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It wasn't vintage Manchester United against Everton at Goodison Park, as the hosts dominated most periods of a scrappy game on Saturday, but the reigning Premier League champions managed to score a much-needed 1-0 victory courtesy an early Javier Hernandez goal to close the gap on rivals Manchester City at the top of the table. Everton on the other hand fought admirably against their much-fancied opponents and were clearly the better side, but were not able to finish, with the loss leaving them in 13th with 10 points from thier nine games.
After impressing in his recent displays, Louis Saha continued as the Toffees' lone striker, with the duo of Seamus Coleman and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov flanking the Frenchman. Leon Osman was the most advanced of Everton midfield trio ahead of Marouane Fellaini and Jack Rodwell, while Leighton Baines and Tony Hibbert played in the full-back positions. Sylvain Distin wasn't present in the line-up on Saturday, meaning that Phil Jagielka and Johnny Heitinga formed the rearguard in front of Tim Howard in goal.
Sir Alex Ferguson again left out Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov, both of whom scored in United's 3-0 win in midweek, but instead fielded three strikers in Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck, with the latter in a slightly more withdrawn role. Park Ji-Sung was played ahead of both Ashley Young and Nani, while fit-again Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher formed the central midfield alliance. Nemanja Vidic returned for the side at the heart of the backline alongside Jonny Evans, while Patrice Evra and Phil Jones were preferred at full-back.
The visitors, needing a quick response after a morale-crushing 6-1 defeat at the hands of rivals Manchester City last weekend, could have scored as early as the third minute when Welbeck went on a bustling run down the left flank before cutting back a good low pass to Park from the by-line. The South Korean should really have scored, but hit his strike right down Howard's throat with the goal at his mercy.
United in the early periods looked fluent in attack, with their strikers dropping into pockets of space around the Everton box, and scored their opener on 19 minutes through ace marksman Javier Hernandez. It came through some good build-up play which gave Evra acres of space on the left wing, and the full-back sent in a delightful cross across the six-yard box that Hernandez had to just pass into the net from point-blank range.
Everton started looking more confident as the half wore on, as they regularly troubled the shaky-looking United backline, leaving the visitors pegged firmly back in their own half. Fellaini, who in particular was brilliant for the Toffees, used his big frame to good advantage as he knocked down a long ball perfectly for Osman, only to see the Englishman fire straight into David de Gea's arms. Moments later, it was Jack Rodwell's turn to go for goal, but his strike after a surging run flashed wide of the United keeper's right post.
United were hardly creating anything of note in the Everton half as the hosts ploughed on in search of an equaliser, Baines coming desperately close five minutes from the break when his freekick from just outside the United box smacked the underside of the crossbar before bouncing out. Saha had a couple of opportunities as the half drew to a close, but could not beat the Spanish custodian in the United goal, meaning that the Red Devils went in at the break with the slender one-goal advantage.
Everton started the second half the same way they ended the first, with the Toffees enjoying the lion's share of the possession. David de Gea was required to make another save eight minutes into the half when Rodwell cut inside from the right and hit a rasping drive towards the United goal. However, the hosts' dominance didn't translate into clear-cut chances, as scoring opportunities for Everton were minimal. Welbeck had a chance of his own on the other end after brilliantly chesting down a Hernandez pass, but Howard did well to punch away the youngster's left-footed strike.
Everton continued to throw bodies forward, but seemed to be a bit to hasty when taking a shot on goal, with a lot of attempts from distance either flying high and wide, or rolling tamely into De Gea's hands. United on the other hand looked surprisingly unconvincing when they had possession of the ball, and as the clock ticked down, Everton had a penalty claim turned down after Evra and Gueye were involved in a clash of bodies inside hte United box. The hosts huffed and puffed, but in the end did not have enough quality upfront, as United earned a well-fought victory and a much-needed three points at the Goodison.
Everton (4-5-1) - Howard, Hibbert, Heitinga, Jagielka, Baines, Coleman, Fellaini, Rodwell, Bilyaletdinov (Barkley 45'), Osman (Vellios 76'), Saha (Gueye 84')
Manchester United (4-4-2) - De Gea, Jones, Vidic, Evans, Evra, Welbeck (Valencia 73'), Cleverley (Nani 57'), Fletcher, Park, Rooney, Hernandez (Berbatov 67')
Final Scoreline: Everton 0 - 1 Manchester United (Hernandez 19')
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