Manchester United conceeded two very late Everton goals as David Moyes’ side came back from 3-1 down to snatch a draw at the death. Darren Fletcher, captain Nemanja Vidic and Dimitar Berbatov scored to seemingly seal United’s win on on Merseyside despite Wayne Rooney’s absence only to throw away the result in injury time.
Until the late Everton brace, United had offered a controlled performance in seeking to avenge the 3-1 loss at this ground last season but goals from Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta in injury time sealed an unlikely point for the home side.
“Football can do that to you. We were in a comfortable position and we threw it away,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.
“Our last two away games have been like that. We lost a goal at Fulham and again today. We had four good chances to seal it and we didn’t take them. For the most part I was pleased with the performance but we’ve thrown it away today.
“We played some good football at times and I thought Berbatov was brilliant but that doesn’t matter if we throw it away. He is a great player, and again today he had some great moments.”
Rooney though will continue to make the headlines but for few of the reasons expected after Sir Alex Ferguson left the former Evertonian out of United’s squad at Goodison Park. With the furore over the striker’s private life dominating the build up Ferguson, citing Goodison crowd abuse, chose to protect Rooney against many expectations.
Ferguson has rarely shielded his players in such a fashion before; Paul Ince returned to Upton Park and Eric Cantona to Ellend Road, and Gary Neville cannot receive any more abuse that he earns at Anfield, for example. Indeed, it is tempting to conclude that the manager has laid down a marker to his star player. With the Red shirt comes a responsibility that Rooney’s (alleged) behaviour does not match.
Initially Rooney’s absence seemed to affect the Scot’s planning, with Ferguson selecting a 4-5-1 system for the first time this season; Berbatov deployed up-front on his own with support from Ryan Giggs and Nani on the flanks.
If the attempt to quell the Goodison crowd took some of the heat out of the fixture then Moyes’ side did its best to raise the home spirits by dominating the opening minutes. Everton, buoyed by a vociferous crowd, started well with United struggling to retain the ball in the opening minutes.
Initially, Berbatov, Giggs and Nani were unable to hold the ball up front as Everton created chances to take an early lead. But with no strikers on the pitch – Leon Osman and Tim Cahill provided an alternative attacking threat – the home side failed to convert chances into goals. It almost defined the match until Everton’s late double.
Eventually in Rooney’s absence, with two chances inside three minutes, United clawed its way back into the game. First the recalled Gary Neville’s long ball eventually fell to Berbatov who failed to convert the chance. Then John O’Shea, selected in central midfield, sweetly struck a half volley that hit the frame of the goal on the quarter-hour.
Nani confirmed he bleeds red, suffering a cut mouth in a challenge by Everton’s Steven Pienaar. All in the cause, with Nani showing the progression he has made in the past year by continually tracking back to offer Neville defensive support, even if early crosses from wide areas went astray.
Fletcher, all energy, offered United’s most attacking threat from central midfield. The Scot was the only of the Reds’ three to continually run ahead of the ball. It was the midfielder’s long run that almost fashioned a chance for Berbatov to open the scoring.
Everton remained a threat though, and the home side took the lead on the break just as United finally gained a foothold in the match. Arteta’s long run forced 39-year-old Edwin van der Sar to smartly save only for Pienaar to eventually slide home the rebound.
Then shortly before half-time Ferguson’s side was level, with Fletcher scoring from Nani’s wonderful cross. The Scot’s running from midfield again proving influential.
If the old adage that scoring just before half-time takes the wind out of the opposition sales, then United’s second just after the break deflated the crowd too. Such a simple goal, with Nani again crossing for the unmarked Vidic to head home from close range.
In two goals the Portuguese showed why he can both be a most effective but frustrating player; the brilliance matched earlier by two shanked crosses into the Goodison stands. The winger should perhaps have sealed United’s win just after the hour, with Berbatov’s break and pass opening up a chance for Nani to strike past Tim Howard in Everton’s net.
Nani’s scuffed finish would only matter later. First, Paul Scholes brilliantly found Berbatov with a raking cross-field pass and the Bulgarian hit the net with a sumptuous finish twenty minutes from time.
