Manchester United 2 - 0 Everton

Manchester United away... not a fixture I ever particularly look forward too, nor one that can be ignored. Some close family friends live nearby and are Manchester United supporters, so I took the lift with them up the M56. And was accompanied by my son, making his second trip to Old Trafford.

In his first one we gained a handy draw, in a game we should have won when Yerry Mina unnecessarily strayed offside before scoring late in the game. He was only five then, and doesn't remember attending. I'm sure he'll quickly erase the memory of this one too.

This isn't something I can do unfortunately. Everton's plight has me very concerned currently, and today's game has provided little comfort. I'm not disappointed in the result and performance in isolation as such, more looking into the abyss of how we can be so continually wasteful in front of goal; how we can regain composure and start executing good decisions in attacking areas; and how we can gather the confidence to do it. With only 10 games to go, I can't say I'm especially hopeful.

We were in our seats about 20 minutes before kick-off, near a few friendly faces. Everton won the toss and the players switched ends. We began like a house on fire. Pressing hard, forcing mistakes, but unable to force the ball over the goal line – an illustration of how it's currently going. 

And then of course, despite having all the play and all the opportunities so far, Manchester United get a penalty on the breakaway. A rare error by James Tarkowski in putting his boot in for the tackle, and Alejandro Garnacho quickly going to ground. A clear penalty I suppose, and one that I'd gleefully accept just to see how we would miss, but isn't that just everything you dislike about modern football?

Footballers playing for contact just so they can hit the deck, it's pathetic, and Garnacho particularly was at it all game. Needless to say, we haven't once been 'contacted' in the box once all season according the officials, and wouldn't have got that at the other end either. Jordan Pickford read Bruno Fernandes's penalty and got down to it, but couldn't keep it out.

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Such is Sean Dyche's Everton, we don't come back from defeats too often, so already you had that feeling of doubt that we could do so, but credit to the Everton players for continuing to give it a crack – Dwight McNeil, surely our busiest if not best player on the day, drilled one just wide of the post as Everton continued to knock on the door, backed well by our Evertonians.

Though on 36 minutes we really shot ourselves in the foot. It was noticeable that Manchester United must have done plenty of work on defending our set-pieces and winning the first ball, or if not then making it difficult for us to effect the second ball, Raphael Varane did a particularly handy job at that. And when Jordan Pickford's deep free kick was cleared and Fernandes cleverly flicked it on, you could see we were in trouble.

Still it was sloppy how Garnacho was able to dribble through us without being stopped, until Ben Godfrey recklessly wiped him out with a daft challenge, giving Simon Hooper no choice. The only surprise was Abdoulaye Doucoure's protests. Quite the dumb booking to collect.

Marcus Rashford took his penalty well. I overheard the guys behind lambasting how this exemplified our real lack of quality. Last weekend we got a penalty and missed. This weekend our opponents get two, and have two different penalty takers able to step up and score.

We still had more opportunities before the half was over, but just couldn't execute. James Garner had an effort saved, with the follow-up from Amadou Onana skied. And just before half-time, a good chance for Dwight McNeil was blocked. But despite our efforts, we went in at the break two goals down, from two penalties. We had the chances all game long, just not the composure.

As the substitutes warmed up, I saw Michael Keane run back towards the tunnel early and convinced myself we were switching to a three at the back system and spent most of the rest of half-time trying to figure out who was coming off to accommodate that and how it would look. A waste of time that turned out to be, obviously, as no such change materialised.

It was tough for Everton after the break. All Manchester United had to do was sit in and use the pace of Garnacho and Marcus Rashford on the counter-attack. So Everton couldn't commit too much. I felt it was an honest effort, just really muddled with composure in key areas.

Sean Dyche tried changing a few things around to stimulate something. Andre Gomes had a tidy impact and might become important in our remaining games if only he could get, and stay, fit. And Dominic Calvert-Lewin provided an alternative approach, and if he could just snare a goal from somewhere, it might make all the difference.

Ashley Young did well also, I thought, even though I was a bit dismayed that he replaced James Garner who I thought was doing okay. From our view, at least the biggest 'that was the chance' moment came fairly late, when the ball broke to Lewis Dobbin, but he couldn't get it on target on his left foot, and it also evaded Dominic.

With all the substitutions, I was surprised and disappointed that we didn't attempt to get more attacking quality on at right-back. Indeed, that was the reason I assumed Ashley Young entered the fray. Ben Godfrey, for all his efforts, wasn't able to get enough quality into the penalty area or make the right decision when in attacking areas.

