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FRIDAY, 18 APR 2014
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Everton off to a flyer following 1-0 victory
Fellaini celebrates after scoring.
(AP/Jon Super)
Fellaini celebrates after scoring. (AP/Jon Super)
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Everton pulled off the shock of match day one with a 1-0 win over Manchester United Monday.

From the offset, the Toffees outplayed United, who were terrorized for the entirety of the tie by standout performer Marouane Fellaini.

The Belgian stalwart bossed the opposition’s defense from start to finish and polished off a remarkable performance with a 56th minute winner.

United gave a tepid account of themselves and appear far from a finished article. Robin Van Persie made his debut in a forgettable 23-minute stint, with second marquee signing Shinji Kagawa flattering to deceive.

The United Fairytale was in full-fledge Monday – well not exactly, as new darling Robin Van Persie had to settle for a place on the bench. The omission continued the slow burn for the Red Devil’s fans, who were itching to see the mouthwatering tandem of Wayne Rooney and Van Persie finally take shape.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was faced with the same Everton 11, who effectively erased their seemingly unassailable stranglehold on the league title last season, following a dogged comeback which resulted in a 4-4 draw last may in Manchester.

The 27-year custodian, who has seen just about everything, will undoubtedly still be reeling from those fateful events that handed over the title to and in the process presented the ascendency to bitter neighbors Manchester City, in their unyielding battle for one-upmanship.

The tie began ferociously, as both teams exchanged attacks, and 12 minutes in the first yellow card of the match was brandished, with Paul Scholes adding yet another asinine tackle to his ever budding resume, after he clattered into Darron Gibson.

As the half wore on, Everton slowly found their comfort zone, and on 14 minutes came close to drawing first blood, following a neat turn by Fellaini, who glided past Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia on the left side of the 18-yard box, and after he found himself one-on-one with David De Gea, lifted the ball over the United keeper, only to be denied by the woodwork.

Carrick was deputizing at centerback for the injured Rio Ferdinand, and the England international looked like a fish out of water. His shortcomings were to have a residual effect on the rest of the team, as the defense in particular looked a shambles.

Everton continued to inundate United’s goal with an aerial bombardment, with the main culprit, being Fellaini, who was bullying the opposition’s defense at will. And in the space of eight minutes, Steven Pienaar was presented with two glorious opportunities, the first one coming from a corner, where a cleared header reached the South African, who launched his head at the ball, forcing a fingertip save from De Gea.

The second chance was the more dangerous of the two and resulted in a wonderful save from the United No. 1, after Pienaar’s curled effort from the edge of the box was pushed away spectacularly by the Spaniard.

Amid the deluge, United could only muster one noteworthy chance, which came in the form of a Rooney free kick that resulted in a routine save for Keeper Tim Howard. But Everton were not through, as just before the interval, Fellaini who was proving to be a constant thorn in the side of United, once again sailed through the air and cushioned a perfect header into the path of Leon Osman, who spun neatly and fired a bullet straight at De Gea, who instinctively saved.

The halftime whistle arrived, with last year’s runners-up extremely lucky to be level at the break.

Following the restart, the game picked up where it had left off, with Everton firmly in the driving seat. Their dominance was beginning to take its toll, and following extended periods of control, the United backline was finally breached following a Gibson Corner, when for the umpteenth time, Fellaini leapt through the air to win another aerial battle.

Only this time his header wasn’t meant for a teammate; instead it was planted like a thunderbolt into the back of the net, where finally the seemingly impregnable De Gea was soundly beaten.

Naturally, following the breakthrough, Everton reverted to a rigid 4-5-1 formation with nine players effectively behind the ball. And quite surprisingly they managed to comfortably keep United at bay, and barring a couple of half chances, the Red Devils demonstrated an anemic and toothless display that rarely threatened the Toffees’s goalmouth area, even the 67th minute introduction of Robin Van Persie proved fruitless in United’s quest for parity.

United huffed and puffed, but ultimately had no answer to Everton’s sturdy rearguard, and following a headed clearance from Pienaar, Andre Mariner brought an end to proceedings with the final whistle.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 21, 2012, on page 15.
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