United were just three minutes away from starting the defence of their Premiership title with a victory when Everton probed, more in hope than expectation, along their left flank. Whether through complacency, tiredness or fading concentration, Nick Barmby was allowed a free header, though the ball was passing across goal before the shaven head of Stam intervened to divert it past Mark Bosnich.
Everton, who had trailed to Dwight Yorke's goal with less than six and a half minutes of the new season played, ultimately deserved their good fortune. After a summer of defections from Goodison Park, a line-up liberally laced with Scots displayed commendable disinclination to bow to the seemingly inevitable. If, as expected, Bill Kenwright completes his takeover of the club from Peter Johnson this week, the future may not be as grim as some Evertonians have feared.
Nor should United be unduly dismayed by this setback. After all, last season's Treble-winning feats had their inauspicious origins in a home draw against Leicester. Sir Alex Ferguson admitted he was "a bit disappointed - we didn't kill the game off", yet praised his team's "good performance". Since he also found kind words for Everton's resilience, and even for the referee for allowing a relentless game to flow, perhaps the United manager is mellowing at last.
Whatever the truth, he was as positive as ever yesterday, setting the tone with a team formation which could transform itself in an instant from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 or even 4-2-4.
Ferguson's tactical bravado was in marked contrast with the approach adopted by Walter Smith, his Everton counterpart. Having had his already slender attacking options further diminished by the disaffection of Francis Jeffers - who did not even make the bench after demanding a transfer on Friday - Smith sent out a side evidently designed to stop rather than scare the champions.
The result was that until Don Hutchison pushed forward after half-time, Kevin Campbell never had the support he would require to repeat last spring's scoring spree. Whereas United began by attacking in swarms and defending in depth, Everton could at first emulate them only in the latter respect. Even then, their game plan was rumbled the second time it was tested.
A good job, said one press-box wag on noting that Everton were fielding two 37-year-old centre-backs, that United are short of pace up front. In the event, Dave Watson and Richard Gough were seldom sucked into situations where they would be outsprinted, but the sharpness and mobility of Yorke and Andy Cole were always problematic.
Paul Gerrard had already denied United a third-minute lead by blocking Paul Scholes's drive following an exquisitely chipped pass by Roy Keane.
However, after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had seized on a Watson header which hit Yorke, the ball was helped on at break-neck speed by Cole for Yorke to score briskly with a shot that the goalkeeper touched but could not keep out.
Despite such an early and devastating demonstration of United's powers, Everton responded with vigour and occasional flashes of style. They were doubtless encouraged by the rare sight of uncertainty in United's goal, where Bosnich began his career as Peter Schmeichel's replacement by nervously slicing a succession of clearances.
Everton's problem was that they could not exploit the Australian's unease. They came tantalisingly close twice. After 28 minutes Hutchison's header from Mitch Ward's cross was deflected on to and behind the far post by a defender.
Then, with three minutes of the second-half played Bosnich enjoyed a remarkable triple escape. No sooner had he spilled Hutchison's shot than he saw Barmby's follow-up cleared off the line by Phil Neville and Campbell's attempt to convert the rebound founder on Henning Berg's sliding tackle.
Hutchison had an eventful afternoon. On being scythed down by Keane in the first-half he leapt to his feet as if intent on exacting retribution when the referee broke up the 15-man fracas which ensued, the United captain was perhaps relieved to be merely cautioned after holding his adversary in a headlock.
As the second-half continued in similar helter-skelter fashion, the image seemed to sum up his team's grip on the points. Solskjaer nearly added to their advantage on two occasions, while Nicky Butt shot across the six-yard area as stoppage time beckoned. But Everton's fighting spirit, as much as United's inability to conjure the goal which would surely have broken it, conspired to create the kind of finish that Ferguson's men are accustomed to inflicting on others.
Everton (4-4-1-1) Gerrard; Weir, Watson, Gough, Unsworth; Ward, (Cadamarteri, 70), Gemmil, Collins, Barmby; Hutchison, (Phelan, 84); Campbell. Substitutes not used: Ball, Pembridge, Simonsen (gk).
Manchester United (4-4-2) Bosnich; P Neville, Berg, Stam, Irwin; Beckham, Scholes, Keane, Solskjaer (Butt, 77); Yorke, Cole. Substitutes not used: Sheringham, Curtis, Cruyff, Van der Gouw (gk).
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).
Bookings: Everton: Collins, Watson, Gough. United: Keane,
Man of the match: Gough.
Attendance: 39,141.Reuse content