In the opening exchanges of this encounter you could have been forgiven for thinking that Everton were the side saving themselves for a big game in midweek while Manchester United had the look of the team hungrily hoping to battle their way back towards fourth place in the table.
The unwell Sylvain Distin was forced to withdraw from the Blues’ squad during the warm-up, replaced by the under-fire Johnny Heitinga. There’s an argument to be made that the Frenchman might have done better for the opening goal on 12 minutes when Heitinga got too close to Robin van Persie who turned and teed up Ryan Giggs for a low finish from the edge of the box. However, let’s all be honest, even if the Distin had cleared that one, United would have still found a way to score.
Throughout the match, despite Everton’s passable Swansea impression for large parts of the first half, the home side were always more decisive and convincing in the areas of the pitch where it counted. They were never brilliant, but they didn’t have to be.
Up front for Everton Victor Anichebe barely had a touch, and even when he should have had a tap-in, Kevin Mirallas – who is still to reach anything like his early-season form since returning from injury – ended a rare positive run with a poor pass just behind the Toffees’ face-clutching, turf-twatting centre-forward.
By contrast, United have van Persie who rounded Tim Howard and struck the outside of a post midway through the first period. Not to be deterred though, just before half-time he was played onside by Phil Neville and repeated the feat of avoiding Howard but this time a more composed finish ended up in the back of the net.
That felt slightly harsh on Everton who had seen plenty of the ball but, with Marouane Fellaini too-easily nullified by some big yard-dog woolly, they looked almost apologetic in the final third of the pitch. Leon Osman had a decent volley saved by David De Gea but otherwise there seemed little conviction against a team full of not only good players but ruthless personalities, the likes of Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic, who look like they take defeat personally.
The second half was a formality. Everton’s performance resembled the later fights of the likes of Shane Mosley and Roy Jones Jr, where they went through the motions against stronger, quicker opponents and did enough to avoid humiliation but knew they were never going to win.
David Moyes said that tiredness could be a factor for his team, and they certainly looked dead on their feet at times, but there’s also the stark fact that United have, on the whole, better players and they beat almost everyone who comes to Old Trafford and have done for a long time now. It’s maybe also worth remembering that during the famous 4-4 last season they did in fact threaten to blow Everton away completely at times.
A Champions League place is starting to look unlikely again, although that can obviously change over the space of a single weekend, and so Saturday’s game against Oldham Athletic is beginning to look massive. Elimination from the FA Cup at this stage, and a really positive-seeming season arguably being as good as over in February, really doesn’t bear thinking about.