When Sean made his treble substitution – which only became treble last minute when he saw Jack Harrison make a bad decision one too many times and quickly told Lewis Dobbin to get ready – I thought that was a good opportunity to swap our right-back too, and get Nathan Patterson on to try and provide more quality from that area, as that wouldn't have to impact any later substitutions. How Ben survived the game is something of a mystery to me. 

As we approached and entered additional time, many saw the opportunity to make an early dart as it felt hopeless by this point. My poor son had pretty much seen enough too and was trying to entertain himself by now, bless him. Had we not have arranged to meet our friends back at the car, we likely would have left too, so instead we stayed a little longer, only to see Manchester United awarded another penalty.

"Come on, let's go" I said, not really keen on watching more punishment, though, as I said this, I noticed the flag had gone up for offside, so watched to check what the VAR decision was on the offside. I then looked back and the boy was nowhere to be seen!

I turned around and just about saw him running up the top of the steps so had to run after him quickly, and didn't get a chance to say goodbye to the other guys. It put a smile on my face at least! And on we journeyed to the car and then home, nice and quickly, and even able to get back for a stroll in the late afternoon sun.

I can't fault the players for effort. They are working hard and fighting for the cause, and we're certainly due a slice of luck. But while stating the obvious, we really need to improve in our attacking areas. Not just with finishing, but also how we use the ball. So often the key pass is wrong or overhit, or the wrong option selected, or the pass before the final pass is wrongly executed.

This comes with confidence of scoring goals and winning games of course. We had 23 shots yesterday. Some were outside the box, yes, but it's not like we were just smashing it from anywhere and hoping for the best, they were often reasonable opportunities to shoot, just badly executed a lot of the time.

Sean Dyche is right in challenging his players more publicly to find the net. The players need to find a way again. I'm sure they'll be practicing these in game scenarios. I'm sure they are looking at the mental side of this and trying to focus the players.

One thing we have now is time. Three weeks to have a bit of down time, and then really work on this and get good input from the players on why they feel it's not working up there. I feel the trip away for some warm weather training will be good for the players, and we can come back fighting anad refreshed for our 10 cup finals.

Player ratings

Jordan Pickford: He might be disappointed not to have saved Bruno Fernandes's penalty, but he did well otherwise, including a really good save from a Bruno Fernandes free kick. 7

Vitalii Mykolenko: Not bad generally though not effective going forward. 6

Jarrad Branthwaite: Very good as ever. 7

James Tarkowski: Made a poor mistake for the first penalty but otherwise pretty good. Hard to be too critical of James with his form throughout the season. 6

Ben Godfrey: Pretty poor in attacking areas and made a poor decision for their penalty too. If Seamus can get fit enough to play, he has to be in of course, though I'd have Ashley Young or Nathan Patterson on instead. We need to have more quality in attacking areas, and that isn't Ben's forte. 5

Amadou Onana: Did quite well at times. His overhead volley was audacious to say the least. He can be frustrating. A few times he had the ball and he's looking around with his arms out as if to say "Come on, what am I supposed to do here?" Though I could see three pretty easy balls he could have played. Yes, he has good quality, he probably wouldn't look out of place with brilliant players around him, but disrespecting your team mates isn't a good look. 6

James Garner: Was doing okay and I was surprised he was substituted. 6

Dwight McNeil: He put a lot into the game and was probably our biggest threat, though was lacking in key decision-making at times. Hopefully he will really benefit from the break and come back raring to go. My Man of the Match. 7

Jack Harrison: Had a poor game. One of them games when nothing worked, it happens. When he was substituted, he came off on the far side and walked around past us Evertonians and was given a good reception which was nice to see. He looked a bit upset with his performance as he applauded back. May also benefit from the break more than most. 4

Abdoulaye Doucoure: Not at his best unfortunately, when we probably needed him to be. Collected a silly booking too. Now he's back to fitness, we've a real opportunity to practice with him in the group for the next few weeks. 5

Beto: I thought he did okay. He's unorthodox, but is a handful and did a decent job of bringing others into play too. Did a little better than I thought he would. 6

Dominic Calvert-Lewin (for Beto): Also did okay and showed a few nice touches. Badly needs a goal. 6

Lewis Dobbin (for Jack Harrison): Got involved but couldn't quite impact the game and then missed what looked a decent opportunity (I don't really want to watch the highlights back!). 5

Andre Gomes (for Abdoulaye Doucoure): I thought he did a good job of carrying the ball forward and bringing others into play. If he can stay fit, he could be a bit of a difference maker for our 10 cup finals. Not the worst free kick either. 7

Ashley Young (for James Garner): While I was surprised by the substitution and to see him coming on to play on the right, I thought he did quite well, from both an attacking and defensive sense. One defensive header he did from a high ball against Bruno Fernandes was very good. 6

Yousseff Chermiti (for Vitalii Mykolenko): Thrown on for a late gamble, but not on long enough to really judge. 


