Manchester United Logo Manchester United 2 - 0 Everton 
Half-time: 2 - 0
Everton Logo
FA Carling Premiership 97/98 - Game 20
Friday 26 December 1997
Old Trafford, Manchester
Att: 55,167
« Leicester City (a) Ref: Uriah Rennie Bolton Wanderers (h) »
1997-98 Fixtures & Results League Position: 19th Premiership Results & Table
  GOALSCORERS Finale / Debut
Manchester United: Berg (14) Neville (35)
EVERTON: Barrett / Jeffers
  LINEUPS Subs Not Used
Manchester United: Pilkington, G Neville, Johnsen, Pallister (McClair, 74), Beckham (Poborsky, 66), Butt, Cole, P Neville (Curtis, 83), Scholes, Solskjaer, Berg. Sheringham, Giggs.
EVERTON: Myhre, Barrett (65 Allen), Short, Hinchcliffe, Tiler, Watson (46 Jeffers), Ball (78 Thomsen), Oster, Farrelly, Barmby, Cadamarteri.
Unavailable: Parkinson, Speed, McCann, Phelan, Ward, Williamson, O'Connor, Hills (injured); Branch, Grant, (recovering); Ferguson, Bilic (suspended).
Gerrard, Thomas.
  Yellow Cards Red Cards
Manchester United: G Neville, Cole, Poborsky.
EVERTON: Farrelley, Allen.

Guy McEvoy A Decade Behind
THE GUARDIAN Cole chips at sad Kendall's fading hopes
by Michael Walker
THE TIMES Ferguson enjoys swift half before closing
by Oliver Holt
ELECTRONIC TELEGRAPH Leaders widen the gap after crushing Everton
by William Johnson
SOCCERNET Link to SoccerNet Match Report
CARLINGNET Link to CarlingNet Match Report

A Decade Behind
Guy McEvoy
Boxing Day hasn't been kind to Everton in recent times and this year was to be no exception.   After the euphoria of victory at Leicester last Saturday, this was back to reality with a bump.

I'd spent Christmas Day down south and so I joined the legions (no shit, I passed coach after coach) of the United fans on the A14 and headed for the M6.  Remembering the nightmare of parking last year, I chose to set off early this year with my turkey butties to make sure I made the game in time.  In the event I over-did it and found myself in the stadium with an hour to kill.  

It has to be said that Old Trafford is quite a sight.  This season, I was much nearer the back which meant my view was greatly improved, although it felt miles from the pitch; being stuck such a long way behind the corner flag is an extremely odd angle from which to watch a football match.

The news that Gary Speed wouldn't be playing came as a big blow; he may not be in the best form but our limitations in the midfield meant that he'd be sorely missed anyway.  Michael Ball got his place.  The bad news was accompanied by some good news when we realised that Schmiechel was also out for the day.

First Half

One of the problems with blindly following a football team is that you so often let your heart rule over your head, particularly on the back of a fluky win.  As the match started I felt quietly confident.  Heart over head.

It took United maybe 10 mins to take full control of the game, after which Everton were always on the back foot.  It didn't take a genius to see where we were beaten first: our Achilles Heel all season has been the midfield.  Against one of the finest midfields in the world, and without our only decent player in that area, we were left with a monumental mismatch.  The worst part of it was that United never once looked like they were breaking into a sweat.  You knew that even if we lifted ourselves up a gear they had the capacity to move up another ten.  It was a sorry sight.

Our travelling support was giving a good account of itself.  But memories of glory days past was all we had to taunt with...  The Paul Rideout song was resurrected, as was the old classic 'one-two, one-two-three, one-two-three-four, FIVE-NIL!'.

On the field, we carved out our first real half-chance when Cadamarteri put the reserve keeper under pressure and the rebound from a fluffed clearance flashed across an open goal with no blue shirt available to manage the tap-in.  That was about it as our attacking went.

In the meantime, United were able to put the ball in the net three times.  The first, predictably, was from a corner, Berg claimed it.   How many is that this season we've let in from bloody corners?  The second was a Cole tap in which was correctly disallowed for offside.   Finally, Cole managed his personal goal-of-the-season with an inch perfect lob over Myhre from the edge of the box.

