Manchester United 0-1 Everton
It was a garish nightmare for David Moyes. I was reminded of the first Mr. Bean movie, where, working as security at an art gallery, Bean endeavors to clean a painting he has accidentally dirtied. One cleaning disaster segues into another until the painting has been ‘cleaned’ so well that it is just a patchwork of canvas and a quagmire of oil, paint and chemicals. Old Trafford was overflowing with such indignities for their manager all night. The worst of all, before the game had even begun and relentlessly all night throughout proceedings, sung with gusto in that atypical sort of sadistic Scouser way, like a speck of sugar trapped in a rotted-out tooth, Everton fans kept singing to their old boss, “You’re getting sacked in the morning!”
It was an awesome feat for Everton and their supporters. Their first victory at Old Trafford since Division One days in August 1992. Indeed Moyes never ever pulled off a single away win at Old Trafford, Highbury, The Emirates, Stamford Bridge or Anfield in 46 attempts. And yet there was Roberto Martínez, last season’s simultaneous relegation fodder and FA Cup winner, stealing a victory at the first time of asking! Everton put in 96 minutes of pure, unadulterated hustle and graft against a Manchester United side that was unwilling to go all out for either the former or latter.
Manchester United are now 12 points behind Arsenal and while the history books insist no obstacle is insurmountable and barring an act of God, there needs to be drastic surgery, followed by instantaneous healing and recovery for our ailing Red Devils to stand even an iota of a slim chance of retaining their position as champions.
The blogs are filled with rage and recrimination. Yet, even the angriest bystander realizes that firing Moyes isn’t about to solve the problem. United can’t be said to have played terribly badly, just without a whole lot of heart. A high percentage of fine chances hit the post or were brilliantly saved by the Jihadi-looking Tim Howard, who, with his shaved head and bushy beard looked like a flaming vengeful prophet of revenge against the club which bought him, and, having found him wanting under pressure, dumped him. But saying United were simply rubbish or unlucky, as so many bloggers are, is far from the truth. It’s simple: When pressed, United repeatedly caved. When allowed time in possession, United simply could not execute that final ball. Whatever United tried, an ‘arrogant’ Everton–or so their boss Roberto Martínez proudly called them–matched them all the way, again and again. They took the game to United, went eye to eye, mano a mano and United were the ones who repeatedly blinked. Erratic, repeatedly bereft of confidence and lacking the kind of football brains which win championships, United came up short in every single department. Worse, and unacceptably so, when it was clear from the get-go that Barkley and McCarthy had the measure of his line-up, Moyes rejected any notion of adjustment on the fly.
Left-Back Bryan Oviedo’s marvelous late winner was not a shocker. They didn’t concede early, but, as has become their habit, Moyes’ reputation for training the fittest players in the division is not working, because, tired again and again at the closing moments of a game, United have repeatedly gone leggy and let their concentration slip. If the old article of faith was a certainty that someone would produce a late goal for a win or draw at the death of a match, the new one seems to be that Moyes’ players tend to disintegrate amidst the dying embers of a match.
To be fair to Everton, they are a very fine team. Over a wisely planned summer they brought in James McCarthy and a player on the cusp of superstardom in Romelo Lukaku, secured on loan from Chelsea. Lukaku was a muscular tank out there, albeit one who owns a superior football brain which he used to repeatedly overcome United’s finest defender, the club’s aging brave, tough skipper Nemanja Vidic. Repeatedly manipulated out wide onto the flank by the muscular Belgian, Vidic was forced to leave pivoting duties to Chris Smalling, who, although he performed creditably well, could not cope with the relentless rampaging of Barkley and Miralles who ran him into the ground.
United’s attacks were sporadic, although there were more than a few moments of inspiration and brilliance produced by Kagawa and Rooney. The sad Job-like exasperation etched in the face of Wayne Rooney when his vicious shot skimmed off Sylvain Distin and bounced back off Tim Howard’s left-hand post, before the Toffee’s goalie managed to punch it away, said it all. Indeed, Rooney came close on three occasions just in the first half. Bad juju, just before half-time, too, when Kagawa again tested Howard, and an unsighted Rooney really was a bit unfortunate as a Kagawa cross went through his legs then bounced back to him off Oviedo before ha had the wherewithal to scramble it home..
