United have failed, admits coach Phil Neville
Former Everton skipper left with 'empty feeling' ahead of Goodison return as Moyes prepares for hot reception
It was never meant to be like this for David Moyes ahead of his first return to Everton as Manchester United manager.
Bracing himself for a turbulent reception at Goodison Park, the Scot goes into tomorrow's fixture admitting the scars of his departure need "time to heal".
United first-team coach Phil Neville makes the same return journey to Everton claiming that the fallen champions have "failed" this season and that they go into the summer feeling a rare sense of emptiness.
When Moyes surveyed United's fixtures at the start of this season, it is likely tomorrow's trip to Goodison would have been viewed as a hazardous obstacle to be overcome in a tense battle for the title.
But with United languishing in seventh position, two places and nine points behind Everton, neither Moyes nor Neville will walk back into their former club with head held as high as they would wish.
"We have not fulfilled any levels of expectations this season," Neville said. "We have failed on the football pitch and that doesn't sit kindly with anyone.
"We've not had a lot of positivity. When you get to this stage of the season, it has been quite foreign for these players and this football club, to be out of all the competitions and not challenging for a trophy. There is a really empty feeling and there is an empty feeling in my belly.
"I thought we would be challenging for trophies and parading around the pitch after the last game of the season with the championship, European Cup or FA Cup. That is where the emptiness comes from.
"We are not hiding away from the fact that we have underperformed. It's been difficult watching other teams above us do well and to even look at a league table.
"I find it difficult to watch 'Match Of The Day' on a Saturday night. I find it almost impossible because we've suffered this season."
United's fall from grace under Moyes has been as dramatic as Everton's rise under Roberto Martinez and the Merseyside club's progress under the Spaniard has led to a reassessment of Moyes' 11-year reign as manager.
The 50-year-old is now regarded as applying a handbrake on Everton, which has been released by Martinez, and his lengthy and acrimonious pursuit of Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini last summer poisoned Moyes' relationship with the club's supporters to the extent that he was barracked by visiting fans during Everton's 1-0 victory at Old Trafford in December.
There remains lingering resentment on Merseyside in relation to Moyes' departure following clandestine meetings with Alex Ferguson and United's owners, the Glazer family, but while insisting he did not nothing wrong, the Glaswegian admits he has not felt able to return to Goodison Park until now.
"I went to see Everton last Saturday against Sunderland, but I've not been back to Goodison," Moyes said. "It's nearly a year since I left, but I've just felt that it wasn't the right time to go back.
"But time is a big healer. Possibly, the way people saw me leaving (is part of the problem). Maybe people don't believe how it happened.
"I think there was also animosity because of the players – we'd like to have bought a couple of them – but lots of United players go to Everton, so there is reverse.
"Hopefully in time, everyone will look at it and say it was a really good period in Everton's history.
"But I've moved on. I regularly hear from the players, they text me and I have good communications from them."
While Moyes was keen to avoid calling for greater respect from Evertonians for his achievements, there is little doubt that he regards his time at the club as laying the foundations on which Martinez has taken the team to the brink of the Champions League.
"Roberto has done a great job," Moyes said. "But I think he has picked up a really good group of players.
"We had a great recruitment department, a brilliant staff, and all those people have helped.
"The financial situation was tough – we had to sell Mikel Arteta and Joleon Lescott – and we didn't have a great deal of cash, but we always tried to make it work as well as we could.
"Don't forget Everton finished above Liverpool last year, and the year before, so in a way, it should not be a surprise they are doing well.
"You judge success by trophies quite often, but certain clubs you have to judge by how they've moved on, how they've progressed and where they've got to. We at Everton couldn't make big steps, it had to be small steps."
Moyes' struggles at Old Trafford and Everton's impressive form under Martinez ensure that there will be no hiding place for the United manager when he takes his seat in the visitors' dugout tomorrow, however. And he says he is prepared for the reception which comes his way – good or bad.
"It's football and it's a great atmosphere at Goodison when it is in full cry," Moyes said.
"But this game is not about me. It's about two teams and both teams are still in need of winning the game, so the focus of attention shouldn't be on me." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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