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|Venue: Old Trafford, Manchester||Premiership||Sunday 11 December 2005; 4:05pm|
|Giggs (15')||Half Time: 1-1
|Attendance: 67,831||Fixture 15||Referee: Rob Styles|
Not many players left for David Moyes to choose from as his Everton team are decimated by suspensions and injuries. Wright in goal; Valente returns at left-back; Davies, Osman, Neville and Kilbane in midfield; unchanged upfront: Beattie & McFadden.
A rip-roaring start to the game saw chances at both ends due to defensive mistakes, Scholes firing in a poor clearance, Beattie failing to punish Van der Sar for a dreadful clearance.
But it was a crisp move and a great run from Kilbane that opened the game up and sent another shudder throughout the Theatre of Football Nightmares. He ran from the flank, straight at the United defence, lost it but Osman was perfectly placed to slip the ball wide left to McFadden, whom everyone expected to cross. But, from the narrowest of angles, Jamie McFadden fired a superb shot into the tiny space between Van der Sar and his near post. Brilliant!
A great chance fell to Rooney, but he fired it wide with only Wright to beat. But on 15 mins, a super ball from Scholes came right over the Everton defence for Giggs to sidefoot past Wright with consummate ease: 1-1.
After showing such presence and promise in the first 10 mins, Everton lapsed back into their old ways after conceding, showing all the exasperating traits we love to hate: long balls played out from the back to lose possession; defensive back-passes that the keeper punts up-field to lose possession; poor passing resulting in lost possession; dropping back to a deep 4-5-1, conceding far too much possession. Get the picture?
The main reason Everton survived this period was sown to some excellent goalkeeping by Richard Wright (yes, you did read that... Wright!). And he carried on with the heroics into the second half.
Osman was strangely booked for a clumsy trip that blocked Giggs as the half-time break approached.
Everton came out for the second half, weathered a bit of a storm from United, and then settled into a defensive stone-wall (with a few lose bricks!) to thwart the home side's characteristic onslaught. United ended up with at least 20 goal attempts to Everton's seven — half of theirs marked down to Wayne Rooney, who was well shacked by a superb performance from Yobo.
One of Everton's goal attempts should have sealed the win for the Blues, Davies and McFadden breaking with unrecognizable speed after United corner, Davies laying on a lovely pass fro McFadden to finish off and become a hero finally for Evertonians, but with too many choices, McFadden lifted his shot to the perfect saving height for the advancing Van der Sar to parry away. A golden opportunity squandered.
With most players performing their designated tasks well, David Moyes left it late to replace first McFadden with Bent and then Beattie with Ferguson, to no real effect. Bent should have done far better with another breakaway down the right, and it seems the script was then written for a late United winner when Neville blocked Saha too strongly on the edge of the area. However, Richard Wright pulled out anther text-book save from Giggs's well-placed free-kick, and that was pretty much it.
So Everton came away with a highly creditable draw in the end, and a great big plaudit to Richard Wright, who was flawless in goal. And yet, having defended so manfully and resolutely, why oh why did they spurn their numerous opportunities to nail United? McFadden's wasted shot, Beattie's lame 40-yard punt, Kilbane's poor attempt to finish, Bent passing straight to the only defender between him and the goal, rather than going for goal himself, or setting up Duncan?
On something of a roll with four Premiership wins in five — the one defeat being an ignominious away defeat where they shipped four goals — to alleviate the pain of a poor start to the season and an early exit from Europe. What better than a tricky league game against your northwest rivals from down the M62?
Oddly enough, that opening paragraph applies to both Manchester United and Everton. Except, of course, that Sir Alex Ferguson's side are currently second in the Premiership and David Moyes's team are in a significantly less impressive 16th.
The Blues may be enjoying a crucially important run of form at the moment but they couldn't be in worse shape as far as midfield absentees go. Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta are suspended, and Andy van der Meyde — who, alongside James Beattie, must be on course for some sort of record for a professional athlete to achieve anything approaching full fitness — pulled a thigh muscle in training and will be out of action for a month. Just when he was getting into the swing of life in the Premiership and the midfield had some continuity about it...
