|1||Van der Sar|
The Toffees’ form had brought them into contention for European qualification berths. Nevertheless, United’s need was greater; a state of play reflected in the early patterns within the game. How the Reds reached the interval without scoring was flummoxing – not that former United stopper Howard was inundated with questions to answer; more that the hosts repeatedly failed to make the most of presentable positions.
The movement of Chicharito and the positive possession and passing of Anderson presented problems aplenty for the visitors. Wayne Rooney dictated United’s tempo, dropping into the hole behind the Mexican marksman with promising regularity. It was he who had the game’s first effort, a 25-yard effort which deflected wide from Nani’s disguised free-kick.
Everton’s remit mainly concerned defending in the opening period, but their sporadic threat on the break invariably involved Leon Osman, operating in a similar position to Rooney, and he took advantage of space in the midfield area to poke a half-hit effort straight at Edwin van der Sar. The Dutchman wouldn’t make another save all half.
Instead, United repeatedly sprung the hosts’ high line. Nani dwelled and shot straight at Howard after a three-on-three break, then Chicharito’s cross was deflected into the American’s arms after another swift counter led by Fabio. Chicharito soon had Howard earning his pay – drawing a smart stop from the American with a near post effort and then forcing him to beat another powerful effort behind after fine approach play from Rooney.
For all the trouble being caused by the little Mexican, he inadvertently helped the visitors escape the clearest opening of the half. Valencia outmuscled Leighton Baines and pulled back for Nani. Having slipped, Chicharito then sat helpless as he blocked the Portuguese winger's effort wide with his outstretched heel.