Firstly, the positive and cerebral management of Roberto Martinez and, secondly, the energy and volume from a packed home crowd determined to make life as uncomfortable as possible for returning former boss, David Moyes, and his Manchester United team. Those factors, combined with an excellent display of containment and counter-attacking football, saw Everton complete the league double over United for the first time in 44 years and kept their Champions League hopes alive.
Moyes, haunted amusingly in the early stages by a supporter dressed in Grim Reaper garb with accompanying sickle before complaints by the United bench forced his removal from the stands, would claim after the match that his team had "played very well" but, in truth, like Arsene Wenger before him, he was played like a fiddle by Martinez. The Scot was given the illusion that his team were in control of this contest as the Blues handed them over 60% of the possession before two rapier jabs dealt the fatal blows that had the visitors on their knees by half time.
The scoreline might not have been as emphatic as against the Gunners and the three-pronged attack lined up slightly differently but it was the same eleven players who had done all the damage to Wenger's men who started this time around, Ross Barkley playing from the first whistle this time with Leon Osman on the bench. The Blues also took a little while longer to really get going but a couple of early bombing raids by Seamus Coleman, who was a constant threat all afternoon, and two early penalty shouts for handball on Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans, both waved away, set the tone for the first half.
The opening goal would come from the penalty spot by the way of another handball in the 28th minute but it was Steven Naismith who had had the best chance up until that point, Romelu Lukaku showing great strength to nod a long free kick forward into the path of the Scottish international but he rushed his shot and ballooned it into the Park End.
It was Lukaku and Naismith racing away on the counter attack, though, who created the first goal, the Belgian collecting the latter's pass just outside the box and then charging towards goal to line up a trademark left-footed shot, the kind that he had swept past Wojciech Szczęsny a fortnight ago. Phil Jones had slipped in the United box but inexplicably raised an arm as the shot came in and referee, Mark Clattenburg, pointed emphatically to the spot.
Leighton Baines stepped up and stroked home another successful penalty, this time straight down the middle as David de Gea dived in vain to his right. It was the first penalty Everton had scored against Manchester United for 42 years.
The security of a 1-0 lead merely enhanced Everton's gameplan of tenacious containment and dangerous counters and a few minutes after Coleman's low cross had just eluded Lukaku in the six-yard box, the Blues benefited from the advantage given to them by Clattenburg (who waved play on despite Juan Mata's late challenge on Baines) to break away and score the second goal. Naismith worked the ball across field and wide on the right to Coleman who slipped a perfectly-weighted ball through the United defence to Kevin Mirallas. Played on-side by Smalling, he collected the pass and whipped it across De Gea and inside the far post. 2-0 and, as it would turn out, game over.
United, for all their manager's post-game praise for their first-half display, didn't manage an effort on target until first-half stoppage when Tim Howard was fortunate that the ball flew straight at him from a header off a corner but even then it was off Gareth Barry and not a red-shirted player.
The loss of Sylvain Distin to a slight hamstring strain at half time had the potential to destablise a settled Everton back line but with the exception of a brief slip in the first minute, an error for which he immediately atoned by snuffing out a chance for Wayne Rooney, Antolin Alcaraz was an able deputy alongside the ever-impressive John Stones.
Everton's shape and modus operandi remained unchanged, though, after the interval and with a 2-0 lead they merely invited United on, daring them to break them down. They lulled Moyes's side into a false sense of security by giving them plenty of possession 20 yards in front of the home penalty area but then continually and dilligently collapsed the space as the reds tried to pick their way through on the edge of the box.
Whether it was Barry, Stones, Alcaraz, Coleman, Baines or the peerless James McCarthy who covered every blade of grass with a performance that underscored his priceless value to Martinez's team, time and time again there was a blue jersey ready to step in and suffocate United's attacks before they could cause any problems.
Shinji Kagawa did get a rare sight of goal from distance shortly after half time but Howard gathered comfortably at the second attempt, while Mata drove a potentially dangerous direct free-kick into the top of the defensive wall. And it wasn't until three minutes from the end that Moyes's side finally carved the Blues' open when Javier Hernandez played in Rooney but Howard did brilliantly to push his shot over the bar.
In between, it was Everton who continued to forge the better chances and might have compounded Moyes's misery – not to mention padded their goal difference – had Naismith not side-footed another good Coleman cross over the bar from 10 yards out and De Gea not denied the Scot with a finger-tip save to push his shot wide in the 80th minute.
