There was little indication the Neville brothers had shared a career, let alone a home, as Roy Keane's successor led the handshakes before kick-off and barely exchanged a glance with the penultimate, familiar face at the end of the Everton row. With an empire in decline and relegation fears to address, the Nevilles had no time for pleasantries, although the United faithful made amends with a warm reception for their former servant.
"One of the hardest things I have had to cope with in the last year was accepting that Phil was leaving us," revealed Sir Alex Ferguson. "He was a pillar of what you hope for in a player - loyal, committed, honest and a man of integrity, and I am sure he has been one of the key figures in Everton's recent resurgence."
That he has been, although David Moyes' side have been functional rather than impressive during a sequence in which the younger Neville's influence was limited as a makeshift left-back until his return to midfield yesterday. Such versatility has been a welcome gift to Moyes during his injury problems and it is an inescapable conclusion that he would have spared his former manager many of his enforced selection problems too.
Gabriel Heinze's knee injury deprived Ferguson of his first-choice left-back but Neville could also have been the natural under-study on the opposite flank during his brother's six week absence with a broken metatarsal, while the authority and defensive discipline he brought to the visiting midfield yesterday would have been invaluable alongside the revitalised Paul Scholes in Lisbon.
Certainly it was the blue Neville who had more reason to savour yesterday's experience. While the England right-back would have scored a second for United in the 26th minute but for one of several excellent saves made by the Everton goalkeeper Richard Wright, he was part of a confused defence that was stretched regularly on the counter attack in the second half.
In contrast, his younger brother's awareness enabled Everton to stifle countless United attacks and launch the breaks that could have brought a merited victory. "Sometimes you can be fearful when you come here, but we gave it a right go and it was great to be back," said Phil, who lingered long after the final whistle to offer applause and a clenched-fist salute to his old supporters, while his brother headed forlornly for the tunnel without a backwards glance.Reuse content