Van Persie’s strike, his 23rd of the season, gave United a two-goal cushion at the break. But the memories of last season’s corresponding fixture – when Sir Alex’s men threw away a potentially title-clinching 4-2 lead with seven minutes remaining to draw 4-4 – will have ensured there was no complacency in the United dressing room at half-time.
Indeed, the Reds came out in the second period keen to score again, although an injury to Jones forced a subtle shift in approach before the hour mark. On in his place came Michael Carrick – more of a ball player but less of a physical presence – and United’s bluster gave way to a calm, passing game.
Jonny Evans twice went close to finding the net on 66 minutes. First, his close-range header was kept out by Howard; then, in the ensuing scramble, the defender’s hooked shot was diverted on the goal-line by Nikica Jelavic. Tom Cleverley was denied a spectacular volleyed goal from 20 yards when Howard stretched to his left and tipped the ball up and over the bar. De Gea performed similar heroics when he palmed out substitute Jelavic’s long-range effort before Rafael had to be alert at the back post to turn behind Phil Neville’s searching cross.
Try as they might, Everton could conjure no fairy-tale comeback this time. United dug deep, defended stoically and saw out the match to record a vital victory.