Everton v Manchester United


FA Carling Premiership 96/97 - Game 31
Saturday 22 March 1997
Goodison Park, Merseyside

Result: Everton (0) 0 - Manchester United (1) 2
Solskjaer (35), Cantona (79)

Everton: Gerrard, Barrett, Watson, Unsworth, Phelan, Stuart, Parkinson, Thomsen (Rideout, 46), Speed, Barmby, Ferguson
Booked: Ferguson.
Subs Not Used: Southall, Hottiger, Short, Branch. Unavailable: Hichcliffe, Grant, O'Connor (all injured).

Manchester United: Schmeichel, Irwin, May, Pallister (Johnsen 38), Cantona, Butt, Beckham (McClair 80), Giggs, P Neville, Keane, Solskjaer.
Subs Not Used: Cruyff, Van Der Gouw, Scholes. Booked: May.

Ref: Dermot Gallagher Att: 40,079 League Position: 14th Results and League Table

Previous Match: Everton v Derby County -- Next Match: Aston Villa v Everton

Match Summary

SoccerNet (Joe Melling, The Mail on Sunday): The one glimmer of hope for Everton was that United have developed a habit of failing to secure a Premiership victory on the previous five occasions following European involvement. But Royle conceded that his Everton team would be required to pack a great deal more into their armoury to ease the threat of a relegation dogfight.

Everton do possess Duncan Ferguson, however, an aerial giant who had provided two successful strikes in the corresponding game at Old Trafford earlier in the season, only for United to execute a successful comeback. Yet, such is the Everton obsession with exploiting Ferguson's prowess, their entire game tends to be dominated by the need to get the ball on or near his head. Having twice resisted a similar threat presented by Porto's Brazilian giant Jardel, rated head and shoulders better than Ferguson by Bobby Robson, United were not about to allow themselves to be nodded away from their objective.

Even when United lost Gary Pallister in the 38th minute through a leg injury, after an innocent clash with Gary Speed, there was no sign of concern. The impressive David May assumed responsibility for Ferguson, with substitute Ronny Johnsen a tower of strength in support. Besides, United were already a goal to the good. Three minutes earlier Ole Solskjaer turned and twisted past Dave Watson before rifling a shot from the edge of the penalty area that slow-moving goalkeeper Paul Gerrard might consider he should have done better to counter.

Everton persisted in scanning the skies in search of a suitable response but no amount of effort and energy from Ferguson succeeded in making a tangible impression. In stark contrast, United produced exhilarating responses on the break and might have had a second goal if Roy Keane had not allowed the ball to run a touch too far ahead at the climax of a brilliant attacking movement.

United ensured that the Everton manager would be left with more than a defeat to contemplate by claiming a second goal which confirmed their superiority. Royle caused controversy by replacing legendary goalkeeper Neville Southall with Gerrard, his £1.5million acquisition from his former club Oldham Athletic. But the Everton manager might consider he was a shade too premature with his action as Gerrard boobed again in that 79th minute.

The goalkeeper came a long way to try to collect a far-flung cross from David Beckham. But he barely got a touch and Eric Cantona was presented with the simple task of prodding the ball into an empty net.

There was a handshake for Royle from Old Trafford pal Ferguson at the finish and perhaps a few words of commiseration. But Ferguson is clearly in no mood to be generous. United are now six points clear of Liverpool, who face third-placed Arsenal at Highbury on Monday.

Royle has been left in the middle of a crisis, having won only twice in the last 14 League games. While United are looking to Europe again, Everton may be heading towards the Nationwide League.

The Differences between Chalk and Cheese

Guy McEvoy: It's an oft quoted observation of Everton that we save our best football and raise our game for the glamour ties. As glamour ties go, there are none bigger than arrival of the Champions at Goodison; Messrs. Cantona, Giggs, Schmeichel and Beckham are all the kind of names we'll bore our grandchildren with as examples of world-class players of our era we've seen 'in the flesh'. Games like this surely need little motivational skills from the management; the magnitude of the game must pump the players up like a bag full of steroids simply by virtue of the size of the occasion.

It all seemed to start to plan -- there were some early exchanges in the midfield and there was no doubt that by far the quicker of the teams to close the opposition down was the one in blue. With the extra yard of space we were kindly given, we were able to claim more ball possession, and the speed we pounced upon any United possession served to make sure that their options were narrowed.

United quickly seemed content to concede defeat to this part of Everton's game plan, after all, possession means nothing if you are unable to take advantage of it. Instead, they decided to sit back and soak up our half-hearted efforts, wait for the inevitable error and hit us hard and fast on the counter. A simple tactic that was to give them three points without ever looking like they could even be bothered breaking into a sweat.

Once the game had settled into this pattern it became overbearingly frustrating to watch. Everton seemed to be in control yet managed to go the entire first half without a meaningful shot, whilst United get one half sniff straight from a Route One goal-kick and Solskjaer picked it up from a flick on and swept the ball over the late diving arm of Gerrard. Cue a quarter of the Park End side of the Top Balcony jumping up and down in delirium. How did so many get tickets for our end given the stub requirements? I guess the sun-tans should have given away the blokes sitting next but one to me.

The only other incident of note was when Ferguson elbowed May in the face, which could well have been a sending off offence in its own right, before charging forward and taking a shot regardless of the fact the whistle had gone. I would expect better discipline from a borstal team. The man is treading a tight-rope and should count himself lucky the card was only yellow.

Everton left the field at half time to applause, the general opinion though was that, no matter how well we were 'mixing it' with them, it was difficult to see were any Everton goal would come from. Only Phelan had looked like wanting to take any responsibility.

While the rest of the team is piddling about passing in triangles that advanced the ball all the way on to, err, Gerrard, you could see that little Terry was getting just as narked off with this as the crowd. He'd get the ball, stick his head down and romp his way through the defence before delivering a cross. Responsibility. Mr Ferguson take note.