In between these Myhre had pulled off an absolutely stunning save from a Scholes volley and Beckham had clipped the cross bar after Oster had let him past.  United were cruising to the extent that their fans could even take the piss out of their own players.   "What the f*#@in' hell was that?" they chanted when Gary Neville hoofed over the bar.  That we were only two-nil down at half time was a miracle.

Second Half

Thankfully, a complacent United eased off for the second half despite the fact we were laid out ready for slaughter.  We were treated to our first glimpse of 16-year-old Francis Jeffers who came on to play in attack after Watson had picked up an injury.  Whilst his effort was honest, he added little to the game and like many of our youngsters today he was unable to assert himself.

For the Home Fans sat to our left behind the goal opposite the Stretford End the game was so obviously won they decided to focus on something else.  The much publicised ban on standing up at Old Trafford is getting a major backlash from the home support, who were employing guerrilla tactics.  

Every time the security men would move in en masse to take out an offender, someone would start a "Stand Up for the Champions" chant and the whole section would at once stand up, then simply refuse to sit down.  Unable to take out several thousand people at once the security staff would be forced into retreat. We tried to taunt them with a burst of "Sit down – like you're told to do" but the reply of "Sit down, if you're going down" was without convincing answer.  

So we had the surreal situation of the home support of the team who have won everything worth winning (except the European Cup which they'll probably win in '98 anyway), who are four points clear at the top of the championship, singing to their chairman (sorry, 'chief executive') Martin Edwards that he "is a wanker".  Want to swap for Johnson?  They also gave him a nice ironic chant of "Sit down for me, sit down" to the tune of Auld Lang Sine (whilst all stood up of course).

The clock ticked away and we were holding out thanks to United for by-and-large giving up attacking and just concentrating on possession.  Kendall's last throws of the dice were to stick on Graham Allen for Barrett (Allen was woeful), and Claus Thomsen for Ball (there were boos as Thomsen came on – our fans astound me at times).  Neither was going to affect the result.

Ultimately, the gulf between the two squads was made poignant by looking at the bench.  As we brought on the mighty Thomsen, United left both Giggs and Sheringham on the bench.  We are a decade behind.  If we go down then I fear we may be even further away.  Two-nil flattered us.

Individual Efforts

  • Mhyre 7 - Good game again, will be embarrassed by the Cole chip but you can't really expect people to pull off things like that.  If he was at fault he more than made up for it later on.  Would have been a more honest scoreline had this man not have played as well.
  • Barrett 6 - Thought he did OK.  Certainly better than Allen.
  • Tiler, Short and Watson 7 - The busy men.  All three had very solid games.  Short managed to block at least three shots from hitting the target.  Tiler looks more than comfortable in the Permiership. Watson had to make way at half time due to injury.
  • Hinchcliffe 5- Disgraceful performance when we most needed our experienced players to lift themselves and set an example.  Did not look bothered.
  • Oster 5 - Comparisons with Limpar can't be avoided.  Remember how bad Limpar could be on a bad day?  He was that bad.  No-one was on his wavelength, his distribution was poor, he didn't defend hard enough.  Pass after pass was over hit.  On days like this, with a better squad we should have had the depth to stick our hands up and say 'it's not your day John, off you come.'  With Everton at the moment that isn't possible and I felt for him out there.  His confidence must be smashed.
  • Farrelly 7 - His best game for the club.  Still, even in top form he is in a different league from his opposite numbers.
  • Ball 5 - Might seem a bit harsh that, cos I like this lad.  The truth is though that he often hid from the ball and was unable to get himself into the game.
  • Barmby 6 - Due to lack of midfield support, he was also never in the game.
  • Cadamarteri 7 - Usual good effort, the only player who looked remotely like making a positive contribution to the Everton scoreline.
  • Jeffers 6 - Not in it really.  Saw nothing that told me anything at all about his ability.
  • Allen 5 - Horse of a game.
  • Thomsen 7 - On briefly and made no mistakes.

Cole chips at sad Kendall's fading hopes
by Michael Walker, The Guardian
Single mothers, unemployed teenagers, folk on the breadline, the broken-hearted, refugees and the homeless – the Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas message encompassed almost every sector of the under-privileged in British society.  But for some reason he omitted to mention Evertonians.

