In some respects, the fixture compilers had been a little unkind to Alex Ferguson. A trip to Goodison Park seldom feels like a guaranteed three points, and this year’s Everton vintage is one that looks upwardly mobile rather than one beset by the shadow of stagnation for the first time in several years, after all. Yet if last night’s single goal defeat demonstrated anything, it was that there was perhaps a grain of truth to be acknowledged from those that have argued over the summer months that the club might have been better served by bringing in a new midfield player as opposed to another striker. Still, as is commonly heard in the red portion of Manchester, in Fergie they trust.
None of this, however, should detract from a fine Everton performance last night. The possession statistics indicated that Manchester United dominated ownership of the ball, but the visitors seemed to hit a brick wall once they got to within forty yards of goal, and it is a tribute to Evertons obstinacy that this match seldom took on the siege-like feel that so many Manchester United defeats do. Indeed, much as they improved as the match wore on, it still felt as though there would be no way through a well organised defence, and an equalising goal in the closing stages – which probably should have come after a game of six yard pinball which ended in the ball being thrashed to safety – would have been a more than a little unfair on David Moyes and his team.
Their stand-out performer was, of course, Marouane Fellaini, whose second half goal ended up deciding the match. Critical though this goal was, Fellainis overall performance on the night has also been met with rapturous praise since the full-time whistle blew last night. He was a constant irritation, full of energy and vision, and put in the sort of performance which will, with more than a week left in the summer transfer window, be casting envious glances from elsewhere. Similarly accomplished was the performance of Tony Hibbert, another star whose profile is on the rise, but while the easy option is to single put a small number individuals for their efforts, that Everton walked away from the match with all three points was a testament to a complete team performance which demonstrated that David Moyes is clearly and cogently steering his team in the right direction. Whither Jack Rodwell, for example? It’s doubtful that too many Everton supporters cared at full-time last night.
There were, of course, crumbs of comfort for Manchester United supporters last night as well. Shinji Kagawas Premier League debut went about as well as could have been expected considering the outcome of the match, and David De Gea looked considerably more solid in goal than he did this time last year. Supporters might also want to consider that one of their trickier away fixtures of the season is now out of the way and that over the preceding couple of days few of the clubs against whom they will be challenging for the league title come next spring put in particularly impressive showings themselves. Still, though, this was not a particularly auspicious early demonstration of whether their team can wrest dominance of the Premier League back from Manchester City.
It is in this last point, perhaps, that we get as close as we can to the truth about the coming season before August has ended. The cliché about marathons and sprints with regard to league football is as old as the hills and Manchester United did tire enough at the end of last season to allow themselves to be passed on the finishing line by Manchester City. There is, however, no other manager in English football with the breadth of experience in this division as Alex Ferguson and anybody heard mentioning that dismal buzzword ‘crisis’ after one match of the league season should be treated with the suspicion that such comments deserve.
In the rush to cause a kerfuffle over last night’s losers, however, last night’s winners are within their rights to feel a little aggrieved. Everton won this match as equals rather than defending desperately for ninety minutes and scoring a knock-out sucker punch. It is a tribute to David Moyes that, in spite of financial constraints that would make many Premier League managers weep into their pillows, his team fashioned a performance yesterday evening that defied those whose pre-season assessments of his team have tended towards further stagnation and brought an arguably overdue smile back to Goodison Park. If Bill Kenwright can keep his nerve and allow Moyes to keep this team together, Everton could defy many expectations this season. There’s a long way to go this season, but the prospects of blue skies over Goodison Park seem as strong as they have done for some years.
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