The win takes United to within one point of Premiership leaders Aston Villa, whose match at Chelsea was postponed. But Ferguson's pleasure was marred by confirmation that Ryan Giggs may well miss all three of United's remaining Champions' League fixtures.
The Welsh winger, who missed yesterday's match, has a fractured foot that will keep him out for a month at least. "It is a major blow to us with the second Barcelona game coming up in three weeks' time," Ferguson said. Jesper Blomqvist, the Swede signed in part to understudy for Giggs, illustrated the progress he is making in the role by scoring his first goal since his transfer from Parma but he still has some way to go to be seen as a like for like replacement.
Billed as a confrontation of managerial super powers, yesterday's contest simply proved that a man is only as good as the tools at his disposal. Smith, in his Rangers' years, may have won more titles than Ferguson but here he did not have the resources to provide a genuine match. Much as Everton started brightly and enjoyed some encouraging moments before and after half time in a spell that at least ended their Goodison goals hoodoo, United made their early dominance pay by taking a 2-0 lead and later demonstrated their effectiveness on the counter attack to put the match beyond the home side's reach.
Everton, defending their best sequence of results in two years, almost shook off the burden of having failed to score in their first five Premiership matches on their home ground within the first minute. Duncan Ferguson, clearly aroused by the occasion, hurried Peter Schmeichel into a punched clearance and forced a second save from the United goalkeeper from the corner that followed.
An aggressive atmosphere filled the stadium, one which referee Peter Jones was not inclined to tolerate. The Leicester official, who routinely issues at least five yellow cards a match, eventually totalled seven yesterday, although there was never much obvious evidence of intent to injure on the part of either team. Petty dissent was often the cause of Mr Jones' activity and Walter Smith, although unwilling to be drawn into controversy, did describe the yellow card shown to Ibrahim Bakayoko as "bizarre". His striker was accused of diving by a number of United players, who surrounded the referee. But it was Bakayoko who found himself in trouble for complaining that the allegations were untrue.
It took Everton half an hour to score a Goodison goal at last when Ferguson rose serenely to head home Michael Ball's free kick after Roy Keane had clumsily brought down Danny Cadamarteri on the right. Unfortunately for them, however, United had already scored twice before that sublime moment came.
First Dwight Yorke claimed his eighth goal in 12 games since his transfer to United from Villa. Andy Cole chipped a cross to the far post, Paul Scholes returned the ball squarely along the ground and Yorke had time and space to put it past goal keeper Thomas Myhre.
Everton probably deserved to reach half time on level terms after contributing at least with equal spirit to an intense contest. In between the conventional goals, however, United benefited from a moment of unforeseen charity when Craig Short, under no particular pressure, headed David Beckham's looping cross from the right into his own net.
Having beaten Schmeichel once there was an urgency in Everton's desire to do so again and Ferguson perhaps should have struck for the second time 10 minutes before half-time when Cadamarteri's cross presented him with a free header. This time the striker's aim let him down.
Jaap Stam was saved by the woodwork as he almost duplicated Short's moment of horror before John Collins hit the other post and Bakayoko had a venomous strike deflected for a corner. Then Short went close to redeeming himself after Ferguson climbed to win another aerial battle.
But, just as it seemed Everton had the drive to pull themselves level, they were dealt the terminal blow of conceding two goals within five minutes as United hit them on the break.
After 59 minutes Cole, fed by Blomqvist, cut inside from the left before sliding the ball across Myhre and in off the far post, plunging the home crowd into stunned silence. Scarcely had they recovered from that set back when United ensured the points were comprehensively theirs.
Pushing forward still in the belief they might salvage something, Everton were woefully exposed when a mistake by Collins allowed Beckham to lead a charge in which United attackers outnumbered Everton's defenders by three to one. Timing the release of the ball perfectly, Beckham sent Blomqvist clear on the left and, though Myhre blocked the Swede's initial shot, the ball spun kindly for him to head home his first United goal.Reuse content