Reader Comments (13)

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Derek Thomas
1 Posted 10/03/2024 at 09:32:39
An optimistic assessment there, Paul, but if nothing changes, I struggle to see it applying for the next 10 games.

Coleman's been on the bench for a week or two now, so if he's not fit after this big break – what's the point?

We need a win soon from somewhere, anywhere, any how. If nothing changes, it's getting to "What's the point with Dyche?" — sack him and tell him to get in line for his compensation.

Changes! It can't get worse... can it?

Barry Rathbone
2 Posted 10/03/2024 at 11:50:16
Putting the effort in but not winning is almost the de facto standard of relegation candidates, not news to anyone with a basic inkling.

But we've got armchair masterminds frothing at the mouth to blame the manager as though he has a multitude of realistic options – like what? Who?? How???

A handful of players might make squads at challenging clubs but overall the squad is chocca full of also-rans. It's time to support the manager – the evidence of doing otherwise has led us to where we are now. We can only hope we scrape enough results to finish 4th from bottom – anything beyond is a bonus.

It's time to support Dyche.

Phil (Kelsall) Roberts
3 Posted 10/03/2024 at 13:13:16
I wonder if the stats are out there (they must be). Are we the worst at goals-to-shots in the Premier League?

So far this season, we have had (according to stats after each game on the BBC) 397 shots of which 129 have been on target, and yet we've only scored 29 goals.

That is an average of 14 shots per match, with 4.6 on target and at the average of a goal a game, it takes 4.6 shots on target to score. Is that the worst conversion ratio in the Premier League?

I seem to recall 12 to 18 months ago we were moaning that we had games without a shot on target (only 1 this season) and now we have reversed that but we're still not scoring.

We are making the opportunities, just not taking them.

Peter Moore
4 Posted 10/03/2024 at 14:20:30
Barry (2), that's how I see it too.

Dyche is getting greater efforts out of this squad, which many other managers with better resources (on paper) failed to do.

The lack of a Richarlison, Lukaku or even Sigurdsson in terms of the ability and quality of their finishing is decimating the points tally that should be yielded from the performances given.

This 12-game winless run will hopefully be an aberration, looked back on as the 'dirty dozen', if we can just find the shooting boots please.

Barry Rathbone
5 Posted 10/03/2024 at 15:11:32
Pete @4,

Seems so obvious doesn't it?

We've tried every type of manager and presumably it's more than coincidence all failed to take us to the promised land.

Surely the penny must drop that we don't have the players to do much more than scrape through to survival. What puzzles me most is this notion of shoving youngsters in or rearranging this limited squad into a front-foot attacking unit.

I can't think of a single relegation outfit escaping the drop through such a change. I remember Blackpool having a go and getting patted on the head after umpteen tonkings on their way back down.

Michael O'Brien
6 Posted 10/03/2024 at 18:19:04
Thats 3 games on the bounce now that I can't help but thinking that they were there for the taking. We should have held on at Brighton, West Ham were poor last week, as were Man Utd this week.

I'm trying to find positivity, but I feel this team is just not good enough; my friends I think we are down. I really hope not, but I just cant see them influencing too many more games. If there's an additional points deduction also, I think that's us finished.

How do we get out of this mess? Can we trust the manager to make the changes to affect games? His in-game management and subs are awful generally.

John Raftery
7 Posted 10/03/2024 at 18:54:32
We are not down, far from it. I think we will come out of this poor form next month. Dyche knows his best 13. It's a matter of getting them fit and in the groove after a very difficult winter, complicated by four cup matches, two matches each against Man City and Spurs, plus injuries and suspensions.

If I were a Forest fan, I would much prefer to be where we are in the table than where they are. Forest are almost certain to lose 6 points from their hearing which will leave them on 18 points with 10 games to go. As they average less than a point a game they will need to better their season-to-date form just to reach 30.

