Radamel Falcao struck his first Manchester United goal to secure his side a 2-1 victory over Everton at Old Trafford. Making his fourth appearance since arriving on a deadline-day loan from Monaco, the Colombian provided a glowing account of his predatory instincts to turn in Angle di Maria’s wayward shot with just under 30 minutes remaining. Just seven minutes earlier Di Maria’s fine first-half effort had been cancelled out by Steven Naismith’s header as Everton overcame seeing Leighton Baines lose his perfect Premier League record from the penalty spot when David de Gea pulled off a save.
Both the concession of the penalty in first-half injury time and plenty of nervy moments in the second half demonstrated that United remain a work in progress. And as well as repelling Baines’ effort from the spot, De Gea came to his side’s rescue with a spectacular series of saves as United grew increasingly anxious late on. Yet, having to cope without eight players due to injury as well as suspended captain Wayne Rooney, Louis van Gaal will be delighted to secure back-to-back wins for the first time in what has been a difficult start to his reign.
On paper, Everton presented his toughest assignment to date. But while they were much improved in the second half, they were undone by a slow start. Perhaps that wasn’t’ surprising given that Roberto Martinez’s side were experiencing the quick turnaround after a midweek away day in Europe for the first time following their match in Russia on Thursday. Record signing Romelu Lukaku, despite playing just 45 minutes against Kuban Krasnodar, was a particular disappointment and teenage defender Paddy McNair had the better of the Belgian throughout as the United defender continued to cope admirably with his rapid introduction to the Premier League.
The first-half, though, was almost entirely one-way traffic in Manchester United’s favor. As he has been ever since making his £60 million move from Real Madrid, Di Maria was at the heart of all his new team’s best work going forward. In the first 20 minutes alone, Robin van Persie, Juan Mata and Falcao all failed to take advantage of fine work from the ever-active Argentinean. There was no surprise then that it was he who broke the deadlock with his third goal in just four appearances.
Key to the goal was the space that Everton, who were content to drop back in the early going, allowed first Daley Blind in midfield and then Rafael advancing down the right flank. From Blind’s pass, Rafael crossed into the danger zone and when the ball fell to Mata he showed good awareness to lay it off to Di Maria, who curled expertly into the net with his weaker right foot.
One of the very few times McNair was exposed by Lukaku arrived shortly after, but the Everton striker fired over the crossbar. It was another teenage defender in red that cost United their lead in first-half injury time. Having allowed Tony Hibbert to run past him, Luke Shaw attempted to atone for his error with a desperate lunge from behind that left a simple decision for the referee to point to the spot. But having gone 14 for 14 in his Premier League career, the man linked strongly with a move to Manchester United last summer, saw Old Trafford become the site of his first failure with De Gea saving low to his right.
It didn’t take long for the England full-back to put things right and get Everton level. After a short free-kick, Baines delivered a typically supreme cross from the left that saw Naismith get in between Rafael and Shaw at the back post and head home a free header from six yards. Now playing with much more purpose, Everton soon came close to going in front. It took Falcao’s intervention on the line to keep out a header from Phil Jagielka.
Up to that point, Falcao’s touch in front of goal at the attacking end had been less convincing, including skewing a shot wide early in the second half. But the man on loan from Monaco showed his instincts for finding the target hadn’t deserted him in the 62nd minute. Di Maria’s dragged shot from 20 yards was heading well wide, but Falcao excelled in not just anticipating the errant shot but keeping himself just onside to allow him to divert the ball over the committed Tim Howard.
It was a lead that became increasingly precarious as the match neared its conclusion. Leon Osman’s introduction gave Everton an extra spark and the midfielder forced De Gea into two fine saves, first holding a shot that traveled through Marcos Rojo’s legs and then a spectacular diving stop to deny a powerful drive. The best was yet to come deep in injury time when, after Gareth Barry’s effort was well blocked by Tyler Blackett, the Spaniard somehow got a hand to Bryan Oviedo’s top-corner bound effort. Not only were Everton denied a repeat of their late equalizer against Liverpool last week, but in the dying minutes they lost defender John Stones to an ankle injury.