Indeed, it was Duncan's performance that preoccupied me for most of the game as I tried to place my finger on that indefinable quality that meant that you 'knew' United were going to win comfortably despite all our possession. A comparison between the style of midget, 15-year-old-looking, light-weight Solskjaer and six-foot-four, athletic, hard-as-nails Dunc may be quite telling:

So Everton's half time shuffle of bringing on Rideout for his swan-song in the place of the hapless Thomsen and shifting Graham 'play-anywhere-I'm-asked' Stuart back to cover him had no noticeable effect on the pattern of play (which was tedium itself to watch). The only moments of entertainment on display were, sad to say, provided by the opposition. There can be few more awesome sights in football than Giggs on the ball in full flight.

If we weren't sure we should be blaming Gerrard for the first he made sure we'd be calling for his head on the second. A long hopeful stab by Beckham, Watson chased out for it, Gerrard foolishly followed him and both flapped hopelessly as they misjudged horribly, Cantona was left with a tap in volley into an open goal.

'2-0 and we've got Jet-lag' the away fans taunted. 'Where's your greedy Russian Twat?', 'Dodgy Keeper, Dodgy Keeper' and 'This is so fucking easy' also featured prominently drowning out the home supports silence. There is little that winds me up more than being confronted by taunts like this and the team giving us absolutely nothing to answer them back with. Hardly any wonder that so many from the Park End left with ten minutes to go.

Everton had a late two-minute rally as United took off the screws, culminating in a great overhead kick from Unsworth. Regrettably, the big Dane pulled off an outstanding save to underline another of the subtle but crucial differences that make one team challengers for European glory and leave another looking anxiously over their shoulders.

Individual Performances

Sorry if you think I'm too negative but that's how I saw it.

Looking nervously over our shoulders

Richard Marland: In games between a team doing well at the top of the table and a team struggling in the lower reaches of the table, there are usually two ways of telling them apart:

  1. The first is when the struggling team is outclassed by the team going well, as we saw in the game against Arsenal
  2. The other is when the struggling team matches or even surpasses the performance of the team doing well, but the team going well still wins because they are the ones that get the crucial breaks.

On Saturday we easily matched Man Utd, playing with intelligence and commitment and some skill, but still Man Utd came away with a very flattering 2-0 scoreline as our goalkeeper decided to gift them two goals.

Our team line-up once again showed a worrying tendency for Joe Royle to tinker. Gary Speed came back (of course) but at the expense of Craig Short and yet another tactical switch. More controversially, Gerrard came back for Southall, a decision we were to pay handsomely for. The formation we adopted was a flat back four, three in midfield, Parkinson in the centre flanked by Speed and Thomsen, Barmby playing behind the front two and Dunc and Stuart up front.

First Half

For the majority of the first half, we took the game to Man Utd. The brain-numbing long ball tactics from the Derby game had largely gone, and we were back to being a passing side for the day. Everyone was playing their part in playing good controlled football. Unfortunately, as is often the way with Everton these days, there was little in the way of clear openings.

Despite our territorial and possession advantage we created precious few openings for ourselves. On 35 minutes we were made to pay dearly for this as Man Utd scored from a rare attacking opportunity. A long clearance from Schmeichel was flicked on by Cantona, Solskjaer picked it up and did well to control it and create a shooting chance just outside the area. His shot had direction but little pace but Gerrard failed to deal with it and allowed it to evade his grasp. It was a relatively straight-forward save, the goal has to go down to a mistake by Gerrard.

That was about it for the first half apart from two moments of controversy. Firstly when Dunc elbowed May in the throat. The crowd's initial reaction was that May was faking it, this was fueled by the fact that Solskjaer had gone down theatrically clutching his face earlier in the half. The United players reaction was unsurprisingly led by Keane, and the feeling we had was that the referee acted on the reactions of the players rather than on what he saw.

Subsequent viewing on Match of the Day (why is that they followed the championship race slavishly until we play them when they suddenly decide to concentrate on the relegation battle) showed that contact was made and Dunc could well have been sent off.

The second was when Stuart was clearly held back on the edge of the box, there was no way I could tell whether it was inside or outside the box, but surely it had to be described as a clear goal scoring chance, the referee gave a direct free kick to us so he clearly saw it as a foul, yet he didn't send-off, or even book the United player involved.

Second Half

The second half brought about a change as Rideout came on for his probable swan-song in place of Thomsen (probably as a result of his ankle injury). Rideout went up front and Stuart dropped back into central midfield.

The pattern of play was much the same as the first. We had lots of the play but didn't have anything to show for it except for a lot of corners. United for their part were quite happy to soak up the pressure and then hit us on the break.

It has to be said that United are utterly devastating on the break. On three or four occasions they had us seriously stretched and had a couple of opportunities to extend their lead, Gerrard doing well at least twice to keep them out.

There was a horrible inevitability about the second United goal, and once again Gerrard was culpable. Beckham swung over a cross from the right wing towards Cantona. The ball was swinging away from the goal towards the left corner of the box and Cantona was being policed by Watson and Barrett; there was no immediate danger yet Gerrard decided to come for the cross. He came a long way and it was one of those ones he had to get… Alas, he missed it and also took Dave Watson out of the equation. Cantona was left with a simple side foot into an unguarded net.

Two goals down playing against a defence as mean as Man Utd's and with our toothless attack didn't look too good, and so it proved as we went through the motions. Having said that, we did have probably our two best goal attempts, a Gary Speed shot that was deflected over by a United defender, and from the ensuing corner an overhead kick from Unsworth (yes you did read that correctly) was saved in miraculous fashion by Schmeichel.

So, all-in-all a disappointing day that once again has us looking nervously over our shoulders. Personally I thought that there were a lot of positives to be taken out of the game. We looked fairly comfortable at the back and passed the ball about quite well. Where we let ourselves down were the two goals we gifted United, and our inability to create in the final third of the pitch.

Our attacking options are looking fairly limited at the moment, we look fairly good down the left flank where Speed and Phelan are playing well and Unsworth is offering useful support. Down the right flank we had virtually nothing, Barrett being left to his own devices, and down the centre, without Barmby to sparkle, we can be crowded out by weight of numbers.

