As painful records go, Everton's Old Trafford hoodoo was rivaled perhaps only by the barren run at Anfield that stretched into its 14th year in May as David Moyes departed Goodison Park without having managed to win a single match on the home grounds of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.
The pain and frustration from 21 years of hurt at the Blues' very own theatre of broken dreams was swept away in a glorious instant this evening, though, when Bryan Oviedo, a player making only his third Premier League start and who was only two years old the last time Everton beat United on their own turf, slotted past David de Gea from the angle with four minutes left on the clock to uncork two decades of pent-up emotion among long-suffering Blues.
The enormity of the significance for the club was not lost on the players either. Oviedo wheeled away from the goal to execute another knee-slide celebration just four days after notching his first Premier League goal before being mobbed by half of his teammates. As the ball nestled in the corner of the goal, Seámus Coleman put his hands on his head in disbelief and looked in both directions unsure what to do with himself. And Romelu Lukaku, a player the media would love to believe is merely passing through for a season on his way to glory at Chelsea, Juventus, Barcelona or what other marquee club they're linking him with this week, fell to his knees incredulous before punching the turf in delight.
Up in the stands, 3,000 jubilant Evertonians who have waited so long to taste victory in this arena, against this former peer before the crushing inequity of the Premier League era thrust such a deep divide between the two clubs, simply erupted.
Of course, while Everton's dreadful sequence of results long preceded the former manager and United's hegemony over the Blues in Manchester was well entrenched during the dark days of the 1990s and early 2000s, the Moyes dimension, the symbolism of his first meeting with his former club, and his record in this fixture as Everton's manager were inescapable in the
build-up to tonight.
Despite restoring pride and stability to Goodison and assembling the best squad since the glory days of the 1980s, Moyes never could find the motivational magic or the imagination to overcome an inferiority complex about taking on the Champions in their own back yard.
Perhaps for that reason – more so than the manner of his recruitment, his feather-ruffling comments about his old club once he had taken himself off down the East Lancs Road to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson, the purse-lipped winding down of his contract, his aggravating and destabilising pursuit of Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini, or the mere fact that this was the first meeting of the two clubs since his departure – so much about this match was always going to be about Moyes. And yet, ultimately, this famous night was really all about his successor, Roberto Martinez who achieved at the first attempt what his predecessor couldn't over 11 years.
True to his promise, the Spaniard brought a gameplan aimed at winning and he was richly rewarded with the most significant result of his fledgling tenure. It wasn't perfect – it never could be on the home ground of the Champions, however uncertain their retention of that title seemed even before this evening – and it needed a dose of luck, but it was executed superbly by a group of players who put in 100% as a team from start to finish and finished the job with the all-important goal.
Martinez demonstrated unequivocally his faith in his charges – not least the match-winner, Oviedo, who, in all likelihood under the ancien regime, would have been shunted to the bench in favour of a more "experienced", defensively-minded player played out of position – with arguably his strongest line-up, recalling Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas to the starting XI.
And his men signalled their intent early with a confident start to the game based around measured and patient passing that had them, for the first 10 minutes at least, looking like the home side. Lukaku fired wide from distance, a flick-on by Mirallas from a corner shortly afterwards caused momentary panic on the United goalline before the ball was hacked away at the back post before the latter Belgian forced the first save of the game from De Gea with a rasping shot that the Spanish 'keeper fisted over the crossbar.
The Blues' early fire had been quelled somewhat by United by around the quarter-hour mark, though, and a more familiar pattern to these encounters threatened to emerge as Moyes's side found their feet a little. A mistake by Mirallas let them in for their first chance in the 16th minute but Tim Howard foiled Wayne Rooney by beating his low shot away and the American had to be alert and nimble three minutes later as he rushed out to grab the ball off the forward right on the edge of his area and quickly dropped it before he committed a handball as he crossed the 18 yard line.
Ceding more and more possession to their hosts, Everton invited more trouble as the half wore on and complicated their task by sluggish tracking back and generally affording United's forward players too much space in which to operate outside the box. Shinji Kagawa stole in behind the Blues' defence but Howard was again on hand to deny him and Ryan Giggs missed the far post by inches with a glancing header from a deep cross as the home side pressed.
