Friday 19 January 2018

Reds off pace but 'no panic' for Ferguson


Paul Wilson at Goodison Park

Everton have now beaten Chelsea and Manchester United in successive Premier League matches, and both victories were well deserved.

The home side were not favourites here after losing Marouane Fellaini and Tim Cahill to injury, yet they did most of the attacking in the second half and Dan Gosling's late goal was fair reward even before Jack Rodwell added a third in the last minute.

United brought Dimitar Berbatov back to partner Wayne Rooney in attack and, all too predictably, the England striker's roaring run of form came to a whispering halt, although that could simply have been because Rooney is generally subdued on visits to his old club.

Everton, too, had a striker facing his former club, though Louis Saha was up front on his own and, when he tested Edwin van der Sar from 30 yards out, his effort produced a decent save -- though it seemed to sum up the home side's lack of attacking options.

United went in front a minute after that, Sylvain Distin failing to cut out Antonio Valencia's cross from the right and making rather a present of it to Berbatov, who scored off the underside of the bar, with Rooney a foot behind him practically pointing the way.

An ominous hush descended on Goodison, yet it took Everton only three more minutes to equalise in spectacular fashion.

Johnny Heitinga's hoofed clearance from the back was disputed by Saha and Jonny Evans, and the ball ran clear to Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, who controlled it, looked up and struck a left-foot shot so cleanly that Van der Sar never even moved in its direction, despite being beaten from well outside the area.

Patrice Evra made a brave block to deny the Russian again when Leighton Baines crossed from the left, though Rooney wasted a good chance by taking the ball too wide around Tim Howard after being played in by Berbatov.

Everton, too, could have had another goal by half-time had Landon Donovan been quicker to react to another Baines cross. The American seemed surprised when the ball landed at his feet off Wes Brown and, from an excellent position in front of goal, managed only to pass the ball straight to Van der Sar.

Substitute Gosling's goal came after a period of Everton pressure, when Donovan slipped Steven Pienaar down the left to pull the ball back from the byline.

Just to prove it was no fluke, Everton repeated the move two minutes later, only for Mikel Arteta to supply an air shot rather than a slick finish. No matter. Rodwell's solo run and clean strike in the final minute emphasised Everton's superiority.

With 11 games of the season remaining, it now looks unlikely United will get to the 90-point mark that has tended to be required to clinch the championship in recent times.

Yet Alex Ferguson has already claimed 82 could be enough this year so, as he reflects on a disappointing performance against the Toffees, the Red Devils chief does believe his side can get themselves back in contention by beating West Ham at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

"It was a bad result for us and at this time of the year you can't afford results like that, but I don't think we will panic because it has been a funny season," he said.

"Teams have been losing points that you don't expect so the very nature of the league suggests we still have a chance. But Tuesday is a massive game now.

"We had some good chances early on and we could have been two or three up. The equaliser changed the game a little bit. But it was the second half that let us down.

"Our second-half performance was very poor and when you are going for the championship you expect Manchester United to respond to the importance of the game."

Rio Ferdinand will be available on Tuesday after completing his four-match suspension, while central defensive partner Nemanja Vidic could also come into contention after being named on the bench for yesterday's encounter.

Moyes, meanwhile, says the best is still to come.

"We can start looking upwards a bit more than downwards," he said. "I think we can play better and I think we will."

Sunday Independent

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