Against a Manchester United side shorn of Peter Schmeichel (bad back), Teddy Sheringham (demoted) and Ryan Giggs (also demoted) from the starting line-up, the blue diehards of Merseyside might have thought they had a chance.  But after the 15th minute – when Henning Berg put United in front with a header from half an inch – the Everton faithful knew they were watching their team's 11th league defeat of the season.

Had Everton won the other nine games their situation would not be quite as bad but now they are only two points away from Barnsley at the very basement of the Premiership.  More significantly, Everton yesterday lost a point on Bolton, Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday and Crystal Palace, all desperately scrapping above them. Their famous 43-year stay in the top flight is in double jeopardy.

Afterwards Howard Kendall was everything his team had not been – mature and uncompromising. "An embarrassing 90 minutes," was Kendall's opening flourish. "It was men against boys," and "the scoreline flattered us," followed.

United, meanwhile, were happy to keep their momentum and are making progress at a pace that has those around them slipping into the distance.  Six points now separate the champions from their nearest challengers, Blackburn.

Ferguson acknowledged the ease of his team's victory, saying: "It was a game of the first half – the second was a non-event.  But before the break we were absolutely superb at times and Andy Cole's goal was the highlight."

Indeed it was. Cole collected Nicky Butt's sharp pass 40 yards from goal and took it on a further 15 yards.  As Carl Tiler and Craig Short both backed off it seemed at first as if Cole would pass to the overlapping David Beckham but instead – and to the growing amazement of Old Trafford – Cole produced the most delicious of chips that left the otherwise impressive Thomas Myhre motionless.

The ball hit the top corner of the net. As Ferguson said, it was reminiscent of Eric Cantona's effort here against Sunderland last season and with it Cole may finally have stepped out of Cantona's shadow.  This was Cole's 13th goal in the past 11 matches, but he could have improved even on that total during the first half-hour when Everton were carved up.

Particularly exposed were Tiler and his partner on the left side of defence, Andy Hinchcliffe.  From the earliest of United's probings, it was obvious that Beckham and Gary Neville were going to have a fruitful afternoon.  Sure enough, United's first attack saw Neville run on to Beckham's perfect pass, only for Cole and Ole Solskjaer to watch the cross fly by.

No matter; from another Beckham centre soon after, this time from the left, Ronny Johnsen rose at the far post to nod the ball back across the Everton six-yard area.  There the hapless Earl Barrett propelled the ball goalwards from his shin but Berg pounced on the line to convert and spare Barrett's blushes.

Myhre then made a superb stop from a volley by Solskjaer, whose first-half performance was enough to justify his inclusion at the expense of Sheringham.  Beckham also hit the crossbar and Cole and Solskjaer had further shots blocked.  Cole's goal, 20 minutes after the opener, signalled the end of the affair, though Solskjaer and Beckham both wasted good second-half opportunities.

Everton, meanwhile, created nothing.  In mitigation, the spine of Slaven Bilic, Gary Speed and Duncan Ferguson was absent though Kendall said Ferguson is a sure starter tomorrow against Bolton.  Dave Watson will not play.

United travel to Coventry, which prompted Alex Ferguson, after admitting "surprise" at the size of his team's lead, to deliver an early New Year resolution: "I hope we come out of the Sunday game with that intact. Then we'll be set up nicely." Indeed they will.
Report © The Guardian Ltd

Ferguson enjoys swift half before closing
by Oliver Holt, The Times
FROM the first to the last, it was a stroll.  At times, it was an exercise in over-elaboration, at others it was careless, even sloppy.  But there was great beauty amid the indolence, too, enough for Manchester United to make this FA Carling Premiership match against Everton look like an uneven battle between men and boys.  The first half of the season over, they are on the home stretch now and coasting.

To emphasise just how rich their reserves are, Alex Ferguson, the United manager, left Teddy Sheringham and Ryan Giggs on the substitutes' bench yesterday and sent Peter Schmeichel home as a precaution against aggravating a bad back and used in his stead the club's third-string goalkeeper.  It did not matter a jot.  They took Howard Kendall's struggling team apart in the first half, then sat back and conserved their energy for the rest of the festive programme.

If United's first goal was a scramble, a point-blank header from Berg after Beckham's corner had been nodded back across goal by Johnsen, the second was worth the admission money on its own.  Cole, growing in confidence with every game, chipped Myhre from 30 yards. It had Ferguson reminiscing about some of the glorious touches of Cantona.