So, with the creative heart of the side ripped out, this is going to be an uphill battle in every respect. Last year, the Blues went to Old Trafford with the ceiling threatening to fall in on them and came away with a magnificent 0-0 draw. It took a resilient defensive stand that day and the same will be needed on Sunday against a United team that is in a rich vein of league form but smarting from their surprise exit from the Champions League in midweek.
With Phil Neville almost certain to be moved into midfield, Nuno Valente will return at left back after returning to full fitness. James McFadden has earned the right to make his third successive start wide left, Leon Osman is a likely candidate at right midfield, with Simon Davies partnering Neville in the centre.
Given the success of the switch for 4-5-1 at Blackburn last week, Moyes could opt for someone like Kilbane ahead of playing Ferguson up front with Beattie. The Big Scot hasn't started for four games but he is also the type of player to thrive on a big occasion such as this. He did, of course, score the only goal in Everton's first win over United for a decade back in April.
Finally, and as if things weren't bad enough, in goal Nigel Martyn (groin strain) will not be fit in time so Moyes must take a chance on the unreliable Richard Wright or the untried Iain Turner who was recalled from loan.
United, meanwhile, are without Ruud van Nistelrooy who is also suspended. Louis Saha, a rumoured Everton target over the summer, will be his replacement.
With so many players unavailable, our horrendous record at Old Trafford (no wins since the inaugural Premiership season in 1992-93), United's form, and their potential reaction to their European disappointment mean that few people are giving Everton a prayer this weekend.
The betting is priced accordingly (16/1 against the Blues winning 1-0 at BlueSq) and it would be a monumental result if Moyes's boys could pull off a shock and complete United's miserable week. But a draw would be a big enough return from our least-favourite ground.
Everton's defensive resilience came to the fore once more as they frustrated a wounded Manchester United side on their own turf and came away with a deserved point. And while the Blues certainly rode their luck at times by ceding far too much possession and relying on terrific performances by Richard Wright and Joseph Yobo at the back, they could have easily stolen all three points had James McFadden had as much composure in the 65th minute has he did in the seventh when he put Everton into a surprise lead.
David Moyes was robbed of the heart of his side with the suspensions of Mikel Arteta and Tim Cahill and injuries to Andy van der Meyde and Nigel Martyn, and was forced into a number of changes. Wright was handed an opportunity at redemption by being selected ahead of the untried Iain Turner, while Nuno Valente's return to fitness and the left-back spot allowed Phil Neville to move into his preferred position in central midfield. Simon Davies, Kevin Kilbane, Leon Osman and McFadden made up the rest of the midfield, with James Beattie deployed as the lone striker, but with plenty of support from willing runners.
The match started at a frenetic pace and United, with plenty of their own to prove following their premature midweek exit from Europe, nearly made a breakthrough in the early stages but Paul Scholes couldn't capitalise before a goalmouth scramble ended with Wright making an important block.
At the other end, Everton had a great chance to shock their hosts in the third minute when Edwin van der Sar's poor clearance was deflected by Osman into the path of Beattie but his shot, destined for the empty net, was blocked by a defender. Just five minutes later, though, they did go ahead thanks to McFadden's second goal in as many games.
Kilbane's surging run carried him into the "D" where the ball broke for Osman and when he laid on a perfect ball into space for McFadden, the Scot took one touch before rifling a shot past the goalkeeper from an extremely narrow angle. It was a terrific start for Moyes's side and no more than they deserved for an enterprising opening during which they exhibited no fear on what is arguably their least-favourite ground.
You got the feeling, however, that the Blues had scored too soon, and so it proved as the home side began to assert their technical superiority. The busy Wayne Rooney burst inside from the left and fired goalwards but his shot was deflected wide. Then, the former Everton striker was found brilliantly by Scholes but as he turned and shot with just Wright to beat he screwed his shot a yard wide.
It was a major let-off for Everton and a warning that went unheeded. A minute later, Scholes flighted a wonderful ball over the top and, having timed his run to perfection to beat the offside trap, Ryan Giggs ran through to knock a first-time shot wide of Wright to level the scores.