Martinez's side were disciplined in keeping their shape but there were too many occasions when they weren't tight enough to their man and Rooney almost made them pay the price just before the half hour mark. Side-stepping the nearest defender on the edge of the box, the ex-Everton striker fired a shot that took a wicked deflection off Sylvain Distin and then spun, seemingly in slow motion, off the post and back in front of goal. Howard again reacted quickly, though, and swept it away with an out-stretched leg before Kagawa could pounce on the rebound.
With Martinez constantly orchestrating from the touchline, the Blues gathered themselves again, though, for the remainder of the half and, but for the form of De Gea, some stout defending by their hosts, and some disappointing end product in the final third that spoiled some promising counter-attacks, they might have gone into half time a goal up.
Lukaku out-muscled Nemanja Vidic in his irrepressible manner down the right flank but couldn't find either of two Blue jerseys in the centre with his cross before later being foiled by De Gea just before the interval after he'd collected Barkley's deep switch pass and driven inside from the same wing.
The half ended, though, with another hearts-in-mouth moment when Evra sent the ball dangerously across Everton's six-yard box but there no red shirts on hand to convert and Rooney's flick after it had bounced into his path off Oviedo was easily caught by Howard.
As Martinez would have expected, there were long periods in the second half where his team had to be geared towards containment and focused defending, particularly after the hour mark as the increasingly restless Old Trafford crowd started willing their team forward. Prior to that, Howard had pushed a stinging Evra drive over his bar to start the half and Fellaini had seen a volleyed attempt deflect wide while, for Everton, Mirallas was crowded out of a promising situation in the United box shortly before he lashed a shot wide from 25 yards.
But with James McCarthy and Gareth Barry in invincible mood as the holding pair in midfield – the former seemingly covering every blade of grass as hunted United's midfielders down, the latter breaking things up defensively and controlling tempo when the Blues were in possession – and both Oviedo and Coleman now tenaciously keeping things as tight as they could on United's flanks, Moyes cut an increasingly frustrated figure in front of his dugout.
Two positive substitutions, one from each manager, threatened to open the game up, though. First, Adnan Januzaj, the 18 year-old who had turned a game in United's favour so emphatically at Sunderland earlier this season, had the home fans baying for a penalty when he fell under a challenge by Steven Pienaar but referee Martin Atkinson (who officiated uncharacteristically well, it should be said) waved play on – it was outside the box, in any case. Then, Gerard Deulofeu, a 68th-minute introduction for Barkley, was sent clear by a terrific through-ball by Lukaku but, having blazed unheeded into the area thanks to his pace, he shot straight at De Gea, wasting what looked, for the next 18 minutes, to have been the chance for Everton to claim a priceless win.
United seemed intent over the next 12 minutes on making the 19 year-old pay for his profligacy. Januzaj's viciously swerving shot in the 70th minute almost wrong-footed Howard but he managed to bat the ball over to safety with both hands. Then, Fellaini popped up in front of goal but his half-volley was well blocked by Jagielka forcing a corner from the United left that looked to have finally broken the back of Everton's resilience.
Evra met Rooney's dead-ball center with his head prompting a superb, point-blank parry by Howard and, thankfully, with the 'keeper prone on the floor, Danny Welbeck could only head the rebound off the face of the crossbar before Coleman could belt the ball to temporary safety. When the final ball came back in from the right and found Rooney in acres of space at the back of the area, he skied his volley into the stands.
By the final 10 minutes, after the tiring Pienaar had been replaced by Leon Osman, it was anybody's game and though some of their slow build-up play was often reminiscent of the recent goalless draws against Tottenham and Crystal Palace – all sideways movement and over-elaboration – you started to feel that Everton were sensing an opportunity. Whereas previous attempts to win on this ground by scoring early had been met with a swift rebuke by United's superiority, tonight offered the chance to score late and leave the opposition little time to respond.
And so it proved. Coleman was chopped down unceremoniously by Antonio Valencia in a dangerous area 25 yards from the United goal and Mirallas stepped up to whip a stunning free kick off the outside of the post. Everton kept the ball, though, with Deulofeu making one attempt to dance his way through but he was tackled by Chris Smalling. The move appeared to have broken down when Oviedo seemed to badly overhit a cross from the left but Coleman collected the loose ball on the right flank, moved it inside to McCarthy who, in turn, fed Jagielka who had stayed forward, and he picked Lukaku out in the box with a crisp pass.