This all sounds rather grim but it should be remembered that we were playing the league leaders, who are on a good run and have a very good, well organised defence. Against lesser teams there should be more in the way of openings.

Team 6 Could have been a 7 had Gerrard not gifted them 2 goals, or we had looked more like scoring ourselves.

United stroll to victory

Robbie Newton: It was all planned out before-hand. Manchester United would be knackered after their European Cup exploits in midweek, and Everton, who haven't lost against them when Ferguson has been in the team, would capaitalise and stroll to victory.

I thought to myself before the game, however, that as we were being tipped to perhaps pull off a victory we would naturally lose.

My pessimistic mood was dampened even further when Radio Merseyside broke the news that Royle had dropped Southall again in favour of the inexperienced, confidence-shot, unproven ex-Oldham boy, Paul Gerrard. Not only that, but the formation was one that said to you "I'm happy with a draw". Branch had been dropped and so had Short. Barrett, Watson, Unsworth & Phelan were the back four, with Stuart, Thomsen, Parkinson and Speed in the midfield. Barmby and Ferguson up-front.

All this chopping and changing is not good. How are the defenders going to feel with a different goalkeeper behind them again? Why was Southall dropped, AGAIN? Why was the improving Short dropped? And why was Branch dropped when the chance was there to get at the Mancs early on? Nevertheless, there was still the hope of us perhaps getting a corner or two.

First Half

And so the game kicked-off. And so Everton began to prove me wrong and lift my hope a little bit higher. Everton 'bossed' (used loosely) the first-half but yet Schmeichel didn't have anything to do. The play was embarrassingly predictable and embarrassingly poor.

Ferguson was continually the target through a succession of high-balls -- only Terry Phelan offering a different outlet. But he very rarely got the ball, unless it was direct from defence. Joe Parkinson and Claus Thomsen were showing as much vision as Stevie Wonder, and Stuart failed to really get involved.

Unsworth continued to demonstrate his disgraceful passing ability, whilst Barrett always looked under pressure when given the ball.

On 30 minutes, we should have been down to 10-men when Ferguson lost his rag and head-butted May in a race for the ball. Fortunately (?) the referee didn't spot this but still 'saw' enough to flash a yellow-card in the Big-Man's face.

United had offered little threat and that situation didn't look like changing until Gerrard made Cock-Up #1 on 35 minutes. Unsworth and Watson reacted slowly to Cantona's pass to Solskjaer and the Norweigan turned to shoot tamely from 20 yards. The ball *may* have bounced over Gerrard's arm (not sure from my view) but even so, he should have saved it. The crowd was incensed as it was Gerrard's first action of the game.

End of half and it was 1-0 to the Mancs, but the boys were (gently) clapped off the field.

Second Half

Paul Rideout came on at half-time for Claus Thomsen, with the much-needed pace remaining on the bench in the form of Michael Branch.

This was Rideout's last appearance for Everton as he leaves for Japan this week, and it was pity he couldn't have signed off with a goal. He came close to creating and scoring one, but it wasn't to be, and in the end the crowd started to get on his back for choosing the wrong option.

United were strolling and looked very comfortable. They're a good side, of that there is no doubt. They've got a team of excellent passers, and although they squabble between themselves there seems to be an excellent level of understanding -- an understanding that Everton's players don't even get close to.

The ball was continually pumped up to Ferguson unless Phelan had hold of the ball in which case he made some wonderful dribbling and produced some great crosses.

It took up until the 86th minute for Schmichel to make his first save of the game when he tipped over from Speed's header.

By then United were 2-0 up after Gerrard had made a horrendously hideous error - again!!! A harmless cross into our penalty area was covered by Watson until Gerrard came out and jumped on him, leaving the goal open for Cantona to roll the ball into. There was absolutely no reason for Gerrard to come springing off his line 10 yards when Watson had the ball covered. It was a mistake that signalled the end of the game with 10 minutes left.

Our best chance of the game came in the last minute but Schmeichel made an outstanding (and largely unbelievable) save from Unsworth's three-yard over-head kick. Without Schmeichel I think it's fair to say United wouldn't have achieved what they have over the past four years. He's the difference between them and say, Liverpool or Newcastle.

So 2-0 in a game where we had 90 per cent of the possession. Just goes to show that we have no creativity whatsoever and a defence that wouldn't look out of position in the Endsleigh Second Division. Couple that with a negative manager and there ain't much to be happy about. And triple that with the teams below winning and we're right back to the situation we were in before the Derby game.

Individual Performances

Outclassed by a side that didn't even seem to try. They won't have had an easier game all season (same as Arsenal a few weeks ago). I can't see Everton being as good as United under Royle. He's far too negative and far too naive.

Lessons in the Predictable - Part 7

Steve Kirkwood: Occasionally, there are times pre-match, when the team selection causes us to roll our eyes and question sanity or sense of the management. Saturday was such a day, when dropping Short (harsh) to bring back Speed (good), was eclipsed by the return of Gerrard at the expense of Neville.

This was going to be I told you so day...........

Early exchanges had both sides firing over from 25+ yards, with no real threat coming from either side. Gerrard made his customary fluff of an early cross, but no harm done. The rest of the side were performing, maybe not as well as early season, but better than of late. Ferguson was holding the ball up, the midfield was moving about creating space, and the back four were untroubled (yes, untroubled).

After big Dunc running through with May was judged to be offside (incorrectly), as the two ran on May fell to the ground and, as Match of the Day proved later, Dunc had elbowed him. 3 mins later, May was reveived, not carried off as Fifa would have it, and the yellow card produced for our No 9. (Galagher, the ref, did not play the extra time later).

Keane fires over again from 30 yds, but its the Blues who are running things and then -- Route 1 to Cantona from Schmeichel, flicked on to Solskjaer who turns Watson and fires past Gerrard. Should have saved it, say my chums in the Park End, and Later with the aid of Alan Hansen, I'd have to agree.

