Everton began 2018 in the manner in which they ended 2017, dealing with a defeat after Manchester United proved too strong in the second half at Goodison Park.
An occasion under the lights at the Grand Old Lady provided an opportunity for Sam Allardyce and his men to get the new year off to a flyer despite foul weather but two giveaways, defensive fragility and a desperately toothless attack all contributed to a 2-0 loss to what were admittedly impressive goals from the visitors.
Anthony Martial broke the deadlock 12 minutes into the second half after Wayne Rooney had passed straight to a red shirt at the other end and the Frenchman swept a pass from Paul Pogba into the top corner from the edge of the box.
And Jessie Lingard sealed the points from a similar position as he surged forward and curled an unstoppable shot around Jordan Pickford.
Coming into the match, most of the talk was about United's stalled momentum after three successive draws and certainly in the early going it looked as though the Blues could cause Jose Mourinho more problems with Tom Davies providing the energy in central midfield and the likes of Yannick Bolasie and Nikola Vlasic caused them problems down the flanks.
With Rooney playing in his deeper-lying role Allardyce's team selection offered the hope of a more attacking outlook than was the case in the previous three Festive games which yielded just two points and only one goal but they struggled to create clear-cut chances.
Good work by Vlasic in the fourth minute provided a shooting opportunity for Rooney but his shot was deflected behind while a Davies effort a quarter of an hour later suffered the same fate and Vlasic sliced a half-volley over from the resulting corner.
With the gangly and ineffective Niasse ploughing a lone furrow up front, Everton weren't able to sustain any consistent pressure and United started to come more into the contest as the first half wore on.
Pickford palmed a dangerous Martial cross away that Cuco Martina hacked away before Ander Herrera flashed a shot narrowly over after Rooney had been dispossessed on the edge of his own penalty area.
Then, after Davies had sprung the offside trap and seen a deflected cross-shot briefly threaten David de Gea's six-yard box, Pogba drove inches wide for United.
If they had been fairly even in the first half, the two sides were markedly different coming out of the half-time break, with United emerging from the dressing room on the front foot.
Pickford had to tip a rising Juan Mata shot over the bar two minutes into the second period four minutes before the Spaniard raked a shot off the outside of the post from distance.
Pogba whipped a dangerous ball across the face of the Everton goal shortly before United capitalised on Rooney's dreadful pass and took the lead. United advanced as the home side retreated and when Pogba picked Martial out on the edge of the box, he placed his shot past the ‘keeper.
Allardyce responded with a double change, withdrawing Rooney and Bolasie who had faded as a force down the left flank and threw on Aaron Lennon and James McCarthy.
While the latter substitute's introduction seemed like a strange decision, McCarthy did add some much-needed fire to the midfield but it was the visitors who were growing in confidence and continued to threaten. Pogba had Michael Keane backing off before he got off a shot that Pickford pushed over again before Ashley William's slack pass was intercepted and Martial's cross just eluded Pogba in the middle.
Everton's best chance arrived with 20 minutes to go when Mason Holgate, deployed at right-back as Allardyce rested Jonjoe Kenny, crossed well for Niasse but the striker's header dropped wide from close range.
Seven minutes later, Pickford was forced to make his best save of the day as he palmed Lingard's goalbound effort around his post but it merely delayed the inevitable second goal.
With Keane backing off once again as Holgate gave up possession from a throw-in, Lingard had the space he needed to pick his spot three minutes later and find the top corner from 20 yards out and make the game safe for United.
Allardyce bemoaned his team's failure to close the visitors down for both goals and stressed the need for patience as he tries to turn things around at Goodison but a second successive defeat and fourth match without a win means that the honeymoon period is over for the new boss.
Everton kicked off 2018 hosting Manchester United at Goodison Park.
Tom Davies, Yannick Bolasie, Wayne Rooney, Nikola Vlasic and Oumar Niasse all started in a very unusual line-up that reflected the need to rotate the squad in the congested holiday schedule with Jagielka, Lennon, McCarthy, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin, and Kenny all on the bench; no place for Davy Klaassen or Sandro Ramirez and none of the other promising Everton youngsters (Baningime, Feeney, Lookman) considered by Sam Allardyce for this game. Gueye was out injured.