The Belgian striker's subsequent effort, whether aimed at goal or just dispatching the ball into the danger area in front of De Gea's goal, eluded everyone and skidded to the back post where Oviedo met it on the run and slid an unerring shot into the United net to unleash bedlam among the travelling Blues.
The onslaught that would surely have come from a Ferguson side didn't really materialise; something in the universe had shifted and United looked a beaten side, particularly as everything they were now throwing at Everton was being rebuffed by a rearguard typified by a towering display by Jagielka. Indeed, it was Everton who looked more likely to score and but Deulofeu tried an audacious chip that was never going to beat the keeper so close to his line and a couple of other marauding runs forward by he and Lukaku were shut down by the opposition defence.
Four minutes of injury time predictably bled towards five but the final whistle came and with it the realisation that Everton had done something that had eluded five managers before Martinez found the key to victory at Old Trafford.
This time it was different.
In complete fairness to David Moyes, in his various attempts to "get out of there alive", Everton have played well on this ground in recent seasons and not won but probably not since that 3-0 victory behind goals by Mo Johnston, Peter Beardsley and Robert Warszycha in 1992 has an Everton side dared attack Manchester United in such numbers so consistently. Though they were let down by poor decisions or distribution in the final third, attacks were routinely supported by five or six blue shirts and that was not the case even a few short weeks ago.
To have approached this kind of game with such a risk-on attitude, typified by the regular sight of both fullbacks bombing forward simultaneously or Jagielka, a central defender, lurking on the edge of the opposition area during a sustained attack four minutes from time, was a mark of Martinez's confidence and, ultimately, the key to this wonderful success.
Of course, it would not have been possible without a tremendous defensive performance, sterling work by Howard, and an eventual suffocation of the space in midfield by the likes of Barry and McCarthy despite fatigue setting in in the second half. Put simply, it was a victory earned by a terrific team performance on the back of maximum effort by every player in Blue; Moyes-style grit and determination pushed over the top by Martinez-style invention and positivity.
Yes, this time it was different. Can it be again on Sunday?
With no fresh injury concerns, Roberto Martinez named an attacking midfield with Ross Barkley restored to the side, but electing to bench weekend stars Leon Osman and Gerard Deulofeu. Everton faded after a really bright start, ceding possession too easily and not making the most of some excellent counter-attacking moves. If ever a game was crying out for the magic of Gerard Deulofeu... but it was Bryan Oviedo who finally hammered the ball home past De Gea with just 5 mins left to produce a fantastic and eagerly anticipated victory for Blues fans everywhere.
An early free-kick in a good position as Ross Barkley was fouled, Mirallas scooping it too high for Lukaku at the far post. Man Utd were soon down the Everton end but were pinned to the sideline. and Everton were soon on the attack again, Lukaku hitting a poor shot well wide from distance.
A fabulous corner from Pienaar was flicked on by Mirallas but no-one at the far post. Mirallas then lashed in a great shot but straight at De Gea, forcing him to punch over as Everton took the game to their illustrious hosts with no fear.
Man Utd had some possession but Kagawa could only shoot/cross well wide of the Everton goal. The gained some penetration, and Welbeck nearly took advantage before the ball fell to Rooney and he leathered it ferociously from an angle that Howard did very to stop, right don by his feet, an absolutely brilliant and vital save.
After a bright start, Everton were not using their possession well, giving the ball away too easily, with Coleman failing to get past Evra Howard then did very well with an air ball coming down in the dee that he had to pat down while still inside his area — just!
Lukaku got some exciting positions but ball control let him down and Man Utd attacked again, another fearsome shot close in from an offside Kawaga, saved well again by Howard. A strange barge by Barry on Rooney was allowed to go when it could have been a very dangerous free-kick, Man Utd now getting far too much of the ball mid-way through the first half. Giggs came very close to scoring with a glancing free header off an excellent cross from Wellbeck?
Lukaku got free down the right but made completely the wrong choice, hitting it at Vidic after beating Smalling well. Oviedo did very well to give away a first corner Utd that came to nothing. But more crucial defending was required from Barry and McCarthy before Rooney's deflected shot dribbled onto the foot of the post and thankfully away via Howard's desperate hoof.