Then, after 39 mins, Stuart twists into the area, its an obvious pen, ref bottled it and gave it as a free kick on the line. Replays prove him wrong, and Johnsen and Man Utd breathe easily. Small point, but they are really irritating the way every decision is questioned, at length, like McMahon and Dalgleish used to…

After half time, Thomsen is replaced by Rideout, Thomsen it transpires is playing with painkillers -- looked to me more like tranquilizers Rideout improved things, he is good in the air and effective. Our angles get better and Barmby has more opportunity as the game swings from end to end, but his role is still unclear; I'd prefer a wide man rather than a guy in the hole -- we have no width like this.

After 48 mins, Big Dunc fires hard and just wide after a good set up by Rideout (who looks quicker???), Phelan is showing how much he's come on (and how much he hates Man U), and Speed is just great. But we don't threaten.

Then, from another United break, Gerrard saves bravely at Keane's feet, and then from the resultant corner we earn yet another corner (we had at least 8), Phelan has a great chip headed clear, and Ferguson heads another one wide. Gerrard saves a Giggs cross, and Unsworth has one at the far post chips and headed clear again.

Then another Man U hoof, by Beckham. Gerrard comes out about 16 yards, He's not going to make it, doesn't, and the ball hits Cantona (who did very little all game) and rolls into the net. Game over, typical league leaders, its always like this. We then had two chances, an Unsworth overhead saved very well by Schmeichel on the line, and another good header saved. It had all gone quiet. We were all embarrassed for Gerrard, and a few gave vent to their feelings.

In the end Joe's remarks on Radio Everton that we still looked solid at the back but didn't create enough masked his and our disappointment with having to chase the game unnecessarily due to keeper error.

Ref Gallaher 5 Poor - watch Ferguson at a corner, had FOUR arms on him. how can a ref NOT see this OR Stuart's penalty???

We'll play worse and win

Steve Bickerton: There has to be something positive to say about a performance which promised much and delivered very little.

The first half was something of a procession, with Everton forcing United back time and time again. But all too often it came to nothing. Phelan was incisive, Speed was trying for all he was worth, Duncan won just about everything that was thrown up at him. But nothing came of it. Half time came with us looking back at what might have been and disbelief at what was.

Against the run of play United broke and the ball came in from the right finding Solskjaer free. He turned Watson and turned and shot innocuously towardsd goal. Gerrard seemed to wait for an age before diving, but too late the ball was in the net. The crowd was stunned, as were the players. But there was time to repair the damage in the second half.

Rideout came on to add (yet more) height to the attack, replacing Thomsen. He offered himself unselfishly, got the ball often and then wasted it constantly. Again in the half we had the lion's share of the possession but again the cutting edge wasn't there. The best hope was a penalty and even that was denied when Phil Neville seemed to handle the ball back to Schmeichel.

After 80 minutes the ball broke wide to Beckham, who whipped it across to Cantona. Watson seemd to have it under control but there must have been a call from the flailing Gerrard, who'd raced out for the ball. Watson hesitated, Gerrard only clawed it with his fingers and Cantona stroked it into an empty net.

0 - 2 in a game we should and could have won, a game in which we were always the best, but United just soaked up the the pressure. Late attempts from Speed (touched over by Schmeichel) and a scintillating overhead from Unsworth, miraculously saved by the keeper, kept the score sheet blank for the blues.

That old saying "We'll play worse and win" seems to be bouncing around my head. Hmmm...

United grateful for Gerrard gifts

Colin Malam, Electronic Telegraph: MANCHESTER United made absolutely certain there were no slip-ups this time. Having lost at Sunderland following their 4-0 demolition of Porto in the first leg of the European Cup quarter-finals, they ground out a win at Goodison Park in the aftermath of the return.

Deciding not to rest anyone, as they had at Sunderland, defending stubbornly and counter-attacking at speed, the Premiership leaders were never in much danger of not getting the three points they needed to put further pressure on Liverpool in tomorrow's critical away game against Arsenal.

United were aided considerably in all of this by the generosity of the Everton goalkeeper, Paul Gerrard. He could be faulted on both of the goals, by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Eric Cantona, and his fallibility made the decision by manager Joe Royle to drop Neville Southall look a very costly one indeed.

This was a match Everton could ill-afford to lose on a day many of the teams below them in the bottom half of the table were winning. Indeed, a season that began so promisingly with a home victory over Newcastle and an impressive draw at Old Trafford is now in danger of ending in another battle against relegation.

United's determination to take something from the match was immediately evidenced from the quality of their line-up. Gary Neville and Ronny Johnsen were missing from the team that had cruised past Porto a few days earlier, but since Ryan Giggs and Phil Neville were the replacements, United could be said to have been a little stronger than they were in Portugal.

Even so, Everton proved a tough nut to crack. Although David Beckham did let fly from 25 yards in response to Roy Keane's square pass, the only time the home goal was threatened at all seriously in the opening half-hour was when Gerrard had to race out to the corner of his penalty area to beat Solskjaer to David May's clever through pass.

Gerrard, a £1.2 million buy from Oldham, was making only his fourth appearance of the season in Everton's goal. He was preferred to Southall for only the second time, and the Merseysiders' defence looked strangely incomplete without the burly veteran between the posts.

Southall was certainly missed when United took the lead after 34 minutes. Gerrard looked to be badly position as Cantona headed Peter Schmeichel's long clearance down to Solskjaer for the boyish Norwegian striker to beat the Everton goalkeeper with a low shot inside a post from 20 yards.

The goal produced such a spirited response from Everton that Gary Pallister damaged his groin challenging Gary Speed in the United penalty area. The injury was so painful that it compelled United to withdraw their experienced central de- fender after 38 minutes and replace him with Johnsen.

The Norwegian utility player was immediately involved in a controversial incident at the edge of the United penalty area. He looked to have fouled Graham Stuart inside the area, but the referee, Dermot Gallagher, decided the offence had taken place just outside.

The whole of the United team lined up in defence of their goal, and Speed's free-kick was deflected off them to Claus Thomsen. He headed the ball across goal towards Nick Barmby, but May got there first.

