After 264 minutes without a goal, Manchester United finally ended their drought and in the process took themselves within seven points of a record nineteenth League title.
Javier Hernandez’s header six minutes from time took United nine points clear of Chelsea and Arsenal when it was starting to look like a resilient Everton would hold on for a point.
Captain Nemanja Vidic, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs were all rested ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Gelsenkirchen for the Champions League Semi-final first-leg against Schalke. Rio Ferdinand started his first Premier League game since February 1st and Jonny Evans replaced Chris Smalling.
The first-half was one way traffic but through a combination of good luck, poor finishing and excellent defending, Everton managed to keep United out. Anderson was dominating the midfield on his 125th appearance for the club and his wide-range of passing at the heart of all of United’s moves.
Tim Howard was equal to a Nani effort after the Portuguese winger cut inside Tony Hibbert in the tenth minute. Former United ‘keeper Howard was equal to everything that was being thrown at him thereafter until United finally broke through late on. Hernandez was twice thwarted by following good balls from Anderson and Rooney respectively, before he blocked Nani’s goalbound effort with half-time looming following strong work from Antonio Valencia.
United started the second-half slowly and could’ve seen a penalty given against them when substitute Victor Anichebe went over in the box. Referee Peter Walton waved play on and his decision was justified when replays showed that Anichebe had tripped himself up as he was bearing down on goal.
United replaced John O’Shea and Nani with Patrice Evra and Michael Owen in a short space of time but the substitutions failed to change United’s fortunes. For all their pressure United were failing to carve out any clear cut opportunities and could have undeservedly found themselves 1-0 down with 25 minutes left. Edwin van der Sar saved magnificently to his right hand side, after Jack Rodwell’s effort was deflected off the lunging Evans.
The chance woke United up and soon after Ryan Giggs’ introduction Fabio da Silva’s whipped cross ricocheted off the post after an attempted block by Sylvain Distin. The Reds were trying to force the play as the clock ticked down and hopeful, floated crosses were being easily dealt with by Everton’s central-defensive pairing of Phil Jagielka and the aforementioned Distin.
Persistence finally paid off and all Everton’s hard work was undone in the 84th minute when the otherwise impressive Distin was caught dawdling by Antonio Valencia in the centre of the pitch. The ball looped in the air and man of the match Anderson controlled it superbly before rolling in Valencia to cross for the waiting Hernandez at the back-post.
The £6m Mexican has scored a number of important goals this season, but none have been as important as today’s. It means that the destination of the Premier League title remains firmly in United’s hands, and with games against their two closest rivals to come over the next week, United could potentially seal the title with victory over Chelsea at Old Trafford on May 8th.
The starting line-up1. van der Sar 7; 20. Fabio 7, 5. Ferdinand 6, 23. Evans 6, 22. O’Shea 6(3. Evra 57 6); 25. Valencia 6, 28. Gibson 5 (11. Giggs 74), 8. Anderson 8, 17. Nani 5(7. Owen 63 5); 10. Rooney 7, 14. Hernandez 6.
Referee: Peter Walton