More Utd attacks followed as they worryingly began to totally dominate proceedings, one cross seemed to be bread and butter for three Man Utd attackers but no-one could wrap their foot around it, the ball bouncing up to hit Jagielka on the arm.
Finally a good break by Everton down the right but Lukaku's short layback for Barkley was all wrong. More promising play down the right also fell apart as Mirallas could not keep an overhit pass from going out. Barkley showed tremendous strength to pull away and create space but his shot was truly awful. If a game was ever crying out for the magic of Gerard Deulofeu.
An incredible foul by Vidic went unpunished as he held back Lukaku with his arm, Atkinson giving it the other way. But Lukaku was on the end of a good passing move, dancing into the area unleashing a powerful shot that De Gea had to save with his knees! At the other end more sheer brilliance from Oviedo in saving defensive lunge. Barkley then went on a great run but maddeningly overhit his pass to Lukaku in excellent space, and the glorious chance evaporated. Then, more madness in the Everton area, a ball coming through three Utd player, and hitting Jagielka, flying back high to Rooney who spooned it toward the top corner but Howard had enough time to pluck it out of the air.
After the break, and Evra lashed one form distance he Howard punched away. A better Everton move won a corner, taken short by Mirallas then driving in too low, straight at a defender. A poor mistake by McCarthy ended a prolonged period of ultimately unproductive Everton passing around the Utd area.
It was end to end, but with few clear chances, Lukaku belting one into a defender. Then Everton attacked at speed, Barkley feeding Coleman who went all the way but fell rather too theatrically, no penalty. Everton kept getting closer and closer but Mirallas's shot was too loose, curling away from goal.
Somehow Evra very cleverly won a nothing free-kick off Coleman, Moyes reacted with a double substitution, Januzaj and Nani coming on before Rooney's free-kick was headed away, then Nani skied a shot 30 ft over the Everton bar.
Rooney kicked and elbowed Jagielka off the field and picked up ha yellow card. Barkley kept running at Man utd, trying to do it all himself but Everton were finding the Utd defence just too well organized as they probed and prodded but failed to penetrate. But Everton were equally resilient at the other end,
Past the hour mark and still no substitution by Martinez, who must have been well pleased with the midfield play, but the lack of end-product was increasingly frustrating for the Blues fans who expected sharper work in the hosts' danger area.
Januzaj went down under pressure from Pienaar but no penalty as Deulofeu was finally readied just over 20 mins of an absorbing contest remaining, Barkley giving way.... Lukaku released him and he ran in with one thing in mind but shot as usual straight at De gea. At the other end, Januzaj lashed his shot also close to Howard for another punch over.
ANother Rooney corner, Evra's header incredibly saved at point blank, then a follow-up header onto the bar from Wellbeck, and Rooney in the afters, a first-time volley 50 ft over the bar as Vidic ran into an Everton defender: no penalty. An incredible sequence, and Everton live to try again but the pendulum was well over in Man Utd's favour at this stage. A free-kick wide left, taken by Gigs, punched away again by Howard.
Man Utd attacked with some real verve, Nani swinging in a great cross that evaded everyone as Everton rocked a little under the relentless pressure, resorting to a little bit of desperate hoofing. But, instead of breaking with a speedy counter-attack it was too much pissing about across the back as Osman was readied to come on in place of Pienaar. Everton did get forward but a deep cross to Deulofeu was embarrassingly mis-controlled out for a goal-kick. Hernandez replaced Welbeck as Fellaini came in with foot very high on McCarthy, studs raking thigh and drawing blood. Red card? No, the wrong side of Atkinson's view; not even a yellow. A deliberate handball by Evra: no card.
Vidic took out Osman, then Evra took out Coleman and from an excellent position, from Everton would fantastically break the deadlock and set up a tremendous win. Mirallas curled it in brilliantly that hit the post then bounced away but Oviedo was on it and Everton worked the ball around the Man Utd area, with a total of seven players involved until finally a ball in from Lukaku deep across the face of De Gea's goal was lashed home at the far post by Bryan Oviedo. The blue faithful erupted into absolute ecstasy.
"Are you watching?
Are you watching??
Are you watching??? — David Moyes!!!"
