Moyes the merrier as he takes on mentor Ferguson with real belief

Everton go to Old Trafford today determined to stake their top-four claims
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The Independent Football

The Glaswegian branch of the Premier League Managers' Mutual Appreciation Society will reconvene at Old Trafford this lunchtime as Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United take on David Moyes' Everton. Such is the respect between the two that Moyes, on his own admission, once came "quite close" to becoming Ferguson's assistant before choosing to stay with Preston North End. A burgeoning reputation as a coming man there hardly hindered by an approach from United soon led to his being installed as a rival instead, at Goodison Park.

A rival, though not yet a serious threat; after three months short of six years, Moyes may be the third longest-serving manager in the League, behind Ferguson and Arsne Wenger, but he is suitably embarrassed to be bracketed with that pair: "You look at what they've won and I shouldn't be mentioned with them. I see myself as a young manager but I've done 10 years now between Preston and Everton, unbroken without missing a day, and maybe that's an achievement in itself."

As he implies, these things are relative. Moyes once said that to finish in the top four would be Everton's equivalent of winning the title and for one season they managed it, inching out Liverpool of all teams, only to lose in the Champions' League qualifying round. Subsequently, sixth place, where they now find themselves, has proved to be a glass ceiling. "I always hoped we could challenge the best but I maybe didn't realise where Everton had to go to get back up there.

"Walter [Smith] before me had a period of real instability. We're still a long way away, because we can't bridge the gap financially. We need to have a stadium to generate more cash to do that, because if not we'll be just scraping around trying to be there."

Moyes was speaking at the new Finch Farm training centre in Halewood, for which Everton recently left the more prosaic Bellefield, overlooked for many years by Bill Shankly's house. Leaving Goodison Park is another matter altogether, which continues to cause division. In August, a vote among supporters to move to Kirkby, in traditional Everton territory but outside the city borders, was won by 59 per cent to 41; the Keep Everton In Our City Group are refusing to accept defeat every bit as stubbornly as the team are currently doing on the pitch.

Moyes' team were beaten by a late goal from United's Nem-anja Vidic early in the season, but since the low point of a 2-1 defeat at home to Liverpool in October, with two players sent off, they are unbeaten in 13 games. All four Uefa Cup group matcheswere won, the last of them on Thursday, with a weakened team inflicting a first home defeat in 33 European ties on Louis van Gaal's AZ Alkmaar. Several teenagers were among the substitutes, one of them the 16-year-old Jack Rodwell made his senior debut, and the depth of young talent has encouraged Moyes: "Taking the club as a whole, I think it's the best Everton's been in my time here."

His admiration for Ferguson "It's brilliant to keep going and going into each game week in, year in and getting the results" is genuine, and reciprocated. At the other end of the East Lancs Road earlier in the day, the United manager agreed that the top four have all looked vulnerable in losing games recently and that Everton "can't be dismissed".

He might even admit that four lively strikers all in form, especially Yakubu with five goals in three games, give Moyes greater options in attack at present. With Louis Saha out of sorts, a burden is falling on Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, prompting United's signing of the Angolan forward Manucho. "These next four games are a big test for us," Ferguson said. "We hope we can play through it. It would be nice if when we come through the end of it we could say we've got three weeks off to sort out all the little injuries."

A January break, as called for by Gordon Taylor of the players' union in these pages last week, has become something of a crusade for the Premier League's senior citizen. At a time when the Football Association are prepared to listen to those who have played or managed at a significant level, it is worth his continuing to bang the drum.

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