All in all, then, a comfortable and deserved victory for the Blues that delivers the message to Arsenal that we'll be pushing them all the way for fourth spot. After the questionable approach on Wednesday, Martinez got his strategy and team selection spot on to get the Blues back to winning ways and his players responded with a terrific performance of professionalism, power and patience.
The media's attention will continue to focus on the implications of this result on the man in the opposition dugout but a better story is what Everton's new manager has achieved in his own season of transition: 20 Premier League wins, 13 home wins in the League and 69 points, all records for the Premier League era. You could argue that the first three matches of the campaign were more or less a write-off as the Spaniard got his feet under the table without a reliable striker and when you consider how many of the games where points were dropped this season were ones we deserved to win, it's clear that he is just getting started. The Blues will keep fighting for the Champions League this season until it's mathematically gone but the future looks very, very bright regardless.
The team selection from Roberto Martinez was something of a surprise, with both Lukaku and Naismith starting , although perhaps not exactly 4-4-2, with Lukaku likely playing wide, mostly on the other side from Mirallas, and a massive load on Barkley in the engine room behind the front three. McGeady, Deulofeu & Osman on the bench; Tim Howard the captain.
Everton tried to get the tempo going early on, after Man Utd kicked off, but were well marshalled by the visitors, as the initial exchanges of a keen contest developed more in favour of the Red Devils, who seemed a little more composed. Barkley got a little too excited after a cross from Coleman fell for him, lashing well over.
Barry and McCarthy had to be back at their best as Man Utd did well developing their attacks with more confidence but not really penetrating the Everton area, while Coleman was lively for attacking moves down the left. On one, he saw space inside and shot into the legs of Jones.
Blues fans screamed loud and long for a rather unlikely penalty when a shot form Naismith cannoned off Evans's arm at point-blank range. Carrick caught Naismith who fell heavily, after McCarthy had gone in a little heavy on Fletcher. Then a fantastic chance off the free-kick, Lukaku heading down brilliantly for him but he spooned it horribly high and wide with only De Gea to beat.
Everton's build-up otherwise was simply too slow and ponderous, along spell of possession ending ominously on a ball frustratingly chipped up and gifted away, allowing Man Utd to mount an attack. But it broke down with a scoop up to Lukaku who exchanged passes with Naismith before striking to goal, only to see Evans put his arm out to stop it. Clear penalty, called by Clattenburg, scored with supreme confidence by Baines.
Everton came under a lot of pressure after the goal, and continued to struggle with the more confident possession shown by the visitors, with hoofed clearances coming right back at them. Baines forced the first corner after 30 mins, but Mirallas's shocking delivery should have seen an instant fine of two weeks' wages.
Coleman got the ball again wide left and gave Everton more life but passing and control were lacking, Barkley so close to playing in Rooney before Everton finally attacked at pace, Lukaku unable to make contact on a great low cross again from Coleman on the left. Barry did well to break an attack but then needlessly passes straight to a red shirt.
A good break through Lukaku to Mirallas looked brilliant until the Belgian lad fell over the ball as he approached the area... Everton playing at times as if they were a bag of nerves as the pressure was reapplied, mainly through their own self-imposed limitations. But, despite much forward possession, Man Utd as not created a single chance, as Coleman played perfectly to a fantastically timed Mirallas run and a very fine shot from the narrowest of angles, an absolutely superb Everton goal.
Antolin Alcaraz replaced Sylvain Distin after the break, and was in action rapidly to deny Rooney after he threatened to bamboozle Stones and score. Barkley booked for a silly grasp at Smalling, Kagawa getting a shot in on Howard from the cleared free-kick as the second half started at a very lively tempo. Smalling then booked for a heavy challenge on Barry.
Nani got a dangerous free-kick close to the Everton area, and a tense moment but the Blues wall did its job. Man Utd still dominated the pressure but the Goodison crowd were getting on their backs a little, wanting to see them close the visitors down more and limit them to less meaningful possession. Mirallas won a good corner that Alcaraz could only head lamely at De Gea.
Lukaku was increasingly frustrating to watch, be it his poor control or his lack of anticipation, but he was having a mare. Everton needed to close down with strength but McCarthy was booked for being just a little too strong. Finally, a superb ball from Coleman played brilliantly into the path of Lukaku but his finish was abysmal, straight into De Gea's arms. Everton had done well to regain the initiative, Moyes swapping two United players on the hour.