Four more minutes plus four minutes of added time passed as a blurr...
Martin Atkinsion's final whistle and Roberto Martinez had done on the first attempt what his vanquished nemesis never do: win with Everton at Old Trafford!!!
This time, it's different.
That's the feeling, at least, emanating from the Blue fraternity as another trip to Manchester United looms for a fixture that is, quite categorically, Everton's worst since the inception of the Premier League in 1992.
That also happens to be the year of the Blues' last victory at Old Trafford and Evertonians have grown tired in the interim of the ever-growing litany of failures and disappointments on that ground and the ever-lengthening epoch between victories there.
This time it's different.
That is the hope, at least. Hope strengthened by the infectiously positive demeanour of Everton's new manager and the impressive first third of the campaign that he has overseen; one in which the Blues are not merely punching above their weight but are cursing their own failure to press home their superiority in a catalogue of draws. Victory in any two of those six stalemates would have seen Roberto Martinez's Blues sitting alone in second place in the table going into two tough away games in the space of five days.
That David Moyes's era at Goodison has moved so seamlessly into that of Martinez isn't always given the appreciation it deserves. Transitions between managerial tenures are rarely so smooth and that is testament to both the team that the former assembled and the impressive evolution of that foundation overseen by the latter.
The two men face off against each other for the first time in their new roles at an interesting juncture of the season. After stumbling through an awkward baptism as United's "chosen one", Moyes seems to have steadied the ship somewhat at Old Trafford and though they come into this game in the almost unprecedented position of being below Everton in the table, they can leapfrog the Blues if they win.
Under the ancien regime, that would likely have been viewed as the resumption of the natural order of things but, encouragingly, Martinez is eager to banish the inferiority complex under the burden of which Everton teams of the past decade have traveled to Old Trafford and for his team to enhance their chances of achieving "something special" this season by finally winning some of the four away fixtures that became increasingly heavy millstones around his predecessor's neck during his time at Goodison.
Though there were occasions where Moyes's Everton teams fought United every inch of the way — the 4-4 draw in April 2012, a gritty 1-1 draw in December 2005, and Tim Cahill's debut in a goalless draw in August 2004 readily spring to mind — the Evertonian experience at Old Trafford between 2002 and 2013 meant that few Blues fans were surprised to hear the ex-manager admit this past summer that his first priority was to merely "get out of [the 'Theatre of Dreams'] alive".
And yet, as his own players proved in that thrilling 4-4 nail-biter, United don't generally like "it up 'em", as the saying goes, and that when you do take the game to them, you often find greater success than you'd thought was possible. With an aging squad, an under-pressure manager in the infancy of his tenure, a propensity to concede late goes from set-pieces, and the feeling that Old Trafford's fear factor has been greatly diminished with the Ferguson's departure, at no time in recent memory have Manchester United appeared so fallible.
No doubt that will be a theme of Martinez's preparations for this game but more important will be the affirmation through his team's performance of the mantra, "be yourselves". That means controlling possession as much as possible in the manner in which he has schooled the players since arriving in June, remaining disciplined and focused at the back, and attacking with the incisiveness and fluidity with which they tore Stoke apart on Saturday and should really have beaten Liverpool the week before.
Of course, United will be a different proposition and Martinez could shuffle his pack again accordingly, with Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley potential returnees to the starting line-up, although the Spaniard will probably keep Moyes guessing over Gerard Deulofeu. His teenage compatriot may have lit up Goodison Park in Saturday's 4-0 romp but his defensive weaknesses may tip selection in favour of Mirallas, leaving Deulofeu as a trump card up the sleeve for the second half.
While the pairing of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy will do their usual tireless work in central midfield, much will be expected of Steven Pienaar in terms of creativity in the final third and Bryan Oviedo will need to be on top of his defensive game to deal with Antonio Valencia's pace, Romelu Lukaku could be Everton's key in this intriguing, multi-faceted clash.
The Belgian comes into the match level-pegging with Wayne Rooney with eight League goals — another marker of the parity of the two teams so far this season — and if Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin and Tim Howard can keep the former Everton hero (and Robin van Persie, if he's fit to play) quiet, the stage could be set for Lukaku to steal the show.
Please, let this time be different...
Kick off: 7.45pm
Referee: Martin Atkinson
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