PERHAPS times are finally changing at Manchester United and the moment that might go down as the first ray of a new dawn under Louis van Gaal came at the end of the first half.
Luke Shaw made a tackle on Tony Hibbert in the area and took ball and man. The referee, Kevin Friend, pointed to the penalty spot and Leighton Baines took the kick only for David De Gea to make a fine save to his right.
This was Bainesâ€™s first miss from the spot in the Premier League. It was virtually the halfâ€™s closing action and as Old Trafford erupted and a grateful Shaw hugged De Gea, Friend blew and the 20-times champions floated into the dressing room on the back of a perfect psychological moment.
They arrived to listen to Van Gaalâ€™s halftime talk holding a 1-0 lead that would become a 2-1 win despite a second half in which only De Geaâ€™s excellence repelled Everton.
The manager was unhappy at how United allowed the visitors back into the contest. But now on 11 points, he agreed they are ahead of schedule. â€œThat is what I have told my players. We are not playing good but we are already fourth in the table,â€ said Van Gaal. â€œWhat is coming when we are playing well? We have to do it 90 minutes.â€
Unitedâ€™s opener came from the consistently excellent Angel Di Maria who collected a third goal in five United appearances. On 27 minutes Rafael Da Silva swung a delivery in from the right, was aimed at the out-of sorts Radamel Falcao. It failed and Juan Mata picked up play and slipped the ball back to Di Maria, who made no mistake with a swish of his right boot.
As Van Gaal could find no place for his vice-captain, Darren Fletcher, Van Persie was leading the team in the suspended Rooneyâ€™s absence. There was a second start for Paddy McNair, a first in three matches for Mata, and Falcao hoping to break his scoring duck at the fourth attempt for his new side.
Towards the end of the first half McNair was caught out in a chance that might have led to Evertonâ€™s equaliser. Baines flipped a 40-yard pass into Romelu Lukaku that bypassed the defender to easily. Lukaku brought the ball down but could not finish.
Yet Van Gaal was pleased with the 19-year-old. â€œPaddy McNair is doing great in my opinion,â€ he said.
After Falcao was lucky that an aimless shot deflected off John Stones for a corner, the home No9â€™s profligacy was punished almost instantly. Baines picked out Steven Naismith and his flying header beat De Gea for a fourth league goal.
Van Gaal is yet to restore the United swagger so when a set-back arrives confidence seeps from players and fans. This tentativeness was nearly costly seconds later when Phil Jagielka was left unmarked from a Baines corner and the defenderâ€™s header was cleared off the line by Falcao.
His next contribution came at the other end. After Tim Howard raced out to make a clearance near the touchline he found only Da Silva and the right-back turned the ball to Antonio Valencia, who recycled it to Di Maria. The Argentinianâ€™s shot became a scuffed cross straight into the path of Falcao, who made no mistake from close range.
â€œHe needed that goal,â€ said Van Gaal. â€œI have talked with him because I thought he was forcing himself too much to score a goal. Heâ€™s a player who will normally make a goal every match and he has had to wait so long. I can understand that but now he has scored it will be better after the international break.â€
Roberto Martinez believed play should have stopped before the goal due to an injury to Steven Pienaar. â€œHe receives a knock, off, goes to ground, the ball is in front of him and the ref is well aware and talking with fourth official and I just donâ€™t understand that decision,â€ said the manager.
Unitedâ€™s first consecutive league victories were confirmed by two late, breath-taking De Gea saves. The first came from a Leon Osman bullet, the second kept out Bryan Oviedoâ€™s 20-yard strike.
â€œWhen you hold [save] the penalty and then in the dying seconds you make magnificent saves, then you are great because you win the game because of that,â€ said Van Gaal.
The one concern was Luke Shaw, who limped off in what was just a second United appearance following a hamstring issue. â€œShaw had a kick in the back of his knee and he has a dead knee so I think a nerve has been touched,â€ said his manager who does not believe it serious. â€œI donâ€™t think but we have to wait.â€
While Stones was stretchered away in the dying embers with ankle ligament damage that should rule him out of England duty, this was a satisfying occasion all-round for United. Sir Bobby Charlton was present following a stomach complaint and Sir Alex Ferguson made a first return to the Old Trafford grass since retirement to announce Ji-sung Park as a club ambassador.
Van Gaalâ€™s team can enjoy the two-week pause in action. – The Guardian