There was no return to Goodison for Romelu Lukaku, who was out injured. Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a knee injury and Ashley Young was serving a three-match suspension. Marouanne Fellaini was also not involved for the Red Devils.
Bolasie got down the left wing early on but crossed harmlessly into De Gea's arms. Niasse then won a ball down the right and headed it similarly into De Gea's arms. Bolasie then tried to run through the middle but straight into trouble; Everton however already looked a lot better than recently and created a chance and a shot from Rooney that was blocked behind for an early corner, headed over Holgate.
Holgate was fouled wide right, Rooney over-hit it poorly beyond everyone. Davies clumsily fouled as the quality of the game deteriorated but Holgate's cross was headed behind, winning another Everton corner from Rooney that did not beat the first man.
Everton were playing smoe better possession football bu Rooney could not create anything and eventually gave up possession cheaply. Pogba played a neat on-two to get behind the Everton defence but his pull-back was dummied by two Utd players and cleared by Bolasie.
Rooney tried to play in Holgate down the right but it slid out. Form the throw-in, Davies fired in a shot deflected behind; again, nothing from Rooney's corner.
Nice play from Niasse almost created an opening, only to overplay it. Despite Everton dominating the forward play, at the other end, a defence-splitting pass almost got Martial in on Pickford. Very dangerous. Niasse called offside on the half-way line, without the ball getting into the Man Utd half.
Niasse got through but wanted an extra touch and the ball was whipped off his toe by Rojo for another corner. Everton tried to build but Niasse gave the ball away direct to a defender, allowing the Reds switch into attack.
Lingard was tripped by Keane, taken by Mata but no threat. Niasse again tried to dribble through three defenders and failed. Man Utd stormed forward, Martial slipping an inviting ball that Pickford got a desperate hand to, so fortunate Lukaku was not there to convert!
Bolasie had not been involved for a while and was forced to spoon a cross well ahead of and beyond everyone. Utd were playing a very slow build-up, Pogba amusingly falling over the ball.
Everton were also painfully slow and laboured with their build-up breaking down when Davies crossed to no-one. Herrera stole the ball off Rooney and fired a snap-shot over the bar.
More Everton passes made slow forward progress until Niasse lost the ball. Davies got forward with more pace on a Man Utd mistake but his shot was deflected, but more follow-up play looked to be building to something with Everton looking to attack until the next turnover and Pogba lashed a wicked shot that was deflected just wide.
Bolasie went on a tremendous run, beating 2 men, but the cross at the end of it was all-too easily defended, leading to another Man Utd attacked and won a corner, defended away.
A slightly faster build-up from Everton but Holgate's cross was weak and too close to De Gea. However, the attacks were more aggressive, Lingard driving forward and firing wide of Pickford. Everton's attack was slow, and ended when Holgate gave the ball away.
Martial looked to get through but Rooney fouled him and was booked. Mata's free-kick was repelled. Lingard fouled Schneiderlin but was not booked.
The pattern of the half was each attack taking turns at trying to probe and prod away, thwarted by solid defences in front of them until they fired high, wide or lost the ball. So no shots on target from Everton to speak of. Still, the play was fairly open and a little more interesting to watch.
After the break, Mata let fly and Pickford helped it flash a foot over the bar. Man Utd continued to press the Blues defence until the inevitable turnover but Niasse fouled on the half-way line. A fantastic shot from Mata smacked the face of the post with Pickford well beaten.
The next attack saw Shaw firing in low and it needed a fantastic clearance from Martina. Everton made a rare break but were soon pressed back again, Pogba dancing in and firing across goal, behind for a goalkick. This was now a completely different game,all United.
Keane did well to head a smart ball forward into Pickford. On the next attack, it was so easy, Pogba in to Martial who picked his spot from 25 yards. Everton had been hopeless since the restart and paid the price for their poor quality.
As if it hadn't been on sided enough, it became a continuous onslaught for the Everton defence. Allardyce acted, bringing off Rooney and Bolasie, with McCarthy and Lennon their replacements. So, whatever creativity Everton might have had...
Pogba danced into the Everton area and stung Pickford's gloves with a fierce shot. Davies won a tackled and hoofed the ball away to no-pone. Williams had a chance to go forward but played it straight to Mata, Martial galloped forward an his cross needed just a touch from Pogba to score but incredibly he missed it.
