Everton close door on Man United’s Champions League hopes

David Moyes endures nightmare return to Goodison Park

Everton 2 Manchester United 0

This dismal Manchester United display will not quite go down as the poorest of a terrible season, which says it all of David Moyes’s first term in charge.

A 2-0 defeat at Olympiakos in the Champions League – a competition they will not be returning to next season after this result – may end with that dubious honour, though there are still four matches remaining and nothing would surprise.

Yet if the United board want a barometer of whether this group of players are currently performing for Moyes then folding in such insipid fashion on the Scot’s first return to his former club offers a fair one.

Disjointed, clumsy, aimless and sluggish: all the words that have become all too familiar to United fans during this campaign can be attached to this particular outing. Here is one more: lucky. As in fortunate that Everton did not seriously embarrass Moyes and his team by stuffing five or six past them on an afternoon when Roberto Martínez underlined why his side are challenging for the Champions League and United trail them by 12 yawning points.

Séamus Coleman’s pace has been a telling factor in Everton’s rise this term under Martínez. The way in which Moyes did nothing to stem his threat down the right by leaving Shinji Kagawa, who offered no protection to Alexander Buttner, on too long was just one illustration of a concerning tactical ineptness.

Time and time again Coleman skated along his right corridor at will. The Irishman was also able to turn inside whenever he liked as he did when unloading one left-foot shot.

Later Gary Naismith, who excelled all day, blasted over from a Romelu Lukaku knock-down, after Mark Clattenburg had earlier turned down a penalty appeal when the Scottish forward's attempt hit Jonny Evans's hand inside the area.

This all pointed to Everton’s domination with a further measure how little the defending champions played the match in home territory.

When it arrived, Everton's opener had been coming. It came on 27 minutes when Lukaku caused Phil Jones to slip in swerving. The Belgian's shot was handled by the defender and Clattenburg booked Jones and pointed to the spot. Leighton Baines strolled forward, coolly sent David De Gea the wrong way, and Everton had a first successful penalty against United in league competition for 42 years.

Any search for positivity in the visitors' play started and ended with Juan Mata in a contest than an anonymous Wayne Rooney will want to forget.

Robin van Persie’s knee problem has allowed Mata to settle in the No10 berth and the manner of one swivel-and-arcing pass near his area that spun play and sent Nani on a gallop along the right indicated where United might find an equaliser.

The problem was Rooney and company could not retain possession long enough to establish any pattern. Everton were cutting United to shreds whenever the fancy took them.

Kevin Mirallas, operating ahead of Coleman, ensures Everton right's flank is comprehensively jet-heeled. After slicing open United with one delivery, the forward doubled Everton's advantage. This derived from a combination with Coleman: the latter's weighted ball found his colleague in precise fashion, and Mirallas made no mistake with a finish past De Gea.

If the build-up had been about Moyes’s return to Everton – he was booed before kick-off and a supporter sat near the dugouts dressed as the Grim Reaper was ejected from the ground – half-time posed the question of whether the Scot could salvage this match. The answer would prove resoundingly in the negative.

Arsenal’s 3-0 win at Hull City earlier on Sunday had further increased the damage of Everton’s defeat to Crystal Palace here last week. Yet while it confirmed Martínez’s men no longer had their challenge for Champions League football within their gift, they at least started the second half on course to maintain pressure on Arsenal.

The surprise was to see Kagawa emerge after the break. Moyes might have been better bringing on Danny Welbeck now, rather than later, as he could be trusted to stop wandering infield as the Japanese had been doing.

When Moyes did make changes it was difficult to fathom the thinking. Evans looked bemused to be replaced by Javier Hernández while Nani was hooked for Antonio Valencia, who went to right back as Smalling moved into central defence.

Near the end, United’s manager was regaled by derisory chants of “Moyesy Moyesy give us a wave.”

Much more of this and he could be bidding a permanent farewell to the 20-times champions. At present it is difficult to see how Moyes can restore faith in himself and his methods.

(Guardian Service)

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