Three points were required at Everton after last week’s dismal derby defeat and the champions ground out a 1-0 victory to muster the right response.
Admittedly, the Reds weren’t at their most fluent – and Tom Cleverley’s injury after a bright return to Barclays Premier League action was a real setback – but Javier Hernandez’s 19th-minute goal proved decisive. Any suggestion that the Merseysiders would tire after being taken into extra-time by Chelsea in a midweek cup tie proved ill-founded as United had to batten down the hatches for much of the second half.
Sir Alex made five changes to the team that lost to City last Sunday with Wayne Rooney starting in a withdrawn role alongside Cleverley and Darren Fletcher, and Jonny Evans returning from the suspension he served at Aldershot.
In a breathless opening, Seamus Coleman cut inside Patrice Evra to shoot at David De Gea within the first 18 seconds and Tim Howard pulled off a good stop at the other end when Ji-sung Park tried to convert a Danny Welbeck cross inside two minutes.
United took a firm grip on proceedings and some sustained pressure led to a well-worked opener. Cleverley and Welbeck helped the ball wide to Evra and the full-back’s dangerous low cross was tapped home by Hernandez with his left foot. Although Welbeck nearly latched onto a risky headed backpass by Phil Jagielka, the champions were unable to carve out too many openings and Everton came back into the match.
De Gea saved from Leon Osman after Marouane Fellaini beat Evans in the air and Jack Rodwell fired wide when afforded far too much space after Evra conceded possession cheaply. The hosts were unlucky not to draw level with 40 minutes gone as Fletcher’s foul allowed Leighton Baines to curl a free-kick over the wall and past the stationary De Gea but against the bar.
Although Hernandez had a weak attempt at Howard following a slick build-up, there was no doubt Everton ended the half on the front feet as Louis Saha twice worked De Gea.
After introducing young Ross Barkley at the break, David Moyes’ side continued to press but De Gea blocked a Rodwell drive after Evans gifted the ball to Coleman on the right. The champions were dealt a blow when the lively Cleverley was forced off injured and continued to make heavy weather of a tough assignement.
Welbeck finally brought Howard into action when the American pushed over the striker’s shot from Hernandez’s intelligent pass with the team’s only real goal attempt of the second period. But, after making all three subsitutions, United struggled to find any rhythm and Everton built up another head of steam. Saha dragged wastefully wide when Coleman was better placed and was then blocked during a real goalmouth scramble.
Despite their weary legs, the hosts ensured it was a nervous finale for everybody of a Red persuasion. Coleman managed a couple of efforts through to De Gea but the Spain Under-21 keeper was rarely over-extended, in truth.
Six minutes of injury time were agonising for the away fans and Evra escaped when Magaye Guaye went down under his challenge inside the box with Mark Halsey making the right call and waving away the desperate penalty appeals. It wasn’t pretty but it’s three away wins in the league already this term after only five were secured during the title-winning campaign last term.
Glory Glory ManUnited!