Everton were totally bereft of ideas and desire, and took a while string anything like a sequence of passes that was promising but once again ended with Holgate overplaying it but they won the ball black and this time Holgate beat his man and fired in a beautiful cross for Niasse to head home... only he put it the wrong side of the post with De Gea beaten.
Much better stuff from Everton, Vlasic creating a chance but Davies was completely blocked. Even better play on the other side, Davies winning a corner with Martial off the field. The corner almost went in but somehow bounced wide.
Everton attacked again, in a far, far better spell, McCarthy making some incredible crunching tackles,a and he was like a tiger. The intensity form Everton was astounding and the action almost impossible to track as the Blues were like men possessed.
But United got forward, Pogba setting up Lingard for a shot that Pickford saved brilliantly. diving low to his left. Everton's pressure had not delivered and now they were back under the cosh and Lingard made it two with another piece of unstoppable brilliance after gliding past Keane and Williams. Calvert-Lewin replaced Niasse, with Everton now well beaten into the last 10 minutes.
Holgate made a dreadful tackle from behind on Lingard and Pogba decided to get involved, putting hius hand in Holgate's face as Andre Marriner was booking the Everton player. But of course no punishment for the Man Utd player.
A late corner taken by Davies after a much better cross from Holgate was headed well wide by Keane. But Everton's 'attack' was shown to be non-existent for the third game in succession.
After a pretty roast dinner with a few ales I felt so bloated and tired as Gaz picked me up from my parents’ house for our New Year’s Day game against Manchester United. Collecting Ste on route, we joined quite a posse of Evertonians in Gary, Dan, Alfie, Sue and her extended family for a few drinks in the pub pre-game. Sadly with the mystifying team news and Liverpool pipping Burnley at the death, we should have suspected a defeat against Manchester United. I actually fancied us to win somehow, that we, following a few poor performances would turn on the style under the lights at Goodison Park against a depleted Manchester United. This was too much to ask of course.
As we walked on to the pub the wind and rain really set in and we were grateful to get into the shelter of Goodison Park in time for kick off. Manchester United supporters backed their team as noisily as ever. Goodison Park was somewhat flatter than I expected but the lack of intensity in our play accompanies this. Press, harry and get into teams and the Goodison crowd get behind you. Everton sat too deep for large sections of the game and it often felt like Tom Davies was performing something of a one-man press when we had opportunities to bring the play up the pitch.
We had a few scrappy openings in the first half and forced a few corners but with Gylfi Sigurdsson rested, the delivery was never quite right and these were easily rebuffed by Manchester United’s defence. Though nothing clear cut was created by Manchester United, they did break threateningly in the first half with only the final ball lacking at times. Come the break, though second best, we were level, and hopeful of an improved second period.
This never came as Manchester United really got on with the second half like they meant business and we never got out of the blocks. Juan Mata had already been thwarted twice, once by Jordan Pickford, and another time by the post with a speculative effort, before Anthony Martial picked his spot with a fine finish from outside the penalty area. It was thoroughly deserved from the visitors and Everton had their work cut out.
Wayne Rooney and more particularly, Yannick Bolasie, were spent on the hour and were replaced by James McCarthy and Aaron Lennon as Everton sought a way back into the game. Losing Wayne, and without another calm head on the field (I.e. Gylfi Sigurdsson), affected our play and we struggled to find a way to break down Manchester United but credit to the players, for about a 10 minute spell we did rally and you felt we needed to score in this period to get back on level terms, the best chance coming and going when Oumar Niasse headed wide from a Mason Holgate header. It wasn’t an easy chance for Oumar and he was a little unlucky. Otherwise we had the ball in the penalty area often enough but just couldn’t quite work the opportunity to get the shot away. On the counter attack Jordan Pickford twice kept us in the game with a good save from Paul Pogbl, and a superb one from Jesse Lingard.
At 1-0 you always have a chance of course and Manchestrer United had quietened us down after our little flurry of attacking. We were now having much less of the ball and with Dominic Calvert-Lewin ready to come on we won a throw in, and a chance to get the substitution made. Unfortunately we took the throw too quick, quickly giving the ball away and on broke Jesse Lingard who ran at us and finished superbly with Jordan Pickford no chance. He’s improved vastly that Jesse Lingard and now looks a very good player. We then made our substitution. 10 minutes left on the clock and we bring off a striker for another one. The locals weren’t happy, and let Sam Allardyce know it.