Everton made a change themselves at the start of the second half, Paul Rideout coming on for Thomsen, who had been a doubtful starter in the first place. Rideout soon made himself busy enough in attack to allow Duncan Ferguson a low shot that fizzed just wide with Schmeichel struggling to cover the danger.

Whenever Everton pressed hard for an equaliser, however, they exposed themselves to United's speed on the break. It happened after 59 minutes when Cantona released Keane on the left when he had either the midfielder or Giggs to choose from. Unfortunately for United, the Irish international knocked the ball too far ahead of him and allowed Gerrard the chance to come off his line and block the thrust.

The Everton goalkeeper also successfully parried a shot from Beckham when he was put clear by Solskjaer, but none of this could atone for his error of judgment on the first goal.

Things got worse for Gerrard and Everton after 78 minutes. This time, the goalkeeper came a long way off his line for the ball, and missed as Beckham sought to reach Cantona with an angled centre from the right.

Gerrard not only failed to gather the ball but crashed into Earl Barrett, flattening his own full-back while Cantona casually steered the dropping ball into an empty net.

Everton, to their credit, did not give up following that second self-inflicted wound. Schmeichel proved to be at his busiest and most agile during a frantic final eight minutes.

Three times it seemed Everton must score. But the big Danish goalkeeper snatched Ferguson's low centre off Barmby's feet, tipped Speed's long-range shot over the crossbar and then pulled off an absolute blinding reflex save to stop David Unsworth scoring with a spectacular overhead kick from the ensuing corner.

Report Copyright The Electronic Telegraph

United cement top spot

Joe Lovejoy, Sunday Times:  The leaders won routinely yesterday, without needing top gear against disappointing Everton who, on the admission of Joe Royle, the manager, are glancing apprehensively over their shoulders, towards the relegation pack. At the end, Royle's hangdog expression was matched only by the grimace worn by Hoddle, whose England plans have been compromised by the witdrawal of key Manchester United players before the squad has even assembled.

What he witnessed was scarcely a classic, proving only that Everton are nowhere near as good as the names on their team sheet might suggest and that United, like all true champions, can graft as well as play. The goals, from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Eric Cantona, amounted to little more than gifts ­- both the product of ghastly gaffes by an errant goalkeeper, Paul Gerrard.

Royle said before the match that Everton's victory over Derby last week had given them a "platform" and a "buffer", but they were left at the station by the 3.35, with Solskjaer's 14th goal of the season.

The fixture always looked like a banker away win. United have lost only once in 17 League games, Everton have won just two of 13. There was encouragement for those of the blue persuasion, however, in the League leaders' record of having won only two of seven matches played immediately after European ties, taking a modest eight points from a possible 21.

Unfortunately for Everton, Ferguson was not about to repeat his mistake of two weeks ago, when he rested key players after the first leg against Porto and lost 2-1 at Sunderland. With Roy Keane, a potential Footballer of the Year, available again after domestic suspension, and Ryan Giggs restored to fitness, United were virtually at full strength. The one notable absentee was Gary Neville, who gave way to his brother, Phil.

United were certainly up for it, but so were Royle's dogs of war, and a frenetic, fractious start was notable only for an ugly incident which saw Duncan Ferguson booked for flooring May as they tussled in midfield for worthless possession. An offside flag was always going to render the outcome academic. May, still incensed, was cautioned five minutes later for bringing down Graham Stuart.

Play was scrappily disappointing until Solskjaer's goal enlivened the game. The boyish Norwegian turned Dave Watson in a central position just outside the penalty area, and showed good composure in setting himself before shooting low through Gerrard with his left foot. The goalkeeper hammered the ground with his fists in frustration, knowing that he should have saved a shot well within his reach.

Everton thought they should have had a penalty after 39 minutes. Ronnie Johnsen's foul on Stuart was close, but the referee was probably right in awarding a free kick on the 18-yard line. United's defensive wall did its job, keeping out Gary Speed's initial strike and Claus Thomsen's follow-up.

When the second goal came, to remove Everton from contention, it was again courtesy of their goalkeeper. Beckham's cross from the right looked innocuous but Gerrard flapped at it and missed, leaving Cantona to nudge the ball into the vacant net. Everton flurried with mounting desperation, but Peter Schmeichel made late saves from Speed and David Unsworth.

Report Copyright The Sunday Times

United stroll on irresistibly

Dave Hannigan, The Sunday Tribune (Dublin): Six points clear at the top of the Premiership, Manchester United will no doubt be as relaxed this morning as they were for this rather tedious encounter. Against a team as desperate for points as themselves, they hardly broke sweat. It finished a very comfortable 2-0 and Everton can only be thankful that they didn't meet United in one of their more irresistible moods.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this dull affair was that all of United's major players seemed out of sorts. From an Irish point of view, there was also the bonus of admiring Terry Phelan who looked like a player reborn. For all Phelan's industry though, United at half-pace were never in any danger of losing this one. There mightn't have been the usual flourish about their moves, and there definitely wasn't a spring to their step but Alex Ferguson will hardly mind that.

And yet, there had been enough missed tackles and loose passes about United in the opening exchanges to suggest that maybe another post-European Saturday would end unsatisfactorily. Keane alarmingly lost a 50-50 challenge to Gary Speed, Cantona drifted aimlessly from wing to wing now and again feigning interest while Giggs struggled to shake Earl Barrett.

The irony was that Joe Royle's team had begun like a side finally determined to lift the threat of relegation. Their energy, indeed all that was good about them, was encapsulated by Phelan who zipped along the left flank all afternoon. With Duncan Ferguson's imposing physical presence causing problems in the air, especially when Pallister went off injured, Everton looked to be in with some sort of a chance.

As the first half wore on, they forced a succession of corners, although a couple of off-target headers from Ferguson were all they had to show for the pressure. Midway through the half, Ferguson might have walked for elbowing David May in the head. He escaped with a lenient booking and kept up the good work, one sparkling move being let down by, of all things, a poor Phelan cross.