Meanwhile, we are likely to be deducted somewhere between 1 and 4 points from our second charge. If it is 4 points, taking us back to 21, we need to win three games to reach 30 and with a superior goal difference would finish above Forest.

With games against all the teams around us, we have a great opportunity to escape trouble before the final week of the season. That's the way Dyche and the team must look at the matches coming up after the break.

Robert Tressell
8 Posted 10/03/2024 at 19:44:31
It was a very strange game. As with a lot of our fixtures this season, we outplayed the opposition and came away with nothing. Composure in front of goal is certainly one thing – but yesterday composure in defence was surely the most obvious downfall.

But for two very rash challenges, it would be more obvious that Dyche did a tactical job on Mn Utd – because they weren't in it. And it's not even as though we played a deep defence and dug in – we genuinely contested the game and were largely on top. It's not a vintage Man Utd team by any stretch but this is still Old Trafford with a very expensively assembled side.

The more subtle issue is composure in midfield. Onana and Garner were good defensively – which is what their role in the team largely requires. Onana was the best midfielder on show in my view, but let down by the movement of those ahead of him. That would be helped by more adventurous full-backs but Doucouré was a persistent culprit in failing to show for the ball. In fact, Doucouré was dreadful yesterday. Our play came together better when Gomes was on the pitch.

I said on another thread that we miss Iwobi because he had the ability to move the ball up the pitch and was always a willing runner to receive the ball. Harrison, like Doucouré, was very poor apart from his defensive work. Failing to show for the ball, and failing to control the ball when he got it.

But, for all that, we were better than Man Utd at their place; we made the likes of Rashford, Fernandes, McTominay, Mainoo and Casemiro look very average indeed. Branthwaite was easily the best player on the pitch – possibly apart from their goalkeeper Onana who was excellent receiving back passes and really got them out of gaol when we pressed high.

Some of this is luck. I don't believe we played materially better than this when we beat Newcastle 3-0. I also don't believe we can continue to play this well (albeit a bit boring) without results starting to go our way.

Sam Hoare
9 Posted 10/03/2024 at 20:04:06
Barry @5, this is a good point. '

I understand that people are desperate for a change of form and fortune. But change does not always equal improvement and though people love posting that inane cliche about doing the same thing over and over (which wasn't Einstein), the reality is that Dyche has been playing his best XI (with the possible exception of Godfrey).

Trying to suddenly play possession football or going gung-ho would be about the worst thing we could do and has seldom worked for past relegation battlers. In fact historically it's the teams with the tightest defenses who seem to scrape over the line.

Brendan McLaughlin
10 Posted 10/03/2024 at 20:22:06
Could have been a much worse weekend... grateful for small mercies is as good a feeling that we're gonna get for quite some time.
Barry Rathbone
11 Posted 10/03/2024 at 20:49:32
Sam @9,

I couldn't agree more and the evidence the squad is just about capable of scrapping for survival and little else is there for all to see.

It will be tight but sniping at a manager who has no realistic alternatives contributes nothing.

Christopher Timmins
12 Posted 11/03/2024 at 11:46:39
Paul, the title to your article could just as easily be "A lack of confidence is killing us" or "A lack of quality is killing us". Maybe they are interwoven.

At the moment, the team is killing me.

I do hope that your young man enjoys better days in the years ahead and the living nightmare that we are still going through can be ended.

Rennie Smith
13 Posted 11/03/2024 at 14:04:20
I know this sounds a little ridiculous but maybe Dyche is looking at the remaining fixtures and thinking, "If we don't lose any of our home games, that may be enough to stay up"?

5 draws would give us 30 points, then anything we get on top of that and from the 5 away games is a bonus.

Let's say Forest get a 6-point deduction, we might as well, of course, but there seems to be this naive thought from the club we won't get done twice; that would put them 7 points behind. Then you have Luton who seem to have gone back to their early season form.

The only reason I'm saying this is because that would set out all the remaining training and match plans to defence, which it seems has been the plan all season considering our clueless approach to attacking football.

I'd love to be a fly-on-the-wall at the training sessions, and I don't mean the promo stuff put out by the club which is probably the last 5 minutes lads, have a match and look happy. Just what do they do?

Does Tarkowski stand in one corner leathering cross-field passes to the other corner? Endless practising of corners, defending and attacking? Playing through the thirds, but completely ignoring anything that goes on in the final third?

At least they'll be doing these in the Portuguese sun for the next few days

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