bow. In-between, the spritely midfielder also released Nikica Jelavic, only for De Gea to plunge to his left and hold the Croatian's low shot.
Having been placed so emphatically on the back foot, it was little wonder that nerves swept through United, both on the field and in the stands. Everton were compact and obstinate without the ball, tidy and motivated with it, while the Reds appeared to labour under the pressure of the situation.
It took the efforts of Nani to lift the mood among the home contingent. The Portuguese curled wide of the far post from 20 yards, then forced Howard into a catch with a near-post effort from similar range. When both Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes missed the target in quick succession, there were clear signs that United were warming to the task.
Yet still the visitors looked threatening and purposeful. Ex-Reds midfielder Darron Gibson was a yard off-target with a long-range left-footer and Evans performed a heroic block to rebuff Osman's shot from the edge of the box, and it was on the cards that they would eventually find their range. Just after the half-hour, they did.
Steven Pienaar featured heavily in a neat move from the visitors, in which the ball was eventually ferried wide to Tony Hibbert. The right-back's cross was high and deep, yet Jelavic still managed to angle a header over De Gea and just inside the Spaniard's far post for an excellent finish.
While the goal had validated the nervousness of the home support, it also seemed to liberate them from it, helping to spur on Sir Alex's side, who were now in no doubt of the ramifications of any points concession.