There were 31 minutes gone at that point and before Everton could get ideas above their station, United struck and all of the home side's good work was undone. A Schmeichel free kick was headed on by Cantona to Solskjaer. The Norwegian striker took two touches to control it before turning to fire the ball past the badly placed Gerrard in the Everton goal.

Royle made a logical change at the break, withdrawing the ineffectual Thomsen in favour of the more robust Paul Rideout. The switch nearly bore instant dividends. When Speed crossed into the box, the United defence seemed caught between Rideout and Ferguson, allowing the Scottish striker room to shoot but his effort was just the wrong side of the post.

That incident prefaced the rest of the afternoon as United reverted to their lethargic ways. Everton's failing was that Phelan often looked the only player eager to capitalise. In the 54th minute, he reprised a first-half move, setting off on a 60 yards mazy dribble which resulted in him winning a free kick on the edge of he box. Speed spurned the chance, curling it well over.

With United's midfield in uncharacteristically generous mode, Speed and his cohorts in the midfield should really have been doing better. As it was, they evinced a terrible lack of invention and it fell to Phelan to create another opening in the 65th minute. Darting to the end line, his inch perfect cross was headed directly at Schmeichel by Ferguson.

With Everton continuing to press they were inevitably leaving gaps at the back. Having run fully 60 yards to gather a sweep through ball by Cantona, Keane's first touch let him down. A minute later, Beckham volleyed a neat Solskjaer cross at Gerrard. But the breaks were looking more and more ominous and in the 79th minute one of them finally paid off when Beckham lofted the ball over there appeared to be plenty of defenders on hand to cope. There wasn't. The ball fell between Gerrard and Earl Barratt for Cantona to tap it home. United had clinched the three points without ever slipping out of first gear.

Ferguson immediately replaced Beckham with experience of McClair, keeping one eye on an end of season schedule that grows increasing more hectic. For Everton, the rest of the campaign is important too. Relegation is not yet a fate beyond them and on this evidence they have only themselves to blame for that.

Fixtures crowd in on United

Phil Shaw, The Independent:  As he awaits Monday night's collision of Arsenal and Liverpool, Manchester United's closest championship rivals, Alex Ferguson may be tempted to echo the sentiments of a fellow Scot a quarter of a century ago. Before a match between two of the three clubs vying with Liverpool for the title, Bill Shankly told their managers: 'I hope you both lose.'

Ferguson, for whom a draw at Highbury would be the next best thing, made the customary noises after this comfortable defeat of Everton about preferring to focus on his own team's form and results. Both have been good enough to encourage hopes at Old Trafford of a European and domestic 'double'. Their manager, typically, has spotted dark clouds on the horizon.

Not in the shape of Borussia Dortmund, nor even the visit to Anfield which the Premiership computer inserted between the two legs of the semi-final. No, the source of his anxiety is an old-fashioned fixture pile-up. With United already scheduled for three games in the season's final nine days, Ferguson sees the same period as the only possible slot for the home match against Newcastle unless they are allowed an extension.

Precedent reveals legitimate cause for concern. Five years ago next month, United took a two-point lead and a game in hand into a run of four matches in seven days. They won only one. Leeds, having had the good sense to make early exits from both cups and thus congestion-free, took advantage.

That spring, United were over-reliant on Mark Hughes. When he went 11 games without scoring, it was symptomatic of a wider weariness. On the evidence of Saturday's quick-fire counter-attacking, no such malaise is yet afflicting United. Moreover, the goals are being evenly distributed.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's strike 'out of nothing', as Ferguson put it, made him the seventh United man to net in March. The Norwegian, unknown nine months ago, now has a better ratio of League goals per starting appearance (13:21) than Hughes ever managed. A soft second, by Eric Cantona, followed by Peter Shmeichel's wondrous save from David Unsworth's overhead kick, allowed United's fans to prove that the harrowing retreat from Oporto had not blunted their wit. 'Two-nil and we've got jet lag,' they sang.

Allowing for poetic licence, the words summed up the growing chasm in quality between the teams. Back in August, Everton led 2-0 at United before drawing; they were above them as recently as December. United have since amassed 35 points from 14 matches. Joe Royle's side, who had neither the variety nor the vitality to join the list of those who have prospered against the champions after their European exertions, have taken nine and remain two wins short of safety.

Royle took an unnecessary gamble by dropping Neville Southall -- a week after he kept a clean sheet -- when experience was likely to be crucial. Paul Gerrard was at fault for both goals, yet the failure was collective.

One tires of noting Everton's fixation with aiming mindlessly for Duncan Ferguson's head; how much more tedious it must be for Goodison regulars. Perhaps more than any crowd in the country, they demand technical excellence.

Everton's gangling striker, who should have been sent off for elbowing David May in the face during the first half, received only one cross which allowed him to attack the goal. At least his potential is evident, his commitment beyond question. Nick Barmby has taken on roles up front, in midfield and between the two without looking a 5.75 million pound player in any. His continued inclusion in the England squad is baffling.

Barmby was limping in the closing stages and looks set to follow United's Pallister and David Beckham in dropping out of the Mexico friendly. A degree of skepticism is inevitable in view of Neil Webb's claim that Alex Ferguson invented injuries to stop him playing for England. In his search for a replacement centre-back, Glenn Hoddle may have called United's bluff by picking the uncapped but in-form May.

Ferguson fears fatigue factor

Ian Ross, The Guardian:  The prospect of a season of extraordinary commitment and sustained excellence being undone not by the deeds of others but simply by fatigue is beginning to drain Alex Ferguson's already shallow pool of patience.

Ferguson, whose side astonishingly received a prolonged ovation from the home fans at the final whistle, wants to see Manchester United's season extended by a few days which may, ultimately, prove to be the difference between glorious triumph and mere success.

'We do need to extend the season,' he said. It is totally unfair that we may be asked to play four demanding games in eight days in May. It's ridiculous, really. I distinctly remember some bright spark saying this sort of thing would never be allowed to happen in the Premiership. Well, it is happening.'

