United continued their push for the premier league title with the visit of Everton, as the reds looked to go 9 points of chasers Arsenal and Chelsea. Following a stunning last 2 minutes at Goodison early in the season which saw United throw away a 3-1 lead, similar mistakes at this stage of the season would prove fatal for Fergie’s men. Having won all but 1 of our previous home games in the league this term, the United faithful were confident of another three points before crunch games against Shalke and Arsenal next week. Everton however were in a rich vein of form, having been unbeaten for the previous 8 matches, ensuring that victory was by no means a formality for a changed United side. Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra were all omitted from the starting line up, with one eye clearly on the first leg of a crucial champions league semi final in the week looming.
United started the game slowly, with the close proximity of games beginning to take its toll on a weary looking United side. However, as Everton appeared content to sit back and defend, the reds were given time to settle into their rhythm, and Wayne Rooney began to typically exert his influence on the game. Much of United’s joy was coming down the right hand side, with Antonio Valencia posing Leighton Baines all sorts of problems. It was Rooney and Valencia who combined superbly on the half hour mark to create United’s best opening of the half, with Rooney weighting a pass to Hernandez superbly, only for Tim Howard to save well from the Mexican’s strike. On the brink of half time, United were again unfortunate to not take the lead, as Nani’s goalbound shot was deflected wide by a felled Hernandez in the penalty area, allowing Everton to hang on to a precarious 0-0 half time scoreline.
Having totally dominated the first 45 minutes, United were looking to continue their momentum into the second half and get the much needed goal to kill off a dogged Everton side. However, it took the best part of 20 minutes for the reds to settle back into their pre half time rhythm, after a serious wake up all courtesy of Jack Rodwell whose stinging shot from the edge of the area was superbly saved by Edwin Van Der Sar. With time elapsing, United’s pressure ratcheted up, as Ryan Giggs, Patrice Evra and Michael Owen were all introduced to seek out the decisive winning goal. It looked like it might be one of those days after Tim Howard saved well from a Rooney free kick, and again after Hernandez powered a header towards goal from the back post. However, on 84 minutes the Mexican would not be denied again, as Valencia hassled Distin into an error, before producing a pin point cross to the back post where Hernandez simply couldn’t miss, heading United 9 points clear and the Old Trafford crowd into delirium.
With United now only 7 points away from a historic 19th title, it would take a very brave man to bet against us. Ultimately however, it is our next two league games that will decide the title, with the trip to Arsenal next weekend, and the visit of Chelsea the following week pivotal. Our attention now turns to the Champions League, and the difficult prospect of a trip to Shalke on Tuesday night.