Gibson learning to fire in Everton engine room

Moyes signed United midfielder on recommendation of Rooney and, after the odd rocket for being too laid-back, it is paying off

Sir Alex Ferguson advises his fellow managers to avoid the January transfer window, claiming that the players he is offered are usually expensive and have some ulterior motive for wanting to move. Yet the men who have helped transform Everton's season all arrived in midwinter: Nikica Jelavic, escaping the financial implosion at Rangers, Steven Pienaar returning to the ground where he was happiest, and Darron Gibson deciding that the cachet of being a Manchester United footballer meant little if you weren't actually playing.

David Moyes said that one of the reasons he decided to bring Gibson to Goodison Park was an enthusiastic recommendation from Wayne Rooney. And when Everton swept Sunderland aside to set up this afternoon's meeting with Liverpool at Wembley, Rooney was straight on the phone.

"He was buzzing. At heart he is still an Everton fan," said Gibson. "I spoke to him straight afterwards – he had been watching the game. I am not telling you what he said but he was buzzing."

Gibson said he was not sure what to expect when he left Old Trafford. He knew he had to leave; the Ireland manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, had advised him to go but he had been part of the fabric of the club since he was 15, having made his name in the Derry and District League.

There had been a couple of spectacular goals from midfield, especially against Bayern Munich in the European Cup quarter-finals – he said he was around eight years old when he learned how to shoot from outside the box. However, with every new signing, every new academy graduate, Gibson seemed less sure of his place.

"Some people would say I failed at Manchester United by not breaking through," he said. "Towards the end, I wasn't playing my best football. I have come to Everton to start showing people what I can do. I wouldn't say I failed. What I would say is that I never got the chance that I wanted. I would play one game and then miss out on four, five or six, then play another.

"And when a young player comes through, it's just the same as a new player coming in. They both need a run of matches. You are still training with the lads every day, of course, but it is different when you get on the pitch because, suddenly, you have something to prove."

There is a familiar path between Ferguson's training ground at Carrington and Everton's new and very similar-looking facility at Finch Farm, near the Land Rover and Jaguar plant at Halewood, which is one of the great industrial success stories on Merseyside.

Phil Neville, Tim Howard and Louis Saha all came from Manchester United, although Gibson baulks at suggestions that, accents apart, there are any similarities between Ferguson and Moyes.

"They might sound the same but, no, they are totally different." What about their team talks? "Again, completely different apart from the accent. Moyes is a lot more hands on. He wants to do everything himself, whereas in the years I was at Manchester United, Sir Alex used to let the coaches do most of the work. He would do the team talks and the tactics but, on the training ground, it was the coaches who did the work."

Work is a cornerstone of Everton's success and Gibson, who confesses to being at heart, a "laid-back footballer", did not fit instantly into the regime.

"The football here is a lot different to what it was at Manchester United. I was shocked at how hard we worked. It took me a few games to get used to it. The difference is that Manchester United have the ball most of the time, don't they? It is a bit different here.

"In recent weeks, when we have been getting results, we have been pressing teams and working really hard to do it – which is something we didn't do too much of at Manchester United. I am probably the fittest I have ever been in my career."

The one similarity between Ferguson and Moyes is that they are both men you would hesitate to cross.

Gibson found the net with a spectacular drive against Manchester City, a goal that might decide the championship, and which provoked another flurry of phone calls from his one-time team-mates.

However, after last month's game against West Bromwich Albion, Moyes suggested that Gibson might need "the treatment" – which sounds like a Goodison version of "the hairdryer".

"I come across as laid-back sometimes," said Gibson. "That is where he is coming from. He has shouted at me a few times to run a bit harder in training. Sometimes, I need a kick up the arse. I am not saying I don't work hard but when he shouts, 'Run faster!' I run faster."