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Everton FC put in a stunning performance to beat Manchester United
Published : 22 Feb 2010 06:50:00
Everton put in a stunning performance to beat Manchester United THIS was supposed to be all about Wayne Rooney. It was a contest dominated by news of a reconciliation between the maturing England striker and his former manager. A game preceded by a rampaging display against AC Milan, which suggested that Rooney was once again set to torment his boyhood club. The script was nearly written before a ball had been kicked. Some Bluenoses were simply hoping Rooney would at least refrain from goading them after leading Manchester United to success. And in truth nobody could blame them. Everton's Premier League record against Manchester United does little to raise any optimism. But somewhere amid all the hype and pre-supposition, somewhere amid the laments to further casualties in Marouane Fellaini and Tim Cahill, one man in Royal Blue was modestly enjoying the best form of his career. Beyond the occasional acknowledgement of his skilful feet and immaculate first touch, Leon Osman gets few plaudits. Too often he can be a scapegoat when things are not going well. But the midfielder's recent transcendental form can no longer go unnoticed. Around Finch Farm Osman is the joker in the pack, the chief whip of banter and the hub of Everton's morale. But nobody was laughing at the Corinthian performance the midfielder wrought from himself against Alex Ferguson's men. Osman, at 28-years-old, is a Goodison veteran. After so many seasons with the club, fans could be forgiven for thinking they have seen everything he's got. But the midfielder has revealed a new solidity to his play, a robustness of mind and body in combination with those silky skills. Shorn of the leadership and inspirational qualities of Cahill, it was crucial that somebody other than just Phil Neville took the responsibility to lead against United. Osman did. He refused to panic under pressure, never wasted possession, asked for the ball at every opportunity and never gave his opponents in midfield a glint of breathing space. This rare and magnificent victory over the champions said far more about Everton than the Rooney sideshow. As Bill Kenwright insisted afterwards, Osman typified everything that is great about the club. It was a victory that felt like a turning point, the second in a dramatic season. From gut-wrenching lows like Everton going three goals down at half-time to Hull City in November, to an unjust derby defeat later that month, the revival has peaked. Everton's form and recovering casualties have drawn a line under that awful start, and suggested this season could be memorable for all the right reasons. Few could have predicted anything other than familiar defeat against the Red Devils when they took their customary lead. With a grim predictability born of winning 17 of the last 19 Premier League clashes at Goodison, United were ahead on 15 minutes. Antonio Valencia beat Leighton Baines and his low cross was not blocked with enough conviction by Sylvain Distin. The ball broke for Dimitar Berbatov who rapped his shot in off the bar. So far, so predictable. But there is a resilience about this Everton, forged in the darker moments of their season when the squad was so brutally diminished. Remember how Everton refused to accept defeat against Spurs at Goodison, then took valuable points from Stamford Bridge and the Emirates?