When Jack Rodwell capped Everton’s convincing victory over Manchester United on Saturday, half a decade’s worth of frustration was released by the loyal Evertonians who turned Goodison Park into a cauldron of atmosphere for the duration of the game, roaring their team on as they outplayed the Champions.
Five years ago, the last time Everton beat United in the league, the noise was similar but the manner of the Blues’ victory was very different. It took a battling performance to see off United then, with Duncan Ferguson rolling back the years to bully the Red Devils’ defence as only he could, but 2010’s triumph was not borne out of 90 minutes of hard running, hard tackling and taking advantage of set-pieces. Rather, Everton stood up to United and matched them pass-for-pass, move-for-move, and came away with three points that will live even longer in the memory than that famous night in April 2005. That game was vital to Everton’s season, as the Toffees chased Champions League football. Ultimately, they were successful but heading into the bout with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men and with Liverpool breathing down their necks, fourth place was far from certain. The Blues were in possession of the final qualification spot but the tie with United was their game in hand, one Liverpool were counting on Everton losing as they chased down their cross-city rivals. Just two months earlier, United had come to Goodison in the FA Cup and, with Wayne Rooney making his first appearance at his former home, had ran out comfortable 2-0 winners. Everton went into the game with indifferent form, winning twice and losing three times in the five games since the February cup clash.
The teamsheet that day contained some names that will go down in Everton folklore – not only the revered Ferguson but Nigel Martyn, David Weir and Lee Carsley, each a modern-day Everton legend, as well as current stars Mikel Arteta, who had only been at the club for a matter of months, and Tim Cahill, excelling in his first season on Merseyside. United boasted in their line-up Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, both closer to their pomp than today, Roy Keane, who engaged in a bone-shaking battle with Cahill that the Australian got the better of, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy in his prime. United appeared to have the edge but Everton, knowing Champions League football was within their grasp, refused to kowtow to the team from the other end of the East Lancs road and set about them from the off.
It was a blood-and-thunder game, with six yellow cards dished out, two of them to Scholes who followed Neville in departing the fray early after the right-back was sent off for blasting the ball into the crowd. Everton were already a goal up when Neville left the field, thanks to a vintage Ferguson header from an Arteta free-kick – Rio Ferdinand powerless to prevent the Scot reaching first. United went close late on but Everton simply would not be denied and many point to this game as the defining moment in that momentous season. Saturday’s win could prove as vital but it was achieved in a much different manner, one that signalled just how far Everton have come in the last five years.
Louis Saha led the line in his own way, as domineering as Ferguson but with multiple times the finesse. With Cahill hurt and Arteta still working towards full fitness, it was left to another veteran of the 2005 tie to control midfield. Leon Osman was a substitute then but solidified his place in the Everton team today with the latest in a growing list of outstanding performances and allowed the Blues’ midfield to pass rings around Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick, encouraging Osman and Arteta to join Steven Pienaar, Landon Donovan and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov in supporting Saha. As far removed from the trench warfare that was the 2005 game as is possible, this result was due to the steady progression Everton have made under David Moyes since he took over.
Moyes has spent nearly eight years making Everton a feared and respected Premier League side, taking them from regular relegation contenders to outside bets for the Champions League each year. Everton used to be renowned for their work-rate and rough, physical style – that is what beat United in 2005. Today, however, Everton are known for their slick passing football while still retaining that never-say-die attitude, making this victory over United all the sweeter. No doubt the Goodison Park faithful will be hoping the next one arrives before 2015.