Excellent Everton overshadow Rooney’s return

EVERTON 3
Bilyaletdinov 19, Gosling 76, Rodwell 90

MANCHESTER UNITED 1
Berbatov 16

Wayne Rooney’s return to Goodison Park was the centre of attention before kick-off but once the 90 minutes were over, it was the current batch of Everton players that were the talk of the town thanks to numerous sterling performances all over the field.

Manchester United dominated the opening 20 minutes, netting the goal they deserved when Dimitar Berbatov drilled Antonio Valencia’s cross home, but instead of taking the game by the scruff of the neck, United retreated and the Toffees were soon level. Jonny Evans failed to deal with a Phil Neville long ball and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov punished the Irishman with a thunderous shot that appeared to be heading wide to the extent that when the ball nestled in Edwin van der Sar’s goal there was a noticeable pause before Goodison erupted. Rooney soon had a glorious chance to score, rounding Tim Howard, but a poor touch allowed Neville to rob the England striker