Everton 2 Sheffield Utd 0: Arteta's launchpad for Planet Everton

Blues cruise to stay on course for Europe as Warnock's 10-man Blades lack any cutting edge
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The Independent Football

Before this game the Sheffield United chairman Terry Robinson was stressing the need for United to stay in the Premiership. After it, his words seemed so much wishful thinking.

Little went right for Neil Warnock's team yesterday but bad luck tends to gang up on the doomed and United look like condemned men. Their spirit is admirable - they battle and tackle with the best - but they fall down when it comes to invention to harm the opposition. In short, the Blades have an edge so blunt they would struggle to cut through butter.

As a consequence, Everton could afford to be below their best and still win with comfort. Partly this was due to United going down to 10 men when Claude Davis was sent off for bringing down Andy Johnson for a penalty that James Beattie converted. But by then Everton were already ahead through Mikel Arteta, and that goal always looked as though it would be enough.

"We had six or seven chances," Neil Warnock, the Sheffield United manager said. "In fact I think we were shocked we got so many." He was putting a gloss on it, but even he admitted: "If we don't start scoring, we'll be in trouble."

Given that Tim Howard, Tim Cahill and Beattie were suffering from a virus, it was a performance that delighted the Everton manager David Moyes. "For me that's our best result of the season," he said. "Recently we have played well and not picked up the points so today I asked two things of my players: to keep a clean sheet and to win. They delivered both of them."

Everton began the day by announcing that Robert Earl, a founder of the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain, had acquired a 23 per cent stake in Everton after buying out Paul Gregg. This evoked images of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Earl's associates, beating a path to Goodison, and, in keeping with much of their work, there was more blood and thunder about the football than finesse.

Purists were beginning to weary of the high ball and low skill when Everton took the lead after 13 minutes. Surprisingly, it was the most elegant player on the pitch who was the scorer and he did so with a header. Arteta slipped a pass to Phil Neville and then raced into the area to thump the ball past Paddy Kenny.

The afternoon turned even worse for the visitors after 33 minutes. Arteta flicked on, Johnson used his scorching pace to leave Davis in his wake and, as the Everton striker was about to shoot, the Blades defender brought him down. Davis was sent off and Beattie drove the penalty to the right of Kenny.

United needed an early second-half goal if they were going to salvage anything from this match and they almost got one. Cahill gave the ball away, Keith Gillespie passed precisely beyond the Everton back four and Mikele Leigertwood pulled his shot wide. They also rallied towards the end and Danny Webber was unfortunate to find Howard's legs in the 82nd minute. Everton would have got a third but for a flying save from Kenny that kept out James McFadden's header.

Everton have a place in Europe in their sights; United must pray there are three more impotent attacks in the Premiership. Yesterday that seemed unlikely.