Everton 3 Man United 1: Soft centre of Sir Alex's team is exposed by Toffees

22 February 2010 02:37
It is a charge that could hardly be levelled at Sir Alex Ferguson but there are worrying signs his Manchester United team are beginning to develop a soft centre.

His 68th birthday behind him, Ferguson remains as obdurate as ever, as illustrated half an hour after the final whistle at Goodison Park, when Sky Sports' best efforts to prise a few insightful pearls on United's sixth Barclays Premier League defeat of the season met with frosty resistance.

They established his side had been 'well beaten' and were 'disappointed' but elicited little else from the United manager, who looked on the point of erupting throughout the tetchiest of interviews.

Soft: Jack Rodwell easily glides beyond Jonny Evans (foreground) and smashes home Everton's third

What a contrast to his players, who were put to the test by a resurgent Everton and folded, just four days after recording their first San Siro win over AC Milan in the Champions League.

Fatigue was put forward by Patrice Evra as one mitigating factor but another link to Tuesday night was a source of far more concern.

It hardly needed Ferguson's first-half tirade at Jonny Evans in Milan to alert Everton manager David Moyes to a potential weakness.

United were looking vulnerable at the back and the Toffeemen were going to exploit it to the full. Alarmingly for Ferguson, the plan was executed with conspicuous ease.

There had already been enough defensive deficiencies to perturb Ferguson when Evans was found wanting in injury time, as substitute Jack Rodwell left the hapless United centre back flat-footed to finish in style.

Moyes confirmed that exploiting United's frailties had been by design, rather than chance, in an assessment that will put Chelsea in even greater heart for wresting the title away from Old Trafford.

Toffees stick together: Everton's Mikel Arteta (left) Dan Gosling (centre) and Leon Osman  celebrate the win

'We had a meeting with the players and told them we were going to go after United,' he said. 'We wanted to have a real go at them. That was the message. No holding back.

'The players knew what was expected and deserve credit for growing stronger as the game went on. We played some really good stuff and showed how much we have developed as a team.

'Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar have really helped in that respect, and so has Leon Osman. He was the catalyst today. He took on the mantle and really carried us through.'

Though United went ahead with a sharp finish from Dimitar Berbatov, they could have few complaints after surviving strong penalty claims for a Wayne Rooney push on John Heitinga and handball by Wes Brown and, ultimately, being overrun.

In the absence of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, they were particularly lacking in central defence.

Welcome home: Wayne Rooney hangs his head as Everton players celebrate wildly in the background

Evans was caught out in the air in the build-up to Diniyar Bilyaletdinov's 19th-minute equaliser, and there were gaps on the flank and in the middle as Pienaar set up substitute Dan Gosling for Everton's second in the 76th minute.

MATCH FACTSEverton (4-5-1): Howard; P Neville, Distin, Heitinga, Baines; Donovan, Pienaar (Rodwell 88min), Osman, Bilyaletdinov (Gosling 71), Arteta; Saha.

Subs (not used): Nash, Yobo, Vaughan, Yakubu, Coleman.

Booked: Arteta, Pienaar, Saha, Osman, Rodwell.

Man Utd (4-4-2):Van der Sar; G Neville, Brown, Evans, Evra; Valencia (Owen 81),Carrick, Fletcher, Park (Obertan 66); Berbatov (Scholes 66), Rooney.

Subs (not used): Foster, Vidic, Rafael, Gibson.

Booked: Fletcher.

Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).

Evans's failure to lay a boot on Rodwell rounded off United's defensive woes, but there was an overall listlessness that was just as disconcerting for Ferguson.

Significantly, Rooney was scarcely seen on his return to Goodison, before an 88th-minute free-kick that was bound for the top corner, until being deflected narrowly wide.

Evra claimed United's midweek exertions had taken their toll but revealed they were also undone by a lack of conviction.

It was a remarkable admission, given United's pedigree, but the France full back was adamant his team-mates were resigned to their fate.

'You can find a lot of excuses, but I thought we were very disappointing in all positions,' he said. 'We were all very tired after that amazing night in the San Siro but it was our mentality that lost us this game.

'It was about not believing. We did not believe enough and were not focused. We were saying beforehand that if we could win here, we could win the title.

'We didn't, so now we have to make sure we get three points against West Ham.' 

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Source: Daily_Mail

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