Then the dénouement as Everton scored twice in the final two minutes to snatch a late draw when the game should have been put to bed. Indeed, Berbatov and then Nani each had outstanding chances to put United into a surely unassailable 4-1 lead.
But for the second time this season the Reds threw away a lead in the final minutes as two crosses found Vidic, Jonny Evans and company wanting. On such details are titles won and lost.
United: van der Sar; Neville, Vidic, Evans, Evra (Park, 81); Nani, Scholes, O’Shea, Fletcher, Giggs.
Man-of-the-match: Dimitar Berbatov
Possession: Everton 46% – 54% United
Attempts: 23 – 13
On target: 14 – 8
Corners: 7 – 5
Fouls: 11 – 18
Wayne Rooney will play as Manchester United faces a test of mental strength, as much as quality, at Goodison Park this weekend. Although Everton’s poor league start is the worst in the David Moyes era, Goodison is likely to rock to the sound of bile with the return of United’s former blue to the ground of his youth.
Rooney, desperate to play following a week of salacious media coverage, is seeking just a third goal against his old club.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson reacted tetchily to media questions about Rooney at this morning’s Carrington press conference, with journalists told the 69-year-old manager would not answer questions about the United striker. Refusing to answer legitimate questions about Rooney’s state of mind and how the player might react to a hostile Goodison atmosphere, Ferguson chose to concentrate on United’s record at a ground that prove far from happy hunting last season.
“Let’s put it to bed straightaway. I am not discussing any of my players’ personal lives,” said the Scot of Rooney’s tabloid headlines, in an unfortunate turn of phrase.
“It is always a nightmare going there [Goodison] and it wouldn’t matter whether it was Dixie Dean playing for us. It is a hard place to go to, the atmosphere is fantastic. But we have had to deal with it for many years and there is no problem with our record there.”
While United will travel with Rooney, Ferguson is without central midfielders Michael Carrick and Anderson, each player having picked up injuries during the week. While Carrick has been sent to see a specialist about a long-standing ankle problem, Anderson suffered a reaction following a reserve fixture in midweek.
“He should be out for three weeks, maybe a month at most,” said Ferguson of Carrick, who has not figured in the manager’s plans so far this season
“It has been bothering him for a few weeks, so we sent him to a specialist in London and he had an injection. We are hoping that settles it down.
“We have been considering what we should do about it. The best thing is to get it treated and out of the road now because everyone in the squad is fit.
“Anderson came off with a little niggle yesterday but it is nothing serious,” Ferguson added.
“It is just the fact he has been out for a long time and he is just coming back. I don’t think it will knock him back any length of time.”
Better news comes in the form of Rio Ferdinand, who did not play in United’s reserve fixture against Stockport last night. However, Ferguson said that the 31-year-old England captain’s training performances have been so good that he will travel with the squad to Liverpool.
With matches against Rangers and then Liverpool to follow at Old Trafford, the Scot is likely to rotate his squad in the coming week. The extended recuperation period should help though, with most of Ferguson’s players returning from international duty a day earlier than in the past after FIFA switched the synchronised calendar to a Friday – Tuesday schedule.
However, Ferguson may choose to bench both Antonio Valencia and Chicharito, each of whom return to Old Trafford late Thursday night from duty in South America. Park Ji-Sung comes into contention for a place on the wing, while Ferguson must choose which game Paul Scholes will miss of the three in the coming week.
Ferguson must also choose a partner for Rooney in attack, with Dimitar Berbatov in excellent form and fresh after resting during the international break. However, with United likely to come under pressure from the home side, the Scot could choose to deploy a 4-5-1 system for the first time this season, relegating the Bulgarian to the bench.
One player likely to feature at some point on Saturday is Ryan Giggs, whose chance of managing the Welsh national team in the wake of John Toshack’s resignation was dismissed out of hand by Ferguson.
“I spoke to him. It will not happen,” said the Scot who stands accused of regularly pulling Giggs out of international friendlies before the Welshman retired.
“We have to be selfish here. I am not even prepared to negotiate on this matter. At his age, Ryan needs to use all his energy and concentration to be here.
“It is a big season for him. It maybe his second last, it may be his last. We want it to be the second last. The best way for that to happen is for him to concentrate on being here.”