No matter how modest the victory – their sixth successive win in the FA Carling Premiership – might have been, it took United into an even more commanding lead at the top of the table.  Four points clear yesterday morning, they were six points clear by the end of the day.

"It was an embarrassing 90 minutes," Kendall, the Everton manager, said afterwards.  "It was men against boys.  The scoreline flatters us.  No one expected us to come here and get a result, but I was disappointed with the way we played.  It might be Christmas, but Manchester United have had two days off.  They just had Boxing Day off as well as Christmas Day.  It was a long, long 90 minutes for us."

In the first half, United, and Beckham in particular, were unstoppable.  Their dominance was so crushing that Everton did not manage a shot on target until the 56th minute and that was an ambitious, long-range effort from Farrelly that did not trouble Pilkington, the United goalkeeper.

United sliced through the Everton defence for the first time in the fourth minute, when Beckham's pass and Gary Neville's run left Hinchcliffe stranded.  Butt could only side-foot Neville's cross wide, but within ten minutes United had eased into the lead, Barrett making a hash of clearing Johnsen's header and Berg guiding the ball over the line.

That was the cue for an avalanche of chances.  United hardly gave Everton a touch as they spread the ball confidently around midfield, Beckham always at the centre of things, but ably abetted by Johnsen, whose surges forward were a constant source of embarrassment to Everton, who are now just two points ahead of Barnsley at the foot of the table.

A minute after Berg's goal, Solskjaer ran on to a pass from Beckham and curled a centre into the box. Scholes hooked it acrobatically towards goal and Myhre, the Norwegian goalkeeper who has hastened Neville Southall's exit from the club, reacted superbly to push it over the crossbar.

Then Beckham should have had a goal as a reward for his creativity. Beating the Everton offside trap with ease, he ran on to a ball from Butt, ignored Solskjaer in the centre and lifted his shot over Myhre. It appeared to be heading for the back of the net, but clipped the top of the crossbar instead.

United went close again after 20 minutes when Beckham, with time and space on the right-hand side of the Everton penalty area, chipped the ball to the back post, where Solskjaer nodded it back for Cole.  Cole's shot was blocked and, when Solskjaer retrieved it and had another go, more Everton bodies hurled themselves in his path and cleared the danger.

The best move of the match saw Solskjaer cross to Beckham, who nodded the ball on for Cole to tap over the line.  It was disallowed for offside but, ten minutes before half-time, Cole scored legitimately, receiving the ball from Butt 30 yards out, looking up as he moved slightly to his right and then drifting a chip over the stranded goalkeeper.  It was vintage stuff.

The second half was tame in comparison, but United had the match won by then. "We did not make it a helter-skelter game in the second half," Ferguson said, acknowledging his understatement with a wry smile. "We need to conserve our energy.  Still, it was not a bad day for us."

Report © Times Newspapers Ltd

Leaders widen the gap after crushing Everton
William Johnson, Electronic Telegraph
SIX POINTS clear going into the second half of the season, Manchester United look unstoppable in their quest to secure a fifth championship in six years before they concentrate their minds again on the overwhelming priority of bringing the Euoropean Cup back to Old Trafford.

By the time Alex Ferguson's supremely confident team – maybe squad is a better way of describing them in view of the manager's constant shuffling of resources – lock horns with the French champions Monaco in March, the title race could be done and dusted, or at the very least be reduced to a minor distraction.

Another Stamford Bridge slip-up by Chelsea, the team from the chasing pack Ferguson fears most, followed by a similar deadlock involving Blackburn Rovers at Hillsborough, enabled United to strengthen their grip on the Premiership.

"Men against boys" was how Everton's disconsolate manager Howard Kendall summed up what he called a long and humiliating 90 minutes.  Kendall, frustrated by an enormous list of unavailabilities, rightly questioned the commitment of his players on an occasion when he expected little reward.

"The scoreline flatters us," added Kendall, who suggested that United had been given Boxing Day off to extend their welcome Christmas holiday.  "At times it looked too much for some of our players."  Indeed the gulf in class was phenomenal, and if fault can be found with United in their irresistible form, it is in their complacency when inferior opposition is there for the killing.