His concern is possibly misplaced, because United's fourth title in five years will probably be confirmed before the end of April. And in the unlikely event that his plea falls on sympathetic ears, Ferguson may be further tempted to ask whether his club can also be pitted against Everton every week.

In the next three years Everton will up sticks and head for the green and pleasant lands of Kirkby some eight miles from their current home. There will be consultation, there will be a referendum, the voice of the people will be heard -- but it will happen whatever.

The new stadium will house 60,000 and the chairman Peter Johnson has vowed to fill it. With what precisely? A heady cocktail of the naively optimistic, the unswervingly loyal and the ghosts of yesteryear presumably.

Everton will do well to avoid relegation this season. To describe them as a poor team is to understate the matter. A measure of just how desperate the Goodison faithful are was the rapturous applause that echoed around the old place at half-time when it was announced that the veteran forward Paul Rideout was to replace the utterly wretched Claus Thomsen. Talk about being damned with faint praise.

Not so long ago, when the words fixtures and defeat were joined at the hip, Everton's football was burdened by the irritating, irrelevant contribution of players who mistakenly saw themselves as entertainers. Now it is dreadful, Neanderthal stuff, which has an uncomfortably agricultural feel to it.

United, actually, did their level best to accommodate Everton and their Sunday morning ale-house tactic of knocking it long and hoping it struck the head of Duncan Ferguson.

Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs ran tirelessly but the champions, as they have often done in the wake of a midweek European excursion, played poorly and without enthusiasm, impressing only when the invitation to skip through the gaping holes in the Everton defence proved irresistible.

It was an unfathomable decision by Everton manager Joe Royle to replace the trusted goalkeeper Neville Southall with Paul Gerrard which cost his side the game. Gerrard was at fault, and badly so, for both goals, allowing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's left-foot shot to roll through his fingers and then presenting Eric Cantona with the decisive second after failing miserably to intercept David Beckham's cross.

United's passage to a win which extended to six points their advantage at the top of the Premiership would have been even smoother had the referee Dermot Gallagher dismissed Ferguson for elbowing David May in the throat midway through the opening half.

By only cautioning the Everton centre-forward, Galagher unwittingly confirmed either that he had not seen the incident and had been cajoled into action by the crowd's reaction or that he is simply not conversant with the rule book.

Either way the decision was an absolute nonsense which further undermined the credibility of a beleaguered profession.

United give short shrift to tide of abuse

Michael Henderson, The Times:  THERE is a story, quite true, of a barrister who took his friend, the judge, to watch Manchester United play at Goodison Park. Embarrassed to hear sections of the crowd respond with abuse to the call of "Un-i-ted!", the barrister turned round to apologise, only to see the judge joining in. "What do you think you're doing?" he asked. "I've always loathed those red bastards," the judge said.

Nothing changes where United are concerned. After ten minutes of this strangely uninvolving match, the crowd encouraged people to stand up if they hated "the Mancs", and a few thousand did. After 20 minutes they invited Eric Cantona to go home, though not quite so politely. Five minutes from time some of the Great Unwashed began that ghastly "song" about the Munich air crash. It was a heart-warming afternoon all right.

Gosh, am I being rude about football supporters? Goodness gracious, they are the salt of the earth, are they not? If we are in any doubt, then a film based on Nick Hornby's grossly overpraised book, Fever Pitch, will shortly remind everybody just how much the game means to "real people". They would do better to go back to Arthur Hopcraft, who wrote a much better book 30 years ago and who never gave silly interviews passing himself off as an expert on fiction, even though he knew rather more about the subject.

Hatred: there is too much of it in English football, and most of it is directed at Manchester United, who have brought some distinction to the game recently and continue to emphasise its good points. For this, they are repaid with gross behaviour, and mockery.

When, for instance, Ferguson, the loutish Everton centre forward, caught May with a reckless elbow midway through the first half, flattening him in the process, the crowd booed May the next time he touched the ball. Is day night? Beckham, who was understandably vexed by this monstrous foul, had to endure the hooting of the crowd for the rest of the half.

It is all very well, as a billboard at Goodison proclaims, to "kick racism" out of football. Why stop there? There are other forms of intolerance, and they can be heard every Saturday all over England. To point this out, as John Arlott and others have done, is somehow not to play the game. People in football are surprised when those who take a broader view mention that this sort of thing simply does not happen elsewhere. The fact is, many football followers do not really love the game. They love their own side, and detest everybody else's.

Now, here are three reasons why United will retain the championship:

  1. Peter Schmeichel. As Paul Gerrard was gifting United two goals, the Dane stood tall and proud: the best goalkeeper in the league.
  2. Roy Keane. Even in a match as moderate as this, he stood out as United's important first line of defence. He is more than that, of course, but essentially he prevents the other lot playing as they would like. How Liverpool must wish that they had somebody like that.
  3. The Frenchman. He did not do much on Saturday, but he is always good value and, by shaking the referee's hand after some minor disagreement, he made the Everton crowd howl even louder. A nice touch. For all the tosh written about him, he remains outstanding.

It was interesting to note the reactions of both scorers to their goals. Solskjaer, after turning Watson inside out on the edge on the box to score with a crisp left-footed shot that Gerrard should have stopped, regarded his with bewilderment, as though he had accomplished something that strained belief. Cantona, who gently volleyed the second when Gerrard hopelessly misjudged Beckham's cross, turned away as though he had completed a move of rare delight.

Everton's one recognisable ploy is to hoof the ball up to Ferguson as often as possible, and the higher the better. Ferguson is not, actually, all that good and, when Rideout trotted on for the second half, one wondered how such an unremarkable player can sustain a career for so long at this level. Barmby, all £5.75 million of him, looked quite out of it. Everton are a mess.

In Pallister's absence, May had a fine game at centre half and, though clobbered by Ferguson's elbow, he refused to buckle. Somehow he has made himself into a decent player, which reflects well upon his character, and also upon his manager's judgment. But we knew that bit already.

