Football: United prosper as they go back to the basics

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Everton. . . . . . . . . . .0

Manchester United. . . . . .2

THE difference that rather less than a month makes was there for both sides to ponder as United reversed an early-season defeat to maintain their current surge up the Premier League. When Everton beat them 3-0 at Old Trafford in August Alex Ferguson insisted that his team had played well and were unfairly maligned by the scoreline.

Yesterday, without ever looking particularly fluent, they got their revenge and moved into third place by doing the right things when and where it mattered - in the two penalty areas.

If England were dismal on Wednesday, two of the country's leading clubs were desperate for much of the first half. Peter Beardsley, the man so many thought should have been in Santander, gave little evidence to support the contention, so closely was he policed by one who did play there, Paul Ince. As a direct result, Everton created few chances.

United were heavily dependent on the verve and speed of Ryan Giggs, whose touch on the ball looked that much more assured than that of the players around him. He made a chance which Brian McClair wasted with a weak shot straight at Neville Southall and went close himself with a dipping drive from a narrow angle before contributing to the goal that broke the deadlock.

His deft flick found Mark Hughes - a player so anxious for a ball to his feet that he had earlier been reduced to tackling Ince. Another equally precise touch-on and McClair was presented with a clear run at Southall and an invitation to choose his spot.

It was a goal which Ferguson rightly called 'superb', but it was United's new-found security at the other end of the field that protected the lead. After an accident- prone start, United's defence have now kept five consecutive clean sheets.

They needed to be on their mettle as a revitalised Everton came at them strongly after half-time. Beardsley gave notice of their awakened intent by shooting narrowly wide from a tight angle and Maurice Johnston then unaccountably missed the target with only Peter Schmeichel to beat.

John Ebbrell's shot also went too close to the post for comfort, but United's back four gradually recovered the poise that has made all the difference to the side.

With 14 minutes to go a key member of United's defence was able to put the game beyond doubt. The goal again began with a well-judged pass gliding through a hole in the Everton defence, this time from McClair to Andrei Kanchelskis. He was going past Southall when the goalkeeper, at full stretch, brought him down. Steve Bruce drove home the inevitable penalty to complete a scoreline which, if it flattered United slightly, showed how much they have changed for the better during the short span of the season so far.

Ferguson could reflect on a job competently done at both ends of the field. 'Our first goal was a superb one for us,' he said, but went on to highlight the improvement in his defence as the crucial factor in turning around such an unpromising opening to the campaign.

Everton: N Southall; A Harper, A Hinchcliffe, J Ebbrell (P Beagrie, 70mins), D Watson, G Ablett, R Warzycha, P Beardsley, M Johnston, B Horne, M Ward. Subs not used: M Jackson, J Kearton (gk). Manager: H Kendall.

Manchester United: P Schmeichel; D Irwin, C Blackmore, S Bruce, D Ferguson, G Pallister, A Kanchelskis, P Ince, B McClair, M Hughes, R Giggs. Subs not used: L Martin, D Wallace, G Walsh (gk). Manager: A Ferguson.

Referee: M Peck (Kendal).

Goals: McClair (29 min, 0-1); Bruce (76 min, pen, 0-2).