McCarthy again went for a 50-50 ball too strongly and looked to have really hurt his lower leg against Rooney. It was all great stuff for the crowd, who were loving a bit of spice entering the contest and just 20 mins left, with Osman replacing Barkley.
Mirallas roared off an an excellent run down the right and played in a great ball to Naismith who should have done better but was fooled by the bounce of the ball and screwed his shot wide with the Man Utd goal again gaping. Another fantastic move down the middle, started by Barry, ending with a superb shot by Naismith that De Gea did very well to tip behind, as the mood of the crowd really hit home to the players into the final 10 mins.
The Everton players were now clearly starting to "enjoy themselves", a Mirallas nutmeg on Fletcher bringing the roof off as every player went at their opponents with vim, vigour and gusto in a fierce determination to see out a very cathartic victory over not just the hated Manchester United but the utterly despised charlatan who is now their manager.
Rooney finally got a chance but was denied superbly at point-lank range by a fantastic parry from Howard. Everton surged forward again, with the incessant chants of the exultant Goodison crowd ringing in their ears, and a demoralized David Moyes suitably chastened, slinking off down the tunnel, the first Everton double over Manchester United since the Championship season of 1969-70, his charges officially eliminated from Champions League qualification for the first time in 19 years.
There's still just a point in it with four games left to play. It's important to remember that, even though the defeat to Crystal Palace took much of the wind out of Everton sails and handed the initiative in the chase for a place in the top four back to Arsenal.
Given the Gunners' comparatively easy run-in – not to mention the Toffees' penchant for falling at the last few hurdles – it's easy to feel that Everton's chances of making the Champions League have massively receded following the gut-wrenching events at Goodison Park on Wednesday evening. But football's capacity to surprise means that there could yet be plenty of twists and turns over the remainder of the campaign.
For Roberto Martinez and his Everton side, it's one game at a time and that means focusing entirely on the visit of Manchester United this weekend. David Moyes brings his new club to Goodison for the first time since he left for Old Trafford last May and that will ensure a tasty atmosphere regardless of the stakes for the Blues in terms of the top four. Even so, a positive result of any kind for Hull City against Arsenal in the 2pm kick-off and Evertonians will be ready to raise the roof even higher knowing that the Champions League is back on... again!
Arriving on Merseyside with one of the best away records in the Premier League and with the benefit of 10 days' rest, United will not be an easy proposition for Everton at all. The game calls for the same kind of approach as against Arsenal where Arsene Wenger's men were blown away by a combination of Martinez's tactical masterstroke, pure desire by the players and the raucous will of a packed home crowd.
How the manager goes about breaking down a team that could, in true Moyes fashion, be more disciplined and defensively-minded than the Gunners were will be interesting to see. There will undoubtedly be changes to the attacking team that started against Palace, with Aiden McGeady and Gerard Deulofeu likely to drop back to the bench and Steven Naismith highly fancied to return to the team after his goalscoring exploits in midweek.
Indeed, with James McCarthy declared fit but Phil Jagielka still 50-50, it would not be a surprise to see the same starting XI play this weekend as the one that faced Arsenal a fortnight ago even if Martinez doesn't opt for the same formation for his three-pronged attack.
United, for their part, will likely have Wayne Rooney in their team after all. The ex-Everton forward looked destined to miss this match with a toe injury but the swelling has reportedly subsided and he looks set to play despite looking fatigued in the Red Devils' Champions League loss in Munich last time out.
Marouane Fellaini has also apparently shaken off a calf injury and he, too, could play on his first return to his old stomping ground since a £27.5m move to Old Trafford on transfer deadline day last September.
If there is anything to Martinez's admission on Wednesday that perhaps his players were feeling some of the pressure that came from the possibility of moving into pole position for fourth, resulting fan expectation and a seven-match winning streak, the defeat to Palace should have released a lot of it. That has now shifted back to Arsenal, more so because Everton kick off later on Sunday aftternoon.
The obvious hope is that the Blues can get back to their swashbuckling, free-flowing best with the return of a more familiar, balanced line-up and the impetus from a crowd with more than one reason to bring an intimidating noise to Goodison when Moyes brings his new charges into the field.
Just one point in it. Anything can still happen. Can't it, Mr Jelavic?
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* Everton deducted 6 points for PSR breachView full table