Sensing blood, United began to turn the screw and Everton retreated into a familiar pattern of deep defending and poor distribution. Giggs found himself in space on the left side of the area but as he went for the top corner, his shot was, thankfully, deflected wide by Yobo for a corner that wasn't given by erratic referee Rob Styles. Then, Gary Neville's powerful shot was parried wide by Wright and the Blues' keeper had to be alert to Rooney's looping 16-yard header that dropped underneath the bar.
Everton's forays forward were rare at this stage, with United enjoying three-quarters of the possession, but McFadden tested Van der Sar when he cut inside and shot from 25 yards but the Dutch 'keeper smothered his effort. Meanwhile, Rooney seemed determined to sink his old club with two more efforts before the break; first he rose high above Tony Hibbert but headed well over, and then he was picked out by Giggs's ball into the box but, after getting in front of his marker, he couldn't guide his header past Wright.
With Everton living dangerously, the half-time whistle offered a welcome respite for Moyes's men, but the second half brought no let up in United's forward momentum. Wright had to be at his best when he got down low to turn Giggs's right-foot shot around the post and again two minutes later when his double block denied the home side a second goal. For all their territorial supremacy, though, United were finding Everton's rearguard tough to penetrate.
And, pleasingly, the Blues were a constant threat on the break against an uncharacteristically jittery United defence. Their big chance to really cause an upset came in the 65th minute, though, when Davies and McFadden burst clear against one defender but when the former released the latter, McFadden steered his shot too close to Van der Sar and the Dutchman did enough to parry the effort and gather the rebound. A gilt-edged chance went begging.
Wright then acrobatically got a palm to Rooney's deflected shot and the ball was hooked clear by Valente before Silvestre almost headed into his own net when he misjudged the location of his goalkeeper but the ball didn't have enough pace to bounce into the goal and Van der Sar scrambled back to claim it and spare his teammate's blushes.
Sensing their fans' frustration, United switched Park for Ronaldo, Smith for Fletcher and, finally Rossi for Richardson as they chased the elusive winner but could only muster two off-target headers as Everton dug in at the back and continued to probe the gaps on the break. Marcus Bent, an 80th-minute substitute for McFadden, had a great chance to put Duncan Ferguson, himself a sub for Beattie, in the clear but he gifted the ball straight to Silvestre.
United's last chance came via the generosity of the referee who gave them a needless free kick on the edge of the box after Louis Saha stumbled under a challenge by Phil Neville. Giggs stepped up and bent an effort towards the top corner but Wright flew across his goal and parried the shot for an unproductive corner. Four minutes of stoppage time ensued but by this time the reds were out of ideas and the final whistle was greeted with relief and joy by the traveling Blues.
In the context of so many key absentees and the fear of a United backlash, this is a tremendous result for an Everton side that looked much more like the Blues of last season. It's true that they rode their luck at times and they gave the ball away with shocking regularity but, with better finishing, they could well have marched off with all three points. A nice confidence-booster to take into back-to-back home games against West Ham and Bolton.
Wright 8 — This was "Dickie's" time to shine and he grabbed the opportunity with both gloves. It's hard to fault him for United's goal and he did everything that was asked of him to keep United at bay with a series of good saves. Shades the Man-of-the-Match accolade
Bent 6 — The Blues were on the back foot for the 13 minutes for which he was on the field but he blew his big chance to make an impact with a poor pass late on.
Having been to Old Trafford previously and realising the distinct impossibility of getting into any pubs in and around the ground, we decided it would be a better idea to go for a few pints in The Met (next door to the tram stop) in Sale before the game, given it was just a few tram stops from Old Trafford. It was all going too well as we had a few pints with no hassle. Just as we were thinking of leaving, as always, Gary wanted one more. “Well if he’s having one I’m having one” I thought….
It was about 15:30 when we headed for the tram, we got to the platform, the tram turned up and it was simply too packed. There was no getting on at all. We then panicked. There wasn’t another one for another 10 minutes and if this was packed the next one was bound to be packed also. We quickly aborted Plan A and diverted to Plan B – get a taxi!
We were getting a bit twitchy waiting at the cab rank as the minutes ticked by. One eventually came at about 15:55pm making the chance of getting there for kick off slim to none. “Old Trafford as quick as poss” was the cry. At that the driver put his foot down quick and went hell for leather. It was just as well. “Is Arteta playing?” the driver pipped up. “No he’s suspended” said Ste, “you’ll beat us”. “Give it a rest mate, I’m an Everton fan” said the cabbie. A cockney Everton fan in Manchester driving us to the game in a taxi. What are the odds?
