Tuesday 24 April 2018

United survive title jitters

Man United 1 Everton 0

The desperation at the end perhaps explained why Manchester United will win their 19th league title next month. They are in complete control of the Premier League title race, but even the prospect of offering a little bit of hope to those teams regarded as their challengers was something they couldn't tolerate.

At the end, Wayne Rooney, Chicharito, Antonio Valencia, Ryan Giggs and Michael Owen were on the field as United looked for the three points that would bring them closer to the line.

They would never have doubted, even in their anxiety, and when the ball was worked out wide seven minutes from the end, Valencia found space, chipped a cross to the far post and Chicharito drifted off the defender and nodded in at the far post.

It was his 12th league goal of a remarkable first season in English football for Hernandez. "We didn't expect that," Alex Ferguson said afterwards, talking about the spectacular development of a player whose goals have done as much as anyone to send United towards a record title. Hernandez had shuffled and twisted and lingered all afternoon in search of a goal, but it was a long time coming.

This was not an overwhelming display from a team even as underwhelming as this United side but they have retained the attitude of previous teams, or put another way: Ferguson's attitude has been absorbed by them.

So it didn't matter that it was getting late or that Ferguson was on the sideline representing urgency, United kept going. That, as Ferguson acknowledged afterwards, is United's way as much as the denial of opposition penalties at Old Trafford is the Manchester United way.

David Moyes felt Everton didn't deserve either of the two penalty claims yesterday but while the first, when Jermaine Beckford stumbled over the legs of Jonny Evans was correctly ignored, the second was more debatable.

Moyes had made changes at half-time, sending on Tim Cahill and Victor Anichebe. Anichebe offered more presence up front, especially with United leaving Nemanja Vidic out of the squad as they prepared for the game against Schalke on Tuesday.

Anichebe had already tangled with Ferdinand before he turned him, outpaced him and as he cut across him in the box, Ferdinand leaned into him. Anichebe was looking for a penalty, but if it had been at the other end he would probably have found it. Instead, nothing was given.

United would surely have found a way to win anyway because that is what they do.

They had played without much energy in the first half, which may have been a result of the tension or the heat, or both.

Anderson was alongside Darron Gibson in midfield and while Anderson played some perceptive passes, Gibson was again anonymous.

He was noticed though. In the second half, Ferdinand had words with him after Edwin van der Sar struggled to find somebody to play a pass to. Gibson was sauntering upfield while Anderson went looking for the ball.

In his argument with Ferdinand, Gibson pointed to the full-backs, as if they were the players who should be getting the ball from deep. Moments later, he was replaced by Ryan Giggs.

Gibson had tried a couple of trademark shots in the first half but United's best chance ended with Chicharito deflecting a Nani shot wide.

Tim Howard had saved another Chicharito shot at the near post but Everton had been reasonably untroubled without ever advancing. Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin had been strong at the back and United were probing.

Moyes made his changes at half-time and Everton enjoyed some more possession during which time Anichebe went down in the box.

Van der Sar then kept United in the game when he tipped Jack Rodwell's shot, which had already deflected off Evans, past the post.

United were roused. Rooney curled a free-kick which Howard tipped over and then Everton's 'keeper saved brilliantly from a Chicharito header which reached him from a delicate Valencia cross.

The heave was coming and Everton sat back. Moyes was on the sideline telling them to push out but there were other voices of doubt telling them to stay where they were.

Distin tried to advance and gave the ball away. Anderson played it wide and Valencia moved down the right as he had done with menace all afternoon. His cross took a deflection, which made it harder to read for the defenders but not for Chicharito. He headed in from two yards and United knew they had the victory.

Everton came forward looking for an equaliser but even the five minutes of injury-time wasn't going to help. Ferguson felt it was unhelpful but he was always going to think that once his side had done their work. They had put the pressure on again. They will be champions because they are the only team who can withstand it.

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