It was more of the same in the second half as the Toffees midfielders gritted their teeth and showed an admirable resolve to withstand the tackling and relentless obstruction offered up by their former main man in midfield, Marouane Fellaini. Where Mirallas, Barkley, Barry and Pienaar showed great fortitude in supporting Lukaku in attack, Rooney received no such support. Giggs and Fellaini covered a lot of ground, to be sure, but their inability to rely upon Danny Welbeck as a successful conduit to Rooney didn’t help. Ryan Giggs, showed little of the raw creativity he had shown in his previous matches against Bayer Leverkusen and as a sub against Spurs. Marouane Fellaini actually saw the ball a lot, but, isolated, he was forced too utilize the kind of long-passing game which is not his forté. Although it’s easy to attack the Belgian for being ‘slow,’ the fact is that if he plays with the same font of energy against 50% of the other sides in the PL, he will ultimately succeed.
With Danny Welbeck AWOL, a marooned Rooney grew more and more frustated. With Kagawa repeatedly dispossessed by the crunching tackles and relentless obstruction of Gareth Barry and Ross Barkley, the Japanese, his remonstrations to the referee Martin Atkinson repeatedly ignored, began to fade out of the game. He was subbed after 57 minutes for Nani, with Rafael da Silva also going off and Antonio Valencia moving to right-back. Valencia, who struggled throughout, looks more and more like a player who will only perform when the team are winning. Nani, Young and Valencia: What’s wrong. Who knows? And although Patrice Evra was probably our second best attacker, it seemed to be a pose he took as a means of avoiding the humiliation of running back and being repeatedly handed his head in defense by a counterattacking Seamus Colman, Steven Pienaar, and, later, the tricky Gerard Delofeu.
Much credit has to be given to center-backs Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka who were no-frills warriors at the heart of Everton’s defense. A frustrated Wayne Rooney was lucky to only be shown a yellow card after he threw a wicked elbow into Jagielka’s chest. And, slowly, inexorably, it began to seem obvious to the gathered faithful that, at best, a goalless draw might be all United could hope for. Minutes later, the mostly invisible Welbeck headed against the crossbar after Howard had brilliantly saved a Patrice Evra pile-driver. Yet, sadly, these two last efforts seemed to suck every last drop of blood out for United’s willpower.
Then, four minutes from time, Colman drew a foul from the edge of the box and Mirallas’ free kick became the fourth goal attempt in the match to reverberate off the post. An unmarked Lukaku should have had a tap-in off the rebound, but he somehow scuffed it before Oviedo arrived at a slightly obtuse angle at the far post to fire the winner past De Gea into the net.
“I am disappointed to lose, that’s the way the game goes sometimes.The game was tight. We missed some opportunities to score and Everton took their opportunities,” Moyes said after the match. “We’ve got a long way to go, we’ll need to play some great football and win a lot of games in the run in if we’re going to be in there around it come the end of the season.”
What surely rankles Moyes the most must surely be how psychologically ill-prepared his players were for this match. A lot was made of the difficulties of the schedule over the first month of the season and a lot of self-pity and hand-wringing from Moyes came off as both disingenuous and self-pityingly hypochondriacal. Yes, it’s the same man who prepared the team so well for the first round of ECC competition as the one who can’t cope with the poverty of the squad’s midfield in Premier League competition.
Fergie’s name is raised a lot to somehow ‘prove’ patience is a virtue, and that Manchester United really are different. Yet even Ferguson says in his memoirs that he was a lucky recipient of the benefit of the doubt from the board of directors because of the intercinine warfare going on between them, rather than any distraction from winning or losing on his part. The truth is that football has always been ruthless and despite the fact that they were his own hires, Sir Matt Busby gave the heave-ho to both Wilf McGuinness and Frank O’Farrell after less than eighteen months on the job each when things didn’t work out for his successors. Indeed Wilf McGuinness was considered to be ‘like’ Busby’s son. Football is an unforgiving game. Whether it’s fair or not, I don’t see the Glazer family, who are also having problems with their Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise in the NFL, being patient long into January. Moyes has a lot of thinking to do and Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United will not be out to do him any favors beyond hammering a few more nails into his coffin.