Everton kept their Champions League hopes alive and inflicted another day to forget on their former manager David Moyes with a 2-0 victory over Manchester United at Goodison Park.
Moyes was greeted with a significant amount of boos on his first time back at a club he managed for 11 years. And his afternoon only got worse from there. A penalty from Leighton Baines and fine finish from Kevin Mirallas allows Everton to keep the pressure on Arsenal after their win earlier in that day.
Meanwhile, almost a year to day that they sealed their 20th championship, the result also mathematically ends Manchester United’s chances of making the top four, despite four matches still to play. It is a fact that hammers home how steep and rapid the decline has been for England’s most successful club under Moyes. Far from improving in the second half of the season as many hoped, the Sunday’s defeat was incredibly United’s 10th in their 22 competitive matches in 2014.
While United had plenty of possession, the attacking threat rested almost entirely with Everton. Roberto Martinez showed not only that he is more proactive than his predecessor but again demonstrated his willingness and ability to vary the approach of his side. As against Arsenal, Everton were happy concede the ball and use plenty of direct, quick-paced counter attacks.
That formula brought the first goal when Romelu Lukaku’s shot was blatantly blocked by the outstretched arm of Phil Jones and Baines converted from the penalty spot. By half-time it was 2-0 when a break along the floor this time resulted in Kevin driving the ball into the net as United players watched on listlessly.
After some brief respite following a dignity preserving defeat to Bayern Munich and two emphatic league wins over Aston Villa and Newcastle United, this was a sharp return to the reality of United’s plight. Everton became the latest side to end a long unwanted streak against United, with this victory giving them their first league double over United in 44 years. For Moyes’s former club it was a much needed morale-boosting win to get back on track following their surprise defeat to Crystal Palace in midweek.
Crucially returning to the Everton side after starting that loss on the bench was James McCarthy. The former Wigan man and Gareth Barry again provided a real foundation in the center of the pitch. It was that area where United were looking to concentrate on through the combination play of Shinji Kagawa, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney. While there was some encouraging interplay from the trio early on, the team was unconvincing in their commitment to and understanding of an approach that contrasted from what has been employed for much of the season. Everton were able to keep their opponents at bay and prevent them from having a single shot on goal in the opening half despite having two-thirds of the possession.
In contrast, Everton went forward with real purpose and intent, looking a threat almost every time they did so. Ross Barkley and Steven Naismith wasted chances early on when blasting over following United’s inability to deal with aerial balls into the box. But just before the half-hour mark, Everton got the goal their play warranted.
Martinez’s side went the aerial route with a long ball toward to Lukaku and from there it was all too easy for the Belgian to get a shot on goal. Just prior to the effort coming in Jones slipped to the ground before he completed a hapless piece of defending by stretching out his arm to block the Lukaku’s effort. Having already turned down two handball appeals by Everton, Mark Clattenburg had an easy decision to point to the spot on this occasion. Baines, pursued so strongly by his former manager last summer, put his penalty down the middle as David de Gea dived aside.
And two minutes before half-time Everton gave themselves the comfort of a two-goal advantage. Baines won the ball back inside his own half before fellow full-back Seamus Coleman took over. Coleman, superb throughout in getting forward, was allowed the freedom to drift toward the box before slipping a pass through United’s static defense for an onside Mirallas, who finished superbly across De Gea.
The lack of pressure on the ball United displayed contrasted sharply with their opponents. While Rooney wasted an opportunity at the start of the second half, Everton’s pressing and work rate left United looking utterly devoid of ideas when on the ball. The loss of Sylvain Distin to a hamstring injury at half time, to be replaced by Antolin Alcaraz, might have been expected to give United a chance at a comeback. Instead, other than a brief rally at the start of the half, Everton were completely comfortable.
They could have even extended their lead, with Naismith going close on two occasions. Everton should have been a man to the good, with Rooney extremely fortunate not to be sent off for a reckless, high challenge on McCarthy. To the delight of the Everton fans, Rooney’s poor day was completed when, with United’s only clear chance of the match, he saw his shot brilliantly turned over by Tim Howard with three minutes remaining.