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Sweet Toffees ignore script

THE script, as is so often the case when Wayne Rooney comes to town, appeared to have been written in advance.

This was supposed to be the day when the prodigal son returned to Goodison Park to prove his world-class credentials at the ground where it all began. However, a different tale unfolded, one that has been patiently penned by David Moyes since the days before Rooney decided that his boyhood club was not where his vast potential would be fulfilled.

It is also one that, in the light of an outstanding victory over Manchester United, must start to receive the widespread acclaim it deserves.

Slowly but surely, and often in the face of adversity, Moyes has built a squad that is more than capable of holding its own against the best in the country. Chelsea discovered it to their cost 10 days before United suffered a similar fate.

The setback will have hurt Alex Ferguson deeply, especially because United had taken an early lead through Dimitar Berbatov's only contribution of any real note. But as a keen observer of the progress of his fellow Glaswegian, he will know that Moyes's development from promising young coach to manager of substance is in its final stages.

"Alex said, 'Well done,'" Moyes said. "I had a glass of wine with him and he said we deserved our victory. In the second half we got stronger and I think he recognised that. Alex gives praise where it's due and today we deserved that. It's probably as much praise as he's given us."

Such tributes were entirely justified. After going behind, Everton blossomed, just as they had in their triumph over Chelsea, and the margin of victory was in no way flattering.

Injuries have been the bane of Moyes' life for the past 12 months, but on this occasion the loss of yet another pair of influential performers -- Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini -- may have aided the Everton manager, because in their absence there was only one brand of football he could play: neat and tidy, on the deck.

By deploying Landon Donovan, Steven Pienaar and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov in an interchangeable attacking trident behind Louis Saha, Moyes ensured that the weaknesses that remain apparent in United's defence could be exploited by allowing them to operate in an area of the pitch in which they could do most damage without being drawn into a midfield battle they would surely have lost.

"I hope people wouldn't just see me as someone who works hard," Moyes said. "You would look and think we got it right tactically. We played in a certain way to try and give us a foothold in the game -- a different way that would give us something different.

"The players knew that and it may not have started this way, but as the game went on we grew into it and I think we should be given a bit of credit, not just because of our spirit but also because of our tactics and the ability of the players.

"The night before the game we had a meeting with the players at the hotel and we told them that we would be going after Man United."

It is surely rare that the champions are viewed as being so vulnerable that opposing managers drum such strident messages into their players. Moyes insists that he did so only because of the form of his team, but on Saturday's evidence United are still plagued by frailties that become glaringly obvious whenever Rooney's standards fall below the superlative.

'Debt is the road to ruin' read an anti-Glazer banner draped over the visiting team's section in the crowd, and the fans who unfurled it will also know that desperate defending is hardly the path to glory, either.

Each Everton goal had its own brand of quality: Bilyaletdinov's strike from distance was ferocious and accurate; Dan Gosling's close-range finish provided the coup de grace to a well-worked team move; Jack Rodwell's late slalom and controlled shot were the mark of the latest young Everton player brimful with talent, a final flourish ripe with symbolism given that the move began with Rooney losing possession.

From United's point of view, however, all three are likely to be the subject of endless video reruns this week as Ferguson points out how more aggressive and cerebral defending could have prevented them.