|1||Van der Sar|
Everton, meanwhile, came into the game as one of the Premier League’s form teams, with 14 points from the last 18 available, despite a raft of injuries which again reduced decimated their ranks. Tim Cahill did provide a timely boost for David Moyes, however, as he was deemed fit enough for a spot on the visitors’ bench.
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.