Van Nistelrooy ensures golden finale for United

Everton 1 Manchester United 2
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The Independent Online

Like true champions, Manchester United kept going right to the end, coming from behind to outclass Everton and deny David Moyes' side a Uefa Cup place. Ruud van Nistelrooy's 25th Premiership goal of the season sealed victory, as well as the Golden Boot as the division's top scorer, and if the decisive penalty award was questionable, there was no doubting United's superiority.

Like true champions, Manchester United kept going right to the end, coming from behind to outclass Everton and deny David Moyes' side a Uefa Cup place. Ruud van Nistelrooy's 25th Premiership goal of the season sealed victory, as well as the Golden Boot as the division's top scorer, and if the decisive penalty award was questionable, there was no doubting United's superiority.

Twenty years to the day after Sir Alex Ferguson led Aberdeen to Cup-Winners' Cup final success against Real Madrid, his current team repeated the Gothenburg scoreline and proved that the veteran manager's inspirational qualities remain undimmed. Brushing aside an early Everton goal by Kevin Campbell, United should have had the points wrapped up by half-time.

Instead they had only a superlative equaliser by David Beckham to show for their ascendancy. Indeed, if Wayne Rooney's finishing had not for once resembled that of a 17-year-old at the end of an energy-sapping season, Everton might even have secured the win that would have taken them back into Europe.

But United always looked the team more likely, and Alan Stubbs' innocuous challenge on Van Nistelrooy gave him the opportunity to score for the 10th League game running. Mike Riley's decision meant he had given Ferguson's team a staggering seven penalties over the campaign. Strange how how so much largess should come United's way from Leeds, of all places.

Riley left the pitch to a storm of booing. Rancour thankfully gave way to rapture, with United receiving the championship trophy for the eighth time in 11 years to raucous acclaim from their followers and generous applause from the home crowd. The ovation for Moyes and his players on their lap of honour could hardly have been more ecstatic had they won the title. Truly, this been a year of renewal for one of English football's great institutions.

To slip out of the top six on the final day, after being there since November, was a cruel blow, yet Moyes was honest to the end. "You end up where you deserve to be," the Everton manager said. "Congratulations to Blackburn, though we've lost today to a free-kick and a soft penalty."

Everton can nevertheless take heart from his fellow Scot's assessment. "They've had a fantastic season and they've got one of the brightest young managers in the game," Ferguson said. "There's been a marvellous rise in the club and they're going to get even bigger."

When Everton struck after eight minutes, they scented a first win over United in 16 meetings since lifting the FA Cup at Wembley in 1995. Roy Carroll needlessly conceded a corner, then remained on his line as Thomas Gravesen crossed after Gary Naysmith's short kick. Campbell headed his 10th goal of the season.

Rooney, whose misses would include sidefooting wide of a gaping goal soon after half-time, was not the only talismanic striker to show his mortality. Needing three goals to equal Denis Law's club-record 46 in a season, Van Nistelrooy sent a point-blank header at Richard Wright and trundled the ball wide after leaving Joseph Yobo trailing.

With Roy Keane bossing proceedings, United also hit the woodwork twice, through Paul Scholes and Van Nistelrooy, either side of the curling, diagonal free-kick which Beckham planted beyond Wright shortly before the interval.

Dixie Dean's great-grandson came on during the break to recreate the legendary centre-forward's 60th goal of the season, 75 years ago, but the boy wonder Everton were really counting on could not deliver. Van Nistelrooy, crucially, was not so wasteful.

Goals: Campbell (8) 1-0; Beckham (43) 1-1; Van Nistelrooy pen (73) 1-2.

Everton (4-4-2): Wright 7; Hibbert 6, Yobo 6, Stubbs 5, Unsworth 5; Watson 5, Gravesen 6 (Chadwick 3, 72), Carsley 5, Naysmith 6 (Pistone, 84); Campbell 5 (Ferguson 3, 40), Rooney 5. Substitutes not used: Gemmill, Simonsen (gk).

Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Carroll 5; Brown 6 (P Neville 6, 40), Ferdinand 7, Silvestre 7, O'Shea 5 (Blanc 5, h-t); Beckham 7, Keane 8, Scholes 8, Solskjaer 6 (Fortune 3, 74); Giggs 7; Van Nistelrooy 6. Substitutes not used: Veron, Butt.

Referee: M Riley (Leeds) 4.

Bookings: Everton: Gravesen, Hibbert, Rooney, Stubbs, Ferguson. Manchester United: Ferdinand, Blanc, P Neville.

Man of the match: Keane.

Attendance: 40,168.

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