Everton may escape wrath of the FA

Everton 0 - Manchester United 2
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The Independent Online

Another bad Saturday for Everton, though it could have been much worse than mere elimination from the FA Cup. Already on a final warning after two pitch invasions this season, they now face the threat of a disciplinary inquiry after a coin thrown from the Gwladys Street end housing home supporters laid out the Manchester United goalkeeper, Roy Carroll, during the second half of a disappointing tie.

Another bad Saturday for Everton, though it could have been much worse than mere elimination from the FA Cup. Already on a final warning after two pitch invasions this season, they now face the threat of a disciplinary inquiry after a coin thrown from the Gwladys Street end housing home supporters laid out the Manchester United goalkeeper, Roy Carroll, during the second half of a disappointing tie.

Carroll was able to continue but with Wayne Rooney also the target of other objects thrown - with less accuracy - earlier on, the Football Association, whose new chief executive Brian Barwick was at the ground, need to be seen to be taking action. It is understood, however, that they will be keener to punish the individuals concerned with life bans, rather than hitting the home club with ground closure or even a points deduction.

As for the game, it was comfortable for the holders most of the way. Quinton Fortune scored midway through the first half and Cristiano Ronaldo early in the second, Everton - without James Beattie and Duncan Ferguson - lacking the attacking resources even to threaten retaliation. Marcus Bent, forced to play on his own up front throughout, was unlucky with one header but frittered away a glorious opportunity to equalise just before half-time. The wide players, Leon Osman and Kevin Kilbane, were held in check by the experience of Gary Neville and Gabriel Heinze, whereas United's wingers Ronaldo and Fortune created problems throughout.

So a long-standing hoodoo continued: victory over United in the 1995 Cup final, lovingly replayed on big screens before kick-off, was Everton's last success against them in any competition. Now Sir Alex Ferguson's team must have a strong chance of retaining the trophy, a feat achieved only three times in the last 50 years. "Everton were missing a couple of players and that helped us," Ferguson acknowledged. "But what we did today was really professional. We had good discipline and concentration, which you needed on that pitch."

The playing surface had not been improved since Chelsea's appearance on it a week earlier. Nor was it in Everton's interests to do so against superior opposition, especially since red and yellow cards that afternoon cost them the services yesterday of Beattie in attack and Tim Cahill in midfield. In their absence, there was never enough support for Bent in David Moyes' 4-5-1 formation, which Ferguson decided to match. Well aware of the kudos that winning the Cup earned last season, he fielded far more of his regulars than Arsenal or Chelsea, despite also facing a daunting Champions' League tie in midweek - in United's case at home to Milan on Wednesday.

It was up to Ronaldo and Fortune - whose selection allowed Ryan Giggs, like Ruud van Nistelrooy, to rest for Wednesday - to supply Rooney from the flanks. After a disappointingly uneventful first quarter of the game, they did better than that, conjuring up a goal between them. Ronaldo, sent down the right into one of the pitch's less furrowed areas, easily outstripped Gary Naysmith and Kevin Kilbane and crossed to the edge of the six-yard box where Fortune headed in after a perfectly timed late run that Martin Peters himself would have admired.

In two Premiership meetings last season, Everton, rather uncharacteristically, scored five goals against United, unfortunately losing both matches because they conceded seven. A goalless draw at Old Trafford last August accurately reflected this season's more parsimonious approach, and fears that this would be another attritional occasion were fuelled by a scrappy start.

In the 14th minute, James McFadden and Leon Osman broke out to win a corner, which McFadden floated across for Bent to head, Fortune clearing almost from off the line. Then came the goal and, immediately afterwards, a big shout for handball against Roy Keane inside the penalty area. Rob Styles was having none of it and the home crowd had nothing more to shout about - abuse of Rooney excluded - apart from the moment two minutes before the interval when their team should have equalised. Mikel Arteta, the midfielder on loan from Real Sociedad, split the defence with a glorious pass that put Bent clear, only for Carroll to block and Rio Ferdinand to tidy up.

That miss looked all the more costly early in the second half as United took a grip, forcing three good chances in 10 minutes and scoring from the third. After Martyn pushed Ronaldo's low drive round a post and then thwarted Rooney, who had been played in by Fortune, he was unsighted by a defensive wall that failed to do its job. The veteran goalkeeper could only prod out Paul Scholes' free-kick, Ronaldo pouncing for his fifth goal of 2005.

This would normally have been the time for the brooding presence of Everton's talisman, Ferguson, to materialise. In his absence with a back injury, Moyes' attacking options were a 16-year-old striker, James Vaughan, and a 20-year-old Frenchman, Guillaume Plessis, neither of whom had ever appeared in the first team. As McFadden limped off, the solution, hardly ideal, was to bring on a defender in David Weir, pushing Joseph Yobo further forward. A Rooney goal - his third in successive rounds - would have added to Everton's misery, but in added time Martyn denied him that little triumph. The bigger one was doubtless sufficient.

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