Report Copyright The Times

To the Sports Editor, The Times of London

Dear Sir,
I wish to complain in the strongest terms about the wholly unjustified bias and red-eyed prejudice shown by your "journalist", Michael Henderson. I am referring to his so-called match report on the game last weekend at Goodison Park.

After zealously condemning hatred and intolerance at today's football grounds, he has the temerity to call Duncan Ferguson Everton's "loutish centre-forward" while idolizing Eric Cantona as Manchester United's "outstanding" player. Is day night, indeed?

Has the whole world turned upside down? How short the memory is, when convenient. Lest you should have forgotten, Mr Henderson, Cantona is the animal who's kung-fu kick landed squarely on the chest of an obnoxious Crystal Palace fan. Unforgivable? Apparently not.

Strange too that the referee saw fit to judge the Ferguson-May business a little differently, probably recognizing it as a typical 50-50 struggle for the ball, with Ferguson penalized for retaliating after receiving a provocative dig in the ribs from May.

It is interesting that Henderson found so little to report on as far as the match itself was concerned. If he had cared enough to do his duty, instead of staging an obscene and vicious attack on Everton supporters, he might have conveyed such unbiased facts as Everton's overwhelming (if poorly used) possession, a clear goal-scoring opportunity for Graham Stuart that was denied by a professional foul from Pallister, and a marvellous overhead kick by Unsworth which bought an incredible point-blank reaction save from Schmeichel -- a goalkeeper who is incidentally suspected of racist tendencies.

As for Cantona shaking the referee's hand, well, it simply didn't happen. Cantona's offer was pure gamesmanship -- recognized as such and rightly refused by Dermot Gallagher, who was besieged by a plague of red shirts each time he made a potentially significant decision that went against the Red Devils. Do we hear Mr Henderson decrying that offensive exhibition of Premiership elitism? No.

Henderson's memory is short and selective. He conveniently forgets the disgusting treatment meted out to Kanchelskis on his return visits to Old Trafford in a Royal Blue shirt. Contrast that with the marvellous reception Everton fans gave to Peter Beardsley when he came on at Goodison Park last August. But such events belie the sour tenor of Henderson's shameful and despicable storyline, and can apparently be ignored with impunity.

As a telling footnote, Henderson also failed to report that those home fans, whom he so biliously castigated, still showed through the pain of defeat, enough generosity (rare in these days of over-hyped Premiership success) to applaud the victors off the field.

What price media honesty, Mr Henderson?

Yours faithfully

Michael Kenrick

Results and League Table

Monday, 24 March 1997

ARSENAL                 1-2    LIVERPOOL                 38,068 
Wright(78)                     Collymore(51) McAteer(65)
MIDDLESBROUGH           1-1    NOTTINGHAM FOREST         29,888 
Beck(56)                       Haaland(4)

Sunday, 23 March 1997

WIMBLEDON               1-1    NEWCASTLE UNITED          23,175 
Leonhardsen(28)                Asprilla(53)

Saturday, 22 March 1997

BLACKBURN ROVERS        0-2    ASTON VILLA               24,274  
                               Johnson(64) Yorke(79)                        
COVENTRY CITY           1-3    WEST HAM UNITED           22,291  
Dublin(9)                      Hartson(27,49) Ferdinand(34)
DERBY COUNTY            4-2    TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR         18,083  
Van Der Laan(10) Trollope(22)  Rosenthal(29) Dozzell(50)
Sturridge(68) Ward(69)
EVERTON                 0-2    MANCHESTER UNITED         40,079  
                               Solskjaer(35) Cantona(79)
MIDDLESBROUGH           1-0    CHELSEA                   29,811  
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY     2-2    LEEDS UNITED              30,373  
Hirst(20) Booth(51)            Sharpe(17) Wallace(21)                   
SOUTHAMPTON             2-2    LEICESTER CITY            15,044  
Ostenstad(32) Van Gobbel(48)   Heskey(46) Claridge(70)           
SUNDERLAND              1-1    NOTTINGHAM FOREST         22,120  
Ball(61)                       Lyttle(86)

Wednesday, 19 March 1997

CHELSEA                 1-0    SOUTHAMPTON               28,079
LEICESTER CITY          1-1    TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR         20,593
Claridge(74)                   Sheringham(90)
MIDDLESBROUGH           2-1    BLACKBURN ROVERS          29,891 
Juninho(44) Ravanelli(61)      Sutton(68)

Tuesday, 18 March 1997

WIMBLEDON               1-1    WEST HAM UNITED           15,771
Harford(19)                    Lazaridis(89)

Table after 23 March 1997

Team                          P    W    D    L    F    A    D  Pts
Manchester United            31   18    9    4   61   33   28   63
Liverpool                    31   17    9    5   53   26   27   60
Arsenal                      32   16    9    7   52   28   24   57
Newcastle United             30   15    7    8   59   36   23   52
Aston Villa                  31   14    8    9   37   27   10   50
Chelsea                      31   13   10    8   51   44    7   49
Sheffield Wednesday          31   12   13    6   41   37    4   49
Wimbledon                    30   12   10    8   42   37    5   46
Leeds United                 32   11    8   13   26   34   -8   41
Tottenham Hotspur            31   11    6   14   38   43   -5   39
Leicester City               31   10    9   12   37   44   -7   39
Blackburn Rovers             31    8   12   11   33   32    1   36
Everton                      31    9    9   13   37   45   -8   36
Derby County                 31    8   11   12   35   47  -12   35
West Ham United              31    8    9   14   31   41  -10   33
Sunderland                   32    8    9   15   29   48  -19   33
Middlesbrough                31    9    8   14   44   52   -8   32*
Nottingham Forest            33    6   13   14   28   49  -21   31
Coventry City                32    6   12   14   27   46  -19   30
Southampton                  31    6    9   16   39   51  -12   27  

* Includes 3 pts deducted from Middlesbrough for illegal match postponement  

This League Table Update provided by Lawrence "Leagueman" Breakey

This Match Report Compilation was prepared by Michael Kenrick for Marko Poutiainen. 25 Mar 1997.