We were beaten by now and couldn’t offer much other than a late Michael Keane header which he may have done better with. At full time you trudged away with no complaints of the result. We were truly second best throughout.
The inquest? Just for the sake of a quick rant, I think things will never change with the ‘big’ clubs coming here and getting things their way. While I’ve no complaints with the Wayne Rooney and Mason Holgate yellow cards, the same should haver been distributed for similar challenges by Manchester United players but predictably enough nothing was done. It feels like an inequality every season. Though that’s not why we lost of course.
There’s never any shame in losing 0-2 to Manchester United. They have a vast pedigree of success and our lead by one of the world’s best manager’s. They have huge resources and are clearly head and shoulders better than us. No shame in the scoreline. What I find more difficult to stomach is, seemingly as I’ve no idea what was said pre-game of course, going up against them at home just to contain. I don’t expect us to go all guns blazing, but get up the pitch, get into them, press them and make it difficult for them. This gets the crowd off their seat, boosts our players and worried theirs (David Moyes was always good at instilling this at home). It’s not rocket science. We sat back way too deep and invited Manchester United onto us, and with no plan other than giving it to half-fit Yannick Bolasie, we were far too easy for Manchester United to defend against us. I don’t really blame the players for this. I felt they tried, but I have issue with the tactics employed.
It was only when James McCarthy was introduced as we chased the game were we finally getting into them, making tackles and forcing mistakes. They were rattled at that point. It’s a shame we didn’t do more of it. While Big Sam basked in the glory of his early impact, in our last four games our stats read:
Goals scored: 1
Goals conceded: 4
Shots on target: 3
It isn’t good enough, especially against the two relegation-threatened teams. I am grateful for the league position we are in compared with late-November. Relegation is not a threat, but surely the plan has to be to attack better than that? The above stats are not pretty reading for any team.
Seven changes was a lot to make, and I get the reasons why at this time of year. I do think that Sam rested players against Manchester United as he sees Friday evening’s match at Anfield as more important. He would be right with that judgement. I hope he judges it right on Friday, otherwise it’s season over in the first week of January.
Pickford: I’d like to see the goals again to see how much, if any, blame should be apportioned to Jordan for the two goals as they were both from distance, but my gut is that he was beaten more by good strikes than poor goalkeeping, and his second half save from Jesse Lingard in particular was top drawer. 7
Martina: I thought he did quite well defensively and showed good willing further up the pitch but a right back at left back can only influence the gamer so much. As usual for me, did his best but found lacking out of position. 6
Williams: Not bad, some good interceptions and tackles. 6
Keane: In the second half when we were chasing the game he was particularly good and was the pick of the two centre backs for me. 7
Holgate: Presumably Jonjo Kenny was rested for Friday which is why Holgate played at right back. He did OK but square peg round hole springs to mind. Much better off at centre half. 6
Schneiderlin: Battled albeit in vein. 6
Rooney: Did OK in spells but gave the ball away a bit also, though was missed when not on the pitch. Maybe taken off with an eye on Friday. 5
Bolasie: He’s a box of tricks and got down the line to good effect a few times, even if there was nobody in the penalty area to get on the end of one of his crosses. He then tired quickly in the second half and was replaced. He may have been better off being an impact substitute, but maybe Big Sam is thinking of Friday’s game and preserving Aaron Lennon for that. 6
Vlasic: Good in spells though largely anonymous in others. Usually uses the ball well and it was good to see him play. 6
Davies: Not everything he tries works, but he offers intelligence. He has good ability to find space and has a good idea when to press and chase. Why his team mates don’t see this I find baffling. My man of the match. 7
Niasse: Full of effort but that’s more or less it. A touch unlucky with that header. 6
Lennon (for Bolasie): Didn’t really effect the game. 5
McCarthy (for Rooney): Was key in our efforts to get back into the game as we finally then got stuck into them. May come in handy on Friday night. 7
Calvert-Lewin (for Niasse): Had a bit of a go and showed some nice touches and willing running. A definite starter on Friday. 6