Successive league wins over the top two have highlighted David Moyes's side's biggest asset - their undeniable spirit.
Everton fight back in style to sink United
EVERTON // David Moyes, the Everton manager, might not have the resources or major names at his disposal of Chelsea or Manchester United, but successive league wins over the top two have highlighted his side's biggest asset - their undeniable spirit. In both games they were behind, yet in both, they fought back to claim famous victories and push them back into the reckoning for fourth place - and a Champions League spot - in the Premier League.
It might appear unrealistic, but if they repeat yesterday's passionate performance and success - achieved without the injured Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini - then there is hope. Moyes, whose side have now lost just one of their last 12 games, said: "We have never given up on Europe, but we have always said it's a long shot. I have said for a while on our day we can be a match for the teams above.
"This was a great team performance, a great work ethic and we are starting to get back to what we've been like for the past year or two. The players know what I expect and how I want it to be. I think we can play better and I think we will." Substitutes Dan Gosling and Jack Rodwell made a dramatic impact to leave Moyes purring about their potential. At 1-1, Gosling's goal in the 76th minute was decisive, if a bit fortunate. The impressive Landon Donovan and Steven Pienaar combined on the left and the South African drove the ball dangerously into the box. Gosling stretched out a leg and the ball hit his shin and left Edwin van der Sar stranded.
Rodwell made sure with the clock ticking down. Off the bench in the 88th minute, he picked up the ball two minutes later inside United's half and drove forward with confidence and class. As Jonny Evans stood off him, Rodwell calmly swept the ball past the outstretched hand of Van der Sar and showed why he is being tipped for a future as bright as Wayne Rooney. Almost six years ago, the striker left Everton to pursue his ambition of winning major titles. With United linked with a summer move for Rodwell, Moyes will look to keep him and Gosling.
"They are both talented with great potential to go on with age and experience, a bit like Wayne Rooney at times. We are trying to put them on the right path," he said. Rooney could not add to his 25-goal tally as Everton squeezed the supply to him. One moment was set up for him in the 26th minute. A lovely one-two with Dimitar Berbatov saw Rooney burst clear. He took the ball around Tim Howard, but his second touch was heavy and Phil Neville was able to shepherd him away from goal.
With two minutes to go, a deflection off Sylvain Distin's head saw his 20-yard free kick drift agonisingly wide. United did open the scoring through Dimitar Berbatov and his fifth goal in nine games was a moment of poise. From 10 yards out, the Bulgarian took one touch to control a right-wing cross from Antonio Valencia and turned to smash it into the net. Yet Everton levelled within two minutes through a 20-yard shot from the left boot of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov that swerved into the corner.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, fumed afterwards and could not pinpoint the reasons for his side's lethargic performance that culminated in a sixth league defeat of the campaign. He said a "small possibility" could be the effect of the Champions League win at AC Milan in midweek. Whether it was physical or mental fatigue, it was no excuse. "We are going for a championship and we expect Manchester United to respond to the importance of the game," added Ferguson.
"But we were well beaten; it's as simple as that. We were outplayed in the second half. I'm disap- pointed and the players are disappointed. "They're human beings, they play for Manchester United, and they don't like losing. "This is a bad result, and at this time of the year we can't afford results like that. "We hope others drop points, and that's the way it's been going this season. Hopefully it turns out right again, but I don't think we'll panic."