Date: 30th November 2006 at 11:21am
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The fact is that Manchester United crushed a tough, spirited Everton side even with a second-string team. That cannot be denied.

However, I admit I was frustrated through much of the first half. Sir Alex Ferguson made five changes to the team that drew 1-1 with Chelsea on Sunday – birthday boy Ryan Giggs hasn’t even made the bench. Yet United’s lacklustre performance was hardly due to the changes. I think in the first half, a lack of concentration was apparent. All our players had difficulties with the easiest passes, their touch and ball control let them down – when Wayne Rooney can’t control a ball, you can’t say United’s fringe players are not up to the job. Simply, we weren’t focused enough and way too static whilst Everton players did a lot of running off the ball to deny us time and space.

The Toffees caused us enough discomfort in the first half, with James Beattie and James McFadden giving a hard time for Rio and Silvestre. They created a couple of half-chances but could not claim that crucial first goal. United’s incisive passing and fluid football was nowhere to be seen, with Ronaldo struggling to adapt to his striker role and Rooney suffering from lack of support up front.

Some nervous glances were cast towards the bench where Louis Saha and Paul Scholes had been watching the game calmly. To be fair, the team had the better of the possession and created some chances without them, too. Richardson hit the bar with a superb freekick then Rooney’s header went inches past the left-hand post. Still, when United got the lead, it was very much out of nothing. Following some good passing, Carrick’s 20-yard shot was deflected into Ronaldo’s way whose first time effort sneaked into the net at the far post.

Despite the one-goal lead, Sir Alex surely did not mince his words in the dressing room, condemning our display, for the sense of purpose was much more noticeable in the second period. United took control immediately after the interval and dominated the second half, with Everton never really threatening to equalise. Carrick and O’Shea finally managed to control the middle of the park so United enjoyed even more possession.

The team was still having problems in attack as Rooney rarely found any passing option in the opposing half. The former Toffees striker tried to spread the play but there was no Saha, Scholes or Giggs to cope with his passes. When he found someone who actually did some running of the ball, United were two up in an instant. He sent a fine ball into Evra’s path on the left and the French defender lashed a fierce drive into the far corner between the legs of a helpless Wright.

This goal effectively killed the game off. The Reds were waltzing around uncompetitively whilst Everton were simply unable to threaten us as they spent most of the second half trying to win back the ball. As for United, it looked like the lads were satisfied with a good night’s work and they clearly wanted this to be over. To their credit, though, they raised their game for the final ten minutes and their pressure yielded a third goal after Evra’s chip found O’Shea who steered the ball into the top corner. It was his most beautiful goal since the famous chip at Highbury!

And that was it, United collected another three points, with 33 goals scored and only 7 conceded, the Reds are easily the most impressive team of the first half of the season. This win was maybe one goal too high as Everton deserves credit for their first-half performance. Still, we scored three past the fifth best defence in the league without Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Louis Saha.

Bolton, Villa, Arsenal and Everton lost while Liverpool and Portsmouth drew so all teams from top half of the table were stumbling last night – with the exception of Manchester United and Chelsea, of course.

United: Van der Sar, G. Neville (c), Ferdinand, Silvestre, Evra, Fletcher, Carrick (Brown, 72), O’Shea, Richardson, Ronaldo (Heinze, 68), Rooney.
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Scholes, Saha.

Everton: Wright, Yobo, Lescott, Stubbs, Valente, Arteta, P.Neville (c), Carsley, Osman (Vaughan, 76), McFadden, Beattie.
Subs not used: Ruddy (GK), Weir, Van der Meyde, Anichebe.

Player Ratings

Van der Sar 6
Rarely troubled but confident nevertheless.

Gary Neville 6
There were some gaping holes on Everton’s left side in the second half but we could not make advantage of it as Gary and Fletch did not work well together. His defensive work was good.

Ferdinand 6
Bit uncomfortable in the first 20 minutes or so but grew in stature after that.

Silvestre 6
Not bad but you could see why Vidic is first-choice.

Evra 7
Grabbed a goal and claimed an assist but he was a bit shaky in defence.

Fletcher 6
He, unlike the team, did well in the first half and faded completely in the second.

O’Shea 6
He was a tad unreliable when in possession but his defensive contribution was reasonable.

Carrick 6
He’s one of the reasons behind our second half performance. His creative side was left in the dressing room but he was confident in the middle of the park.

Richardson 5
A great free-kick, otherwise limited impact.

Ronaldo 6
Substituted midway through the second half due to his sore ankle. Scored the crucial first goal but his runs and dribbles could not unsettle the visitors’ defence.

Rooney 7
A fine assist and a good header. Tried to be influential but too often his teammates let him down.

Heinze 6
A good job at the back.

Brown 6
He played in central midfield after replacing Carrick. I though Ferdinand would take over that role but Fergie managed to suprise me yet again. Cheers, boss.