Everton, meanwhile, will be without talented teenager Jack Rodwell in midfield, who will miss the next three months of the campaign, and former Reds Louis Saha and Phil Neville.
Team – 4-5-1 – Howard; Hibbert, Baines, Jagielka, Distin; Arteta, Cahill, Pienaar, Fellaini, Bilyaletdinov; Beckford. Subs from: Heitinga, Mucha, Coleman, Osman, Magaye Gueye, Anichebe, Forshaw, Garbutt, Shane, Duffy, Agard, Bidwell, Baxter, Wallace, Akpan, Shkodran Mustafi.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistant referees: Peter Kirkup & Mick McDonough
Fourth official: Michael Jones
United – WWDW
Everton – LDL
Manchester United was heavily beaten at Everton yesterday afternoon as Sir Alex Ferguson’s Premier League title assault came off the rails in spectacular style. United hasn’t lost at Goodison Park in five years but the Scot’s side was hardly in the game once Everton levelled. Ferguson blamed fatigue but fans can question the apparent apathy.
Following United’s handsome win at AC Milan in midweek a mood of high confidence coarsed through the squad.
It was a confidence born out in the manager’s team selection. Much against type, and despite Everton’s recent victories over Manchester City and Chelsea, Ferguson recalled Dimitar Berbatov to the team alongside Wayne Rooney in attack.
Coincidence perhaps but Rooney had his least effective game in a United shirt this year in a disastrous result for United with Chelsea taking a four point lead in the Premier League.
Still, Ferguson’s side was bright enough to take the lead with the returning Antonio Valencia providing Berbatov with the opening goal. The Bulgarian’s turn and shot off the crossbar was just his eighth of an unproductive season.
David Moyes’ Everton hardly needed a second invitation to equalise such is the belief in the Scot’s Europe-chasing side. Indeed, the home team was back in the game within three minutes as Diniyar Bilyaletdinov’s long-range shot beat van der Sar to the Dutchman’s left.
It was a great strike from the former-Lokomotiv Moscow player but Wes Brown cannot be happy that he turned his back on the Russian winger.
The defending hardly reach a higher standard as Everton achieved the win the side’s play deserved in the final ten minutes.
First Dan Gosling connected with Steven Pienaar’s left-wing cross with the United central defenders draw to the ball and not the midfielder’s surging run..
Then rumoured United summer target Jack Rodwell ran round Jonny Evans before beating van der Sar with a shot across the goalkeepers’ body. Sharp defending it certainly wasn’t.
“This is a bad result and at this time of the year we can’t afford results like that,” said Ferguson, pointing out the obvious with just 11 games to go.
“We were well beaten. I’m disappointed and the players are disappointed.
“We started the game well enough but their goal galvanised them and gave them the incentive.
“You don’t want to lose a goal so quickly after going in front but the real effect showed in the second half when we were second best.
“The players are human beings, they play for Manchester United, and they don’t like losing but they’ve lost today.
“Milan could have had an impact. It is difficult to think that when you go through all the emotions and the pace and intensity and atmosphere of a game like Tuesday, you don’t lose something.”
It was United’s sixth Premier League defeat of the season and a demoralising one at that. Individual defensive errors cost Ferguson’s side dearly but it’s not as if the warnings hadn’t existed from Tuesday’s win in Italy.
More worrying still, United could do little to combat Everton’s effervescence in attack. It’s a footballing cliché, of course, but the home side appeared to want the victory more.
Such is the fragile nature of United’s confidence this season that Patrice Evra pointed to the lack of belief once the home side had equalised.
“I don’t want to give the excuse that we are tired after the amazing night in the San Siro,” said Evra, who has captained the side this season.
“Yes, we are tired. I am tired. But mentally we lost the game.
“Everyone was talking about how tired they were and how their legs were tired. We were not focused about the game.
“That is why I don’t want to use Milan as an excuse. We didn’t have the spirit of winners and that is why we lost.
“We didn’t believe enough. We just needed a little bit more belief and we could have got a better result.”
Ferguson will need all his man-management skills to pick the side up for Tuesday night’s match against West Ham United at Old Trafford.
