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thwarted Antonio Valencia with a sturdy tackle at one end, and a cross at the other that resulted in van der Sar’s first save from Saha.
Valencia’s next attack resulted in a rising shot over the bar after one of numerous neat interchanges between Rooney and his supporting midfielders, in this case Carrick.
Match referee Steve Bennett had two calls to make involving Rafael in the space of a minute or so, declining to book Tim Cahill for launching the Brazilian into orbit – but then showing his first yellow when the Reds right-back rugby-tackled Saha.
Everton’s effective defence, with Joseph Yobo and ex-Manchester City skipper Sylvain Distin at its heart, was finally breached in the 35th minute. Patrice Evra crossed from the left-hand byline, Valencia headed it down and Darren Fletcher flashed a stunning volley into the top left-hand corner, clipping the post on its way past Howard’s despairing dive.
Rafael twice gained revenge on Cahill before the half was out, lunging into a full-blooded but legitimate tackle on the Australian that roused the home faithful – and later it was his aerial challenge that led to the Everton captain’s caution for handball.
United had one decent chance to double the advantage before the break but the angle of Owen’s approach didn’t favour him and Howard was able to make a fine save.