United look light in all departments

Manchester United 0 - Everton 0
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The Independent Football

Seven points behind Arsenal and Chelsea before the end of August. Whatever honours Wayne Rooney hopes to achieve at Old Trafford, assuming that he completes a £25m transfer from Everton to Manchester United today, a winner's medal in this season's Premiership appears unlikely to be among them.

Seven points behind Arsenal and Chelsea before the end of August. Whatever honours Wayne Rooney hopes to achieve at Old Trafford, assuming that he completes a £25m transfer from Everton to Manchester United today, a winner's medal in this season's Premiership appears unlikely to be among them.

Rooney was conspicuous by his absence from yesterday's meeting between the club he is desperate to join and the one whose scarf adorned his adolescent bedroom. Some 3,000 Evertonians for whom switching allegiance is not an option were present, however, and at the end of a battling rearguard action it was the blue corner of the stadium that pulsated with pleasure over a hard-earned draw.

Their thunderous acclaim owed much to the Rooney situation, of course, but also to the fact that they had witnessed a modest improvement in Everton's wretched record against United. They have beaten them only twice in 25 Premiership meetings and not at all since the 1995 FA Cup final, so their first point at the venue in eight years was a cause for celebration.

David Moyes, whose injury-torn side are actually above Sir Alex Ferguson's team despite playing both Arsenal and United in their first four games, insisted he could give "no indication" as to whether or when Rooney's move would go through. "It's been going on all summer," added the Everton manager, evidently weary of the whole distracting saga. "We've not even spoken about it today."

The time for brinkmanship will pass at 5pm today, by which point United must have Rooney registered with the Premier League. It would be difficult for the 18-year-old England striker to stay at Goodison Park now, given the way in which his desire to "betray" Everton was decried in spray-paint slogans last weekend, even though Moyes reiterated that he was "a joy to work with".

The players Rooney will leave behind certainly showed the pride in the jersey that Everton's followers demand. Nigel Martyn was his usual agile and authoritative self in goal; David Weir was defiance personified in his first appearance this season, continuing to head away the high balls to which United resorted after he suffered a head wound that required stitches.

Tony Hibbert met the challenges offered by Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs with equal composure. In midfield, Leon Osman, who scored twice against West Brom last weekend, engaged United's hugely promising American full-back, Jonathan Spector, in a fascinating duel. Indeed, every Everton man gave the impression of being determined to prove they are no one-man team.

United, bereft of Rio Ferdinand, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane and the leadership the Irishman provides, have scored three goals in four League matches, compared with Arsenal's 16. They scarcely threatened before the break, with only a misdirected free header by Louis Saha and a long-range drive by Kleberson to show for a display which, uncharacteristically for United, was in dire need of width.

Ronaldo and Alan Smith each hit a post in a second half of one-way traffic. Yet Everton had been the more composed side during the opening 45 minutes, Osman and Tim Cahill both going close, and they might also have had a penalty shortly after half-time. Mikaël Silvestre, carrying on where he left off after an error-strewn Euro 2004 with France, clearly handled the ball in the penalty area.

Dermot Gallagher, replacing the suspended Andy D'Urso as referee, appeared to indicate he had spotted a push on a United player, possibly by Duncan Ferguson.

But if defeat would have been harsh on United, neither were they able, until the dying minutes, to exert the pressure that saved a point at Blackburn. Martyn proved equal to the late siege, arching to tip over Alan Stubbs' back-header and swooping to push behind a scuffed shot by Paul Scholes.

The United fans' gloating chants of "Rooney, Rooney" gave way to mockery in a Merseyside accent, the visitors' songs provocatively claiming the boy wonder would be joining Chelsea, or even Manchester City, rather than United.

Ferguson should get his man today. Nevertheless, performances such as this prompt the question as to whether their money would be better spent on reinforcing the defence and midfield.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Howard; G Neville, O'Shea, Silvestre, Spector; Ronaldo (Bellion, 81), Scholes, Fletcher (Djemba-Djemba, 64), Kleberson (Giggs, 64); Smith, Saha. Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk), P Neville.

Everton (4-1-4-1): Martyn; Hibbert, Weir, Stubbs, Pistone; Carsley; Osman, Watson, Cahill (Naysmith, 70), Kilbane; Bent (Ferguson, 53). Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Campbell, McFadden.

Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).

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