The Ferguson of a couple of years ago would have pounced on that shortcoming with a timely public threat of wielding the axe.  He made no such complaints last night, celebrating another good day at the office at a time when demands on his squad are at their greatest.

Besides, he had set the complacent tone for the afternoon by leaving out three of his best players – Peter Schmeichel, Ryan Giggs and Teddy Sheringham – for the visit of a team who until last weekend had gone more than a year without an away victory.

Schmeichel was not left out by choice, the commanding Danish goalkeeper suffering a recurrence of back problems. "He could have played, but I thought it wiser not to risk him," explained Ferguson.

He later had the luxury of easing the burden on Gary Pallister's creaking joints – David Beckham and Phil Neville also retired early – so marked was United's dominance.  An outrageously one-sided affair was settled from the 35th-minute moment when Andy Cole extended his magnificent scoring sequence of 13 in 11 matches.

Cole embarrassed Everton's new goalkeeper Thomas Myhre with an exquisite chip from 25 yards out – a demonstration of skill, which reminded an ecstatic crowd of Eric Cantona's brilliant finish against Sunderland last Christmas.

United had gone in front 20 minutes earlier when Henning Berg became the first player to score against Myhre since the Norwegian's transfer from Viking Stavanger.  Berg seized the chance to punish his compatriot after another Norwegian Ronny Johnsen headed a Beckham corner back across goal to force a weak attempted clearance from Earl Barrett.

The period between the two goals produced rich entertainment, all of it coming from United.

Everton, who must have known about Kevin Pilkington's uncertainty on previous rare appearances in the United goal, failed even to test Schmeichel's understudy until Gareth Farrelly let fly from 40 yards early in the second half.  By then Everton should have been buried.  

Beckham, whose overall performance was outstanding, was guilty of shooting twice from difficult positions when simple lay-offs would have provided tap-ins for Cole, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and full-back Gary Neville also fired recklessly from promising situations.

Paul Scholes was denied what would have been another collectors' item by the save of the match from Myhre, and Cole had a close-range effort ruled out for offside and other blocked by Craig Short's tackle.

Report © The Electronic Telegraph

RESULTS  (Game 20)
Friday 26 December 1997
Platt (36) Walsh (og 56)
2 - 1 Leicester City
Lennon (77)
Aston Villa
Draper (38, 68) Collymore (81, 89)
4 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur
Calderwood (59)
Bolton Wanderers
Bergsson (38)
1 - 1 Barnsley
Hristov (20)
Vialli (8)
1 - 1 Wimbledon
Crystal Palace
Shipperley (62)
1 - 1 Southampton
Oakley (39)
Derby County
Eranio (pen 4)
1 - 0 Newcastle United
Owen (46) Fowler (79, 83)
3 - 1 Leeds United
Manchester United
Berg (14) Cole (35)
2 - 0 Everton
Sheffield Wednesday
0 - 0 Blackburn Rovers
West Ham United
1 - 0 Coventry City

LEAGUE TABLE (after 26 December 1997 )
Club                          P    W    D    L   GF   GA   GD   Pts
Manchester United            20   14    4    2   47   13   34   46
Blackburn Rovers             20   11    7    2   36   19   17   40
Chelsea                      20   12    3    5   46   20   26   39
Liverpool                    19   10    4    5   34   18   16   34
Leeds United                 20   10    4    6   29   22    7   34
Arsenal                      19    9    6    4   34   22   12   33
Derby County                 20    9    5    6   34   27    7   32
West Ham United              20    9    1   10   26   31   -5   28
Leicester City               20    7    6    7   24   20    4   27
Newcastle United             19    7    5    7   20   23   -3   26
Aston Villa                  20    7    4    9   24   26   -2   25
Wimbledon                    19    6    6    7   20   22   -2   24
Crystal Palace               20    5    7    8   18   26   -8   22
Sheffield Wednesday          20    6    4   10   31   43  -12   22
Southampton                  20    6    3   11   24   30   -6   21
Bolton Wanderers             20    4    9    7   17   30  -13   21
Coventry City                20    4    8    8   17   26   -9   20
Tottenham Hotspur            20    5    4   11   18   36  -18   19
Everton                      20    4    5   11   17   29  -12   17
Barnsley                     20    4    3   13   18   51  -33   15
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© Michael Kenrick 1997
Last updated: 26 Dec 97