Manchester United 1 - 1 Everton
Some close family friends are Manchester United season ticket holders and I got a lift up from them, Rob and his mother-in-law Cath picking me up from work. We were aware of the likely M56 crawl before we set off and our expectations were certainly met as we slowly made our way towards Old Trafford, Rob parking up about a 20 minute walk from the ground, just away from all the heavy after-match traffic.
Before kick off we just about had time for a quick pint. "We'll go the Town Hall" said Rob. Noticing my curious look he continued "It's a pie and a pint for fiver!". And sure enough, we got there and it was just that, complete with a reasonable selection of beers, quick service and a tasty pie. It was nice to recharge a little after a frustrating drive. We also gave ourselves plenty of time to get into the ground. Rob and Cath going one way, me taking Sir Matt Busby Way to the East Stand.
I was into the ground and up to my seat rather effortlessly, the players going through their final drills before heading in for final preparations. The team was changed somewhat from the Merseyside derby with Ronald Koeman deciding to go with four at the back, removing Matthew Pennington and drafting Gareth Barry into the midfield. Kevin Mirallas was preferred to Dominic Calvert-Lewin in attack. I was a little surprised to see Joel Robles retain his place in goal after quite an awful performance against Liverpool. Ex-blue Marouane Fellaini began the game for Manchester United whilst up front Zlatan Ibrahimavic returned from suspension.
It's a fabulous stadium Old Trafford and the Everton supporters certainly got behind their team from the off, though I am sad to report on a fair bit of racist language from a few guys around me aimed at pretty much any of the black players out there, including our striker. "Revel-head" and "Malteser-head" amongst others are of course unacceptable names to be thrown at players and I was sad to hear that from, I must stress a small minority, of my fellow Evertonians. It's been some time since I've heard anything like that.
This takes the shine off what was a dogged and spirited effort from Everton. We began brightly and got to grips with the game fairly early in what was quite the battle with tackles going in. Sadly the referee failed to officiate the game fairly, giving Manchester United the benefit of the majority of decisions and booking Idrissa Gana Gueye early on while letting Marouane Fellaini get away with similar offences without caution.
Our opener came somewhat out of nothing when Phil Jagielka did brilliantly to improvise and turn in a volley with his back to goal, squeezing it through the legs of David de Gea. A strange goal that one but good to see us now a threat from corner kicks again after our set-piece purgatory under Roberto Martinez. It took a while from where we were to figure out who had squeezed the ball in, until we realised it was Phil Jagielka who had sneaked it home as the players re-emerged for the restart.
The closest Manchrster United came to a first half equaliser was also from a set-piece, this time when Daley Blind's free kick was well saved by Joel Robles. Andre Herrera was first to the rebound but could only hit the crossbar from a tight angle. Jesse Lingard was simply pathetic in winning the free kick, deliberately obstructing Kevin Mirallas and then going down in a heap when Kevin tried to get around him. The referee was just as pathetic in his free kick award, this one of a series of poor decisions by Neil Swarbrick throughout the game.
We arrived art the break unscathed having defended resolutely. As for the second half, I'm a bit torn on what to make of it. The lads were ever so spirited and fought hard for what really should have been a very gritty three points, but Manchester United were not really getting past us and I felt we were looking good for the win until Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Luke Shaw were introduced. Luke Shaw, taking to the field to chants of "you fat bastard" from the Evertonians, provided better width from the left and was able to offer a better quality of cross, whereas Henrikh Mkhitaryan was able to offer more vibrancy as an attacking threat. This forced Ronald Koeman into a reactive change and I felt we went too defensive too early. With a quarter of the game still to play the lively Kevin Mirallas was sacrificed for another central defender in Matthew Pennington. I felt this played a bit more into Manchester United's hands and they were able to really pin us back and pile on the pressure.
