Everton kept pace with Arsenal in the race for the Premier League's top four with a comprehensive 2-0 victory at home to Manchester United on Sunday in David Moyes' return to Goodison Park.
Leighton Baines put Everton ahead from the penalty spot in the 28th minute, and Kevin Mirallas doubled the lead two minutes before half-time, finishing from Seamus Coleman's fine through ball. Tim Howard preserved the clean sheet in the closing moments, saving Wayne Rooney's shot from close range.
Everton completed a league double against United—winning both home and away this season—for the first time since 1969-70, per Eurosport.com.
Victory took fifth-placed Everton onto 69 points, one behind Arsenal, who currently occupy fourth place and the Premier League's final qualification spot for next season's UEFA Champions League. For the Toffees to finish fourth, they will have to successfully negotiate a tricky run-in that includes trips to Southampton and Hull City, as well as a home match against Manchester City.
Manchester United are seventh with 57 points, six points behind Tottenham Hotspur with four matches left to play. The loss ensured United will not qualify for next season's Champions League, but as PremierLeague.com explains, the Red Devils still have a chance to qualify for European competition:
If Arsenal beat Hull City in the 17 May final and finish fourth they will qualify for the UEFA Champions League and Steve Bruce’s side will enter the UEFA Europa League as runners-up. However, if the Gunners win the FA Cup and finish outside of the top four they will enter the group stage of the UEFA Europa League as FA Cup winners and an extra place will go to the club who finish seventh in the Barclays Premier League.
While both teams are chasing European qualification, perhaps the dominant storyline ahead of kick-off involved the managers. Sunday marked Moyes' first return to Everton, the club he managed for 11 seasons before leaving last summer to replace legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
Ahead of kick-off, however, Moyes downplayed his significance to the match, telling reporters (via Reuters) on Friday:
First of all, the game is not about me, it's about Everton and Manchester United. I go there as manager of Manchester United and I'm delighted to be that. I was proud to be manager of Everton at that time but my job now is to make sure I get a result for United. The Everton fans were always terrific in my time there—very supportive and always right behind the team. We go there with a great away record and go there trying to keep that going.
Moyes' side started brightly as Juan Mata set up Nani for a volley in the first minute, which was blocked. Everton had their first opening in the ninth minute, Ross Barkley smashing a shot over the bar following Coleman's looping cross.
Everton appealed for a penalty in the 15th minute after the ball appeared to strike Manchester United defender Chris Smalling's hand. Referee Mark Clattenburg waved play on and declined a similar appeal from the hosts five minutes later.
The Toffees had their best chance yet in the 22nd minute, when Romelu Lukaku headed down a long ball into Coleman's path, but Coleman blasted his first-time shot off target. Five minutes later Everton finally won their penalty after Phil Jones slipped and blocked another Lukaku shot with his hand. Baines then converted the spot-kick down the middle to give Everton a 1-0 lead.
Everton nearly carved out another chance in the 36th minute as Coleman's cross from the right rolled inches too far from Lukaku in front of goal. The Toffees only had to wait seven more minutes for their second goal, however, as Mirallas doubled the advantage shortly before half-time.
After running onto Coleman's angled pass on the right side of the box, Mirallas looked up, picked out the far corner and buried his low shot past David De Gea to make it 2-0 in the 43rd minute.
United nearly pulled one back in stoppage time as Everton's Gareth Barry headed a corner on target at his own goal, but the ball went straight to Howard, who saved.
Trailing by two goals at half-time, Manchester United had a big chance early in the second half as Rooney worked himself into space in Everton's box. The English striker took too much time, however, and his shot was blocked. At the other end, Coleman surged into the box and shot wide in the 51st minute as Everton searched for a third goal.
United made a double change in the 61st minute as Moyes attempted to shake up his team. Winger Antonio Valencia and forward Javier Hernandez entered with Nani and Jonny Evans making way. Hernandez set up a chance within moments, cutting back from the byline in the 64th minute before passing to Darren Fletcher, whose shot from the edge of the box flew well off target.
As full-time approached, however, Everton had the better chances. Barkley shot off target in the 67th minute, and Steven Naismith forced a save from De Gea 13 minutes later as the Toffees countered with pace. Everton broke forward again in the 81st minute, but this time Lukaku's shot was blocked.
At the other end, Howard maintained his clean sheet with a fine save in the 87th minute to keep out Rooney from close range.
|Everton Player Ratings|
|Antolin Alcaraz (for Distin, 46')||CB||N/A||7|
|Leon Osman (for Barkley, 70')||LW||N/A||7|
|Aiden McGeady (for Mirallas, 90')||MID||N/A||No rating|
|Manchester United Player Ratings|
|David De Gea||GK||6||6|
|Antonio Valencia (for Nani, 61')||RB||N/A||6|
|Javier Hernandez (for Evans, 61')||FWD||N/A||6|
|Danny Welbeck (for Kagawa, 75')||ST||N/A||6|
Everton manager Roberto Martinez praised his side's performance, telling PremierLeague.com:
You work on being adaptable, with where you are in the game and what the situation is. It's very pleasing when you've got young players in their early 20s who can cope with those aspects of the game so well.
We had to be solid, very well organised and the use the dynamic football that we have. The way we got into the final third was very enjoyable and then we worked very hard to keep a clean sheet. The manner in which we did that was very pleasing.
Manchester United manager David Moyes insisted his team played well—apart from conceding the two goals. Moyes told PremierLeague.com:
We gave away two terrible goals. We get done by two stupid decisions - well, a stupid decision to dive in front of the ball in one of them.
Prior to that we had passed the ball well, kept it well, and were in control of the game. We played well in the first half, but didn't have a final through-pass or a final finish, that was the disappointing part.
Everton play at Southampton on Saturday.
Manchester United host Norwich City the same day.