Trench war tactics boost United
Fergie's men adopt bunker mentality at Goodison to shake off derby bruises
If Manchester United's victory at Goodison Park proved anything, it is that the zeal to impose watershed status on their derby mauling was premature.
Power shifts tend to be declared too readily on the basis of solitary results, when no one knows better than Alex Ferguson it is mucky little wins such as this that collect championships, not just seductive goal feasts.
Each of Ferguson's titles has been accumulated through his club's capacity to grind out three points without functioning anywhere near half throttle. As he compiles his memoirs of 25 years at Old Trafford, the less romantic one-nils may be recalled as fondly as any battering his teams have dished out.
Like all the best generals, Ferguson is adept not only at recognising when to go on the offensive, but also when to unashamedly cry 'retreat'.
This, then, was a triumph in the art of implementing a bunker mentality.
United scored the 19th minute winner during the only period of the game where they left their trench. A single, classy move involving Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and Patrice Evra allowed poacher Javier Hernandez to reap the rewards. The rearguard action began and their defence rarely looked like being breached.
The return of Nemanja Vidic, pointedly singled out for praise by Ferguson after his first league game since August while Rio Ferdinand was left to stew on the bench, assisted the return to defensive normality.
"His grit and determination rubs off on everyone else," said fellow defender Phil Jones on Vidic.
The same could be said of the United youngster. Vidic's comeback is seen as the most important preventive cure to any repeat of the remarkable 6-1 defeat by Manchester City, but it is the versatile Jones, one of those rare talents who looks to have the capacity to run a game from full-back, who must make Ferdinand fret about whether his punishment is brief or represents a longer term change in status.
David Moyes cast aside his own frustrations to remind the rest of the country United remain the team everyone else is chasing.
"This time last year people were saying they had had a bad start but they still went on to win it," said the Everton manager.
"They are always going to be a club that does well in the second half of the season. If they are first or second going into the New Year, then they are the ones to catch. The manager has been there at the top for so long."
If Ferguson feared a traditionally antagonistic Scouse reception would undermine his demand for an instant recovery, the instantly muted atmosphere must have convinced him otherwise.
Leighton Baines hit the bar with a 25-yard free-kick just before half-time, but that was the closest Everton came with a sequence of long-range efforts never thoroughly testing David De Gea.
"It was the most controlled we have been against Manchester United but it doesn't mean anything, does it? Goals mean everything," said Moyes.
"They got their goal and they gave themselves something to protect. I hate myself for saying it but the bit we were missing needs money to buy it. That's the thing."
As against Chelsea in midweek, there was validity in Moyes's argument. Finishing prowess is the one area of his side which separates it from the Premier League elite -- a point underlined by United having the luxury of Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen on the bench.
United, already without Ashley Young (toe) and Chris Smalling (out for a month with a foot problem) also lost Cleverley with an ankle injury.
So, this was a timely reminder it will take more than one, freakish defeat to prove the title momentum has permanently shifted across the city of Manchester.