We got there a little after kick off. We all had to get searched before entry and then had to find our stairwell. Gaz picked the right one. I thought it was the wrong one. I told him and he charged back down the stairs, turned, slipped on a load of spilt larger and KO’d me in the process. It must have been hysterical for whoever witnessed it. We charged up the stairs and found our seats quick. We were there and had only missed 4 minutes. Phew!
A few minutes later we had the lead. I couldn’t really make out what was happening but somehow the ball broke quite quickly to McFadden in loads of space. I thought he must have been offside for a second, but the flag stayed down. “Go on” everybody urged. The next thing the net bulged and we all went completely nuts. In the lead at Old Trafford!
This led to a lot of chanting and singing from the Everton faithful – most of it taunts at Man Utd’s typically silent supporters and the rest at Rooney. A selection of the chants:
I was actually that busy watching the Man Utd fans that I missed them score. I looked up and Giggs smashed it in. Gutted. Rooney couldn’t resist rubbing are faces in it. Coming up to us and throwing a fist at us. Was to be expected I guess. Man Utd had been threatening up till then so it had been coming. It’s fair to say I feared the worst. It’s even fairer to say I don’t think I was the only one.
They had their chances to do so as well. I think Sun Ji Park hit a shot which Wright blocked well down to his left. Not long after that Rooney really should have scored when he wriggled free and had a chance to shoot but scuffed it wide. He should have scored. He also had a header well held on his line by Wright. I was astonished by Wright’s performance. Somehow he’s confident all of a sudden. Personified in one instance when he got down and smothered the ball well with Saha bearing down on him.
Everton were digging in well and trying to attack when they could. The midfield was working hard and the defence was stout as we switched to 4-5-1. McFadden wriggled and shot from 20 yards – it was comfortably saved by Van der Sar. I just wanted half time – I got it! We pointlessly went down to the concourse at half time to get crushed to death. Kudos to Gaz though who persevered and got us all a pie each.
No changes for the second half and no change in the pattern of play either. We got stuck in and tried to play – they looked for Rooney. If they didn’t get it too him – they didn’t do anything. They really are that blatantly a one-man team for me.
If truth be told we could have won it when Everton broke from a Man Utd corner. Good running by Osman for a long distance, and then a great ball through to McFadden. All he had to do was pick a corner and keep it low. Instead he aimed high and it was saved quite comfortably by Van der Sar. Gutted! You’ve gotta take them chances at Old Trafford.
I felt that Everton were just a bit too hesitant in the final third. A bit more composure on the ball and we’d have won that one, we really woulda. Man Utd started to change it. Desperation or panic? You decide. Ronaldo replaced Sun Ji Park. “She said no” was the chant! Fletcher replaced Alan Smith. A sign of the times indeed for Man Utd when they have to replace one average player for another one. Meanwhile Rooney skinned Weir near half way – Weir barged into him and took the booking. A good call. Yobo had Saha in his back pocket.
I dare say they were probably more concerned about our changes seeing Dunc and Bent come on for McFadden and Beattie – both of whom were outstanding and left to a standing ovation from the Everton contingent. McFadden nearly scored again before that when he drove a shot just wide of the post from about 20 yards – Van der Sar had it covered.
The last 10 minutes were hard work but we survived it well. Late on we had a contested drop-ball on half way, although I’m not sure what for. Another falling swan impression by Ronaldo bought Man Utd a free kick which Giggs curled over the wall. We all held are breath; Wright flung himself across with a great save.
Late in the game Rooney was all the way back on half way as the last man trying to get things going for Man Utd. Again – a one-man team. All they could do was launch it forward at the end. Strange (I thought) considering they hardly won a header all game, and certainly not the patient build up Man Utd were known for.
As it turned out a better ball from Bent would have put Ferguson clear. Rossi came on for Richardson – one final act of desperation.
The ref gave 4 minutes of stoppage time which was played out well by the blues. At full time we were delighted. The players lapped it up. Rooney trudged off.
That’s what you’ve given up lad. Face it, we should have won this one.