That said, we did have plenty of chances to break and it was a combination of either the final ball lacking; the final ball well defended; or, more predominately, a real lack of cohesion between our forward players, that ensured the second goal never came. As the game wore on, though a lot was asked of him, we really needed more from Romalu but he was dead on his feet and could only contribute in fits and starts. At the other end, in no particular order, Paul Pogba headed against the crossbar when Manchester United where again given a free kick when Everton should have had it first but the referee typically favoured the hosts; Marouane Fellaini span and shot comfortably wide; Zlatan Ibrahimovic had the ball in the net but it was disallowed for offside; and, Zlatan headed over the crossbar with a good opportunity. Joel Robles, unrecognisable from the frozen man on Saturday, mopped up the rest. The travelling Evertonians roared their team on throughout.
We were into injury time and Everton had withstood a barrage of pressure and looked to be heading for the points. Maybe pressure brings panic and panic leads to bad decision making? Well it was certainly misguided of Ashley Williams to handle Luke Shaw's effort. Joel Robles likely would have saved it, but handle he did and the referee really had to give the penalty, much to his glee no doubt. A red card also for Ashley which the referee also really had to give. Having missed a penalty in his last outing I didn't really have much hope of Zlatan missing another and it was never really in doubt as he tucked it away in the corner. Everton tried to rally but as soon as it was punted long from to Romalu Lukaku from a free kick, Neil Swarbrick blew for full time...of course.
What a gutting way to have a win snatched away from you. I really thought we had done it but it wasn't to be. Credit to the buys to reacting with such spirit following Saturday's disappointment. It's a real shame as winning at Old Trafford would have made quite a statement and would have put us up to fifth position, even if temporarily. What an Everton way to lose out on the three points.
Still with seven games to play and four of them at home, we have an opportunity to finish the season strongly and you never know, it's possible that Arsenal and Manchester United could drop more points yet, even with their games in hand. Perhaps more crucially, so long as we don't finish any lower than we are now, we will have a European campaign to enjoy next season. Let's finish the job for this campaign, do some positive transfer business this summer and look forward as it's been a very promising campaign.
Onwards and upwards Blues.
Robles: Unrecognisable from Saturday's game and I'm dumbfounded as to how a player can be so poor one game yet so pivotal and decisive the next. Maddening. 9
Baines: Did very well and worked ever so hard both at left back and as wing back. A great effort. 8
Jagielka: A rock solid display and it's hard to fathom that he was performing so poorly earlier in the season that he was dropped. A true captains performance both with the goal and his marshalling of the back line and he was the most unlucky on the pitch not to finish on the winning team. My man of the match. 9
Williams: Ruined what was perhaps his best performance yet with his handball. I liked the telling off he gave to Romalu Lukaku for not pulling his weight when the ball was played up to him. Like most of us, I've been largely unimpressed with Ashley, but this performance shows what he can be capable of. There could be hope for him yet, even if he has to sit out on Sunday against the champions. 7
Holgate: Did very well and is much more comfortable at right back with some protection ahead of him. 8
Barry: Particularly in the second half he was very handy and made plenty of defensive tackles, headers and clearances. Also unlucky not to have finished on the winning team. My prove a vital squad player next season. 8
Gueye: Also excellent. Got about the pitch in his usual manner and did well given how long he had to do so with a caution against his name. A solid effort. 8
Davies: Worked tirelessly though struggled. As with all young players, you have to let them make their mistakes and learn the hard way. Give him a couple of years and he really could be the complete player. 5
Mirallas: Was lively throughout and unlucky to be hooked. I imagine he won't start the next game - surely Ronald Koeman can't have been impressed with his petulant attitude when he was substituted. 7
Barkley: Had a good game and used the ball well most of the time. Was fairly effective in the second half before substituted. 7
Lukaku: Battled well basically until our defensive reshuffle and then he hardly seemed interested and seemed to sulk a bit when more was needed of him. He was simply exhausted come the last 10 minutes however, which is probably why Dominic Calvert-Lewin was sent on to support him. 6
Pennington (for Mirallas): Made some good tackles and clearances as Everton soaked up the pressure. He will feel better for his efforts after his Merseyside derby struggles. 6
Calvert-Lewin (for Barkley): Was difficult circumstances to come into but he couldn't quite affect the game as was perhaps hoped. 5
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