EVERTON 0, MAN UNITED 1.
It appeared as though the previous weekend’s derby disaster had not happened as Manchester United resumed normal service with a hard-earned Barclays Premier League victory at Everton which keeps them in second spot.
After the nightmare of the Manchester derby defeat, the match at Goodison Park was always going to be a litmus test as to the impact of the six-goal loss against leaders City.
Sir Alex Ferguson had maintained all week that their approach was “to completely forget it – it never happened” though inwardly he must still have been hurting following the heaviest defeat of his career.
United have had similar setbacks in the past – perhaps not as big as the derby disaster – and they have always emerged stronger.
It was a case of getting back to basics as Ferguson changed half his side and employed Wayne Rooney in a midfield role which made United harder to break down.
With Javier Hernandez the lone front man, it was intended to provide added solidity with Ferguson saying his side had been allowing opponents too many openings.
Rio Ferdinand, Anderson and Nani were among the five who lost their places with Nemanja Vidic restored to the defence while the fit-again Tom Cleverley and Ji-Sung Park beefed up the midfield with Javier Hernandez back in the front line.
Ferguson’s team selection was spot on as Hernandez scored the match-winning goal and United also kept a rare clean sheet.
He said: “The fact is that we have conceded so many chances recently and we have to reduce that if we are to win the league.
“Today we didn’t have any problems. We rode our luck with the free kick which hit the bar, but we battled in the second half and got the result we wanted.”
United’s case was helped, however, by the fact Phil Neville, Sylvain Distin and Tim Cahill were injured while Royston Drenthe was suspended.
Seamus Coleman had a chance for Everton after only 20 seconds as United made a nervy start.
They soon settled as Welbeck cut the ball back to Park whose shot from six yards forced a decent save from Tim Howard.
The all-important and decisive goal came in the 16th minute when Cleverley and Welbeck combined to release Patrice Evra on the left. His cross eluded Rooney but lurking behind him was Mexican Hernandez who was in the right place at the right time to score from within the six-yard box.
Everton hit back as Leon Osman and former Red Louis Saha had shots saved from David De Gea who had an almighty let off when Darren Fletcher fouled Marouane Fellaini just outside the box and Leighton Baines curled a free kick over the wall and against the underside of the crossbar.
It was the spark of good fortune United needed and which went their way.
It was very much a case of to have and to hold for United in a second half of few openings as they shut up shop.
Jack Rodwell had a shot kept out by the nose of De Gea as the ball struck him in the face while United’s only chance of note saw Welbeck’s angled shot turned over the crossbar by Howard.