Restless, rather than resting, on his laurels, David Moyes marked arguably the best victory of his eight years at Goodison Park by setting out to fly to Europe yesterday to watch a player. Alas, Manchester Airport proved harder to breach than Manchester United, heavy snow forcing him to retreat just as surely as Everton sent the champions packing from Goodison Park with much to ponder.
Everton, after spending the early part of the season on the Premier League's hard shoulder after a succession of injuries to key players, appear close to joining the fast lane and the race for a top-four place. Moyes' take on their current resurgence, at least for public consumption, is that it may have come too late for them to get among Liverpool, Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City. "It wasn't long ago that we were third or fourth off bottom," he said. "We will try to get as high as we can, but we're coming from a long way behind. We've got some big games coming up – it's Tottenham next week – and we'll just try to keep moving up the table."
All teams carry injuries but no sooner had Mikel Arteta resumed his place as Everton's playmaker than Moyes lost Marouane Fellaini for the rest of the season and Tim Cahill for United's visit. Their absence made the match-turning impact of Dan Gosling, 20, and Jack Rodwell, 18, all the more important.
Everton were in the ascendant against a jaded-looking United, with Louis Saha giving Wes Brown and Jonny Evans a torrid time. However, it looked as if a point, from Diniyar Bilyaletdinov's swerving equaliser to Dimitar Berbatov's close-range flourish, might be all they would take from the contest. Until, that was, Moyes sent on his rookie substitutes.
From a low cross by Steven Pienaar, Gosling put Everton ahead. Then, as stoppage time loomed, Rodwell ran on to Arteta's through-ball and angled the third goal beyond Edwin van der Sar.
Gosling's previous strike of note was missed by the armchair millions when ITV went to the adverts as he was about to dump Liverpool out of last season's FA Cup. This time, in another moment of small-screen weirdness, Sky handed Rodwell the Man-of-the-Match bubbly for a seven-minute cameo. Rodwell is reputedly on the Old Trafford radar much as Wayne Rooney was after bursting on to the Everton scene at an even younger age. Having been hailed as the world's finest striker following his irresistible form against Milan, Rooney was back as a mere mortal but the manner of Rodwell's goal again hinted at his potential to join him in the England squad, if not United's.
In a Radio 5 Live interview yesterday Moyes conceded there had been "a lot of speculation" about the latest boyhood fan to enrapture his fellow Evertonians and reflected on the lessons of Rooney's defection. "Strangely, when it was Wayne it worried me a lot," he said. "It doesn't worry me with Jack because we've been through it before. I don't think we were quite ready for Wayne; we're certainly ready for Jack."
As for United, wins for Chelsea and Arsenal compounded the setback. While Sir Alex Ferguson detected "tiredness" he would have found little to dispute in his compatriot's verdict. "I know they had a brilliant result in Milan," Moyes said, "but it's part of being a top team that you have to come back and play again in the league."
Everton (4-5-1): Howard; P Neville. Heitinga, Distin, Baines; Bilayaletindov (Gosling, 70), Osman, Arteta, Pienaar (Rodwell, 88), Donovan; Saha. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Yobo, Vaughan, Yakubu, Coleman.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; G Neville, Brown, Evans, Evra; Valencia (Owen, 81), Fletcher, Carrick, Park (Obertan, 66); Berbatov (Scholes, 66), Rooney. Substitutes not used: Foster (gk), Vidic, Rafael, Gibson.
Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).
Booked: Everton Pienaar, Arteta, Saha, Osman, Rodwell. Manchester United Fletcher.
Man of the match: Osman.