Manchester United will hit the Premier League summit – at least for a few hours – should Sir Alex Ferguson’s side beat Everton at Goodison Park Saturday lunchtime. With Chelsea due to play Wolverhampton Wanderers later in the day, United will reach top spot for the first time this year with victory over David Moyes side in what Ferguson dubs a “massive” game.
Fresh from the confidence boosting victory in Milan on Tuesday, Ferguson’s men travel to Liverpool with an excellent recent record against the city’s blue half. But with Everton gaining a Louis Saha inspired win over Chelsea last weekend, there is no reason to expect anything other than a thorough test.
“We have a good record there (at Goodison),” said Ferguson.
“Maybe the atmosphere does help us because it is a real football stadium. Goodison Park is an old ground but it has got the football tradition still attached to it.
“The crowd are always very noisy and they will make that noise felt tomorrow. But we have experienced that many times before.
“It is a massive game for us, we recognise that. Beating Chelsea shows Everton’s potential, so if we could get one, a positive result would be very important.”
With that aim in mind, United welcome back Nemanja Vidic to the matchday squad. It’s a timely return with Rio Ferdinand suspended for the short trip to Merseyside. The Serbian, who pulled out of United’s trip to Milan this week, is fit to play according to manager Ferguson.
Winger Nani is also suspended after the Portuguese winger’s red card at Aston Villa last week, although Antonio Valencia’s bright performance in Milan has earned the Ecuadorian a start this weekend.
The manager is also likely to freshen the side up in midfield, with Anderson’s reportedly excellent in the reserves 2-0 victory over Everton in midweek suggesting a recall is possible for the out-of-favour Brazilian.
However, all eyes will remain on former-Evertonian Wayne Rooney, whose 24th and 25th strikes of an outstanding season inspired United to Champions League victory in Italy.
“Over the last month or so his game has just taken off,” Ferguson added.
“Confidence has something to do with it of course but he has been in absolutely incredible form over the last few weeks.
“Before, we said that his goalscoring tended to come in bursts. Now he is far more consistent and goalscoring is the area you always want to be judged as a striker.
“It is the area of biggest improvement and with him doing that you have to put him in the same bracket as all the best players. The evidence is there.”
The striker will receive a warm reception from the Everton fans who once idolised the local-born player. Six years as a United play has done little to diminish the hate felt on Merseyside for Rooney. It likely to do little more than motivate Europe’s leading goalscorer, according to Ferguson
“He always gets a rough ride there although he is probably used to that now,’ added the Scot.
“There is a special motivation for Wayne to do well against Everton but we couldn’t have him in better form really and it doesn’t matter where we are going.
“He has been the main player. Without a doubt he has been the star for the last few weeks. He is in such good form we are going there in great confidence.”
And with the Premier League title in sight the timing couldn’t be better.
Manchester United returned to Premier League action after the international break and moved to second place in the table with a convincing win over Everton. United, dominant for long periods, opened the scoring through Darren Fletcher’s outstanding volley and never looked back as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men kept Chelsea’s lead to five points.
Fletcher beat Tim Howard with a swerving shot that flew into the top corner. A candidate for goal of the season from the Scotland Captain. The goal came after some excellent full-back play by Patrice Evra, who’s cross found Antonio Valencia in the box for the Ecuadorian to knock down for Fletcher just outside the penalty area.
United’s midfield general, criticised for his performance in the 3-0 thrashing of Scotland by Wales last weekend, showed excellent composure to score with a volley that even Mark Hughes would have been proud of.
Louis Saha, on his first return to Old Trafford since his move to Everton, then tested van der Sar with a shot on the swivel with the Dutchman equal to the strike. United’s former striker seems to have put his fitness issues behind him with his fifteenth appearance of the season.
Everton introduced Yakubu Aiyegbeni for Dan Gosling at the interval and the Toffees’ best chance of the match fell to the Nigerian. The striker outmuscled Wes Brown before beating van der Sar with a low shot that went inches wide. The substitute then played Tim Cahill behind United’s back four, with an alert van der Sar quick off his line in producing a smothering save.
But United continued to dominate. Wayne Rooney’s shot, picked up by Ryan Giggs at the corner flag, eventually found Michael Carrick on the edge of the box who slotted home to double the home side’s advantage.
United wrapped up the victory when Paul Scholes set up Valencia, who’s shot deflected off Leighton Baines to leave the Red Devils five points adrift of Chelsea.
United will take heart from the performance, even if Everton was as poor as United good. But there is a concern with Michael Owen, who started the match but failed to make an impact. The former-Liverpool striker created a couple of good chances but does not look as if he is enjoying his football at the moment. The striker’s lack of goals looks as if it’s starting to take a mental toll.
United, who will look to continue this form throughout December, will be in a good position to mount a serious title challenge when Chelsea loses the heart of its team to the Africa Cup of Nations in January, according to Ferguson.
“We have to look at all the games as must-win now,” the manager said.
“We need to get on a run and be somewhere near the top of the league by New Year’s Day. Then, in the second half of the season we can have a real go and give ourselves a chance.”
The United manager was also effusive in his praise of Fletcher, who’s outstanding strike started proceedings for the home side.
“Darren is an improving player.
“Each year we have seen his performance level go up and up and it is still doing so.
“But I have to admit I did not expect that goal [against Everton]. It was really well taken.”
Mancheser United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson finds his troops, returning from a two week international break, in less than fine shape. The Scot’s heart must sink in each of these windows. Definitely out of today’s match with Everton are Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Danny Wellbeck and Fabio da Silva. Add to the list John O’Shea, Jonny Evans and Michael Carrick.
Yet, Ferguson must rally his troops, and not just O’Shea and Darron Gibson from the Irish camp that so controversially lost the World Cup playoff midweek. With recent defeats to Liverpool and Chelsea fresh in the mind, United’s manager faces a somewhat clichéd ‘must win’ match against Liverpool’s second team. Indeed, United faces the prospect of starting the match eight points behind Chelsea. It’s a two-horse race that threatens a runaway leader unless the home side takes three points today.
“Hopefully we can get a back four together that can get us through this difficult game against Everton,” said Ferguson.
“Evans is a doubt. He came off at half-time for Northern Ireland. O’Shea also came off for Ireland against France. O’Shea’s got a thigh problem and I don’t think he’ll make the Everton game. We’re fighting hard to get Evans fit.
“Fortunately he came off at half-time, which has given us seven days to get him fit, but he’s not trained yet so we’re not sure if he’ll be fit.
The Scot is able to call both central defender Nemanja Vidic, who has not played for three weeks, and winger Ji-Sung Park. Each played in Serbia’s 1-0 victory over South Korea in Belgrade last weekend. Park’s return, coming as it does amid Nani’s dismal performances in recent matches, is a boon to the manager who highly rates last season’s Champions League final starter.
“On the plus side, Vidic played 70 minutes for Serbia against South Korea, so he should be available to play against Everton,” confirmed Ferguson on Friday.
“But Gary Neville is still suspended, Ferdinand is still injured, and Fabio Da Silva suffered a groin injury in training, so we’ve got a wee bit of patching-up to do in defence.
“Rio’s problem is back-related. It started off as a calf injury, which can quite often be back-related.
“We’re not putting a timescale on it, but we’re not talking months. Rio will probably be back in training in two or three weeks’ time.”
Returning to Old Trafford will be Louis Saha, the French striker who’s time at United as so blighted by injuries following a £12 million move from Fulham in 2004. But the forward, who scored 26 goals in 86 Premier League games for United, is in a rich vein of form for the Merseyside club and will relish the chance to put one over his former teammates.
Ferguson will also be offered the opportunity to run-the-rule over Jack Rodwell, the multi-talented midfielder, linked with a £20 million move to Old Trafford in recent weeks. The midfielder, who Rant predicted would be nominated PFA Young Player of the year this season, will line up for Everton if he overcomes a minor groin injury.
David Moyes on the opposite bench, so often linked with the manager’s post at Old Trafford when Ferguson retires, encouters United’ for the first time since last season’s controversial FA Cup Semi final. The younger Scot accused referee Mike Riley of being a United fan – a charge of bias that the FA did not punish Moyes for – and then saw his team win after the aforementioned official missed an obvious United penalty.
United, likely to revert to a traditional two-man attack, with England Captain Wayne Rooney partnering Bulgarian all-time top goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov. The pair, each in fine individual form, will need to find the net more often than in recent matches if United is to turn around a significant Premier League points difference.