Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba were Manchester United’s goal heroes as the Reds held off a late Everton rally to win 2-1 at Old Trafford.
It wasn’t all plain sailing after Pogba had given the Reds a half-time lead when he followed up his penalty, which was saved by Jordan Pickford, to score the rebound. In-form goalscorer Martial extended United’s lead in the second half when he scored his fourth Premier League goal in his last three outings. But United couldn’t stroll home as Everton, who’d won their last three league matches, forced their way back into the game from the spot when Gylfi Sigurdsson netted.
The Reds were the better side early on but arguably got a shade lucky on a couple of counts when taking the lead in the 27th minute. Firstly, referee Jonathan Moss gave a penalty for a foul by Idrissa Gueye on Martial. It looked on TV replays as if the Everton midfielder had got a touch on the ball before the Reds’ Frenchman went over his legs in the box. Gueye’s heart must have been in his mouth though as he’d been yellow-carded only five minutes earlier for a foul on Fred. Moss, however, deemed the spot-kick was enough punishment.
After a long, slow, trademark run-up, Pogba finally saw his penalty saved by Everton’s England no.1 Pickford, but he could only parry the effort back into the six-yard area and Pogba accepted the gift the second time.
Martial, who’d early planted an inviting cross onto Juan Mata’s head, only for the Spaniard to send a soft one into Pickford’s arms, was becoming the root of all United’s danger. He was enjoying himself as he made hay down Everton’s left and revelled in cutting inside and getting the Old Trafford crowd on their feet.
Marcus Rashford, in a central role in place of Romelu Lukaku who was on the bench, had the ball in the net after Pickford saved from Pogba but the Mancunian was ruled offside.
Marco Silva's side responded with a couple of efforts of their own but, fortunately for United, both Sigurdsson's header and Theo Walcott's left-foot shot were weak and were meat and drink to David De Gea. A more powerful drive from Walcott just before the interval was also dealt with by the Spaniard allowng United to take the slender lead into the break.
Everton’s efforts would have been flagged up at half time with everyone knowing a 1-0 lead is too precarious for comfort and a Richarlison shot soon after the break added to the cautionary mood. But United were soon in a more comfortable position thanks to Martial.
Pogba was being urged by Old Trafford to have a crack when he received the ball in shooting distance in a central position but the midfielder chose a cute square-pass for Martial. Everyone in the sight line behind the French winger in the Sir Bobby Charlton stand and those watching it from the Stratford End vantage point, knew it was going to be beyond Pickford’s arms from the moment it left Martial’s boot.
It was a classic Martial execution.
With United holding the 2-0 lead, and surviving a real scare when Bernard went past De Gea but could only find the side-netting, Jose Mourinho made his first substitution in the 65th minute.
Having admitted he’d left Romelu Lukaku out of his starting line-up due to a recent lack of confidence, the manager brought the Belgian on to face his old club to the expected jeers from the fans of his former employers.
But it was Everton who made the next big impact on the match. Mourinho had barely been in his technical area at all during the match, probably reflecting United’s dominance. The manager though decided to make his presence felt after Richarlison broke through and had a good chance to reduce the arrears. Jose had clearly recognised the developing threat.
United had become loose in their play and did pay the price when Richarlison again stretched the Reds at the back and Chris Smalling was forced to make a clumsy challenge in the 76th minute. Sigurdsson won the penalty shoot-out contest with De Gea to set the nerves jangling inside the stadium.
Haunting memories of Chelsea’s late Stamford Bridge point saver came back when the fourth official put up six minutes of injury time on the electronic board. Martial could have settled those frayed late nerves down when he had a one-on-one showdown with Pickford but the Everton keeper won the duel.
United, however, were able to see out the game for a much-needed three points.
United: De Gea, Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw; Matic, Pogba, Fred (Lingard 90), Mata (Herrera 85), Rashford (Lukaku 65), Martial.
Subs not used: Romero, Alexis, Rojo, Darmian.
Booked: Smalling, Matic.
Scorers: Pogba 27, Martial 49
Everton: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Zouma, Digne, Gomes, Sigurdsson, Bernard (Lookman 62), Walcott (Calvert-Lewin 77), Gueye (Tosun 77), Richarlison.
Subs not used: Stekelenburg, Baines, Mina, Davies.
Scorer: Sigurdsson 77 (pen)