground, and, no doubt when he returns from injury, Luke Shaw.
Martial was lively throughout and there were intelligent interchanges with Rashford and Lingard.
Fosu-Mensah has some catching up but he represented a huge improvement on the laboured Rojo.
Everton were bitterly disappointing. They have proven far more effective away from home than at Goodison Park, where they have lost eight times this season.
However, they were meek, their woes encapsulated by the forlorn figures of Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley.
Lukaku had one chance, when Blind blocked his shot from close range. Barkley chased shadows. James McCarthy and Tom Cleverley, making his first return to Old Trafford after leaving United, were industrious but not much more.
Three minutes after Martial scored, Jagielka's header from Gerard Deulofeu's corner cannoned off the crossbar.
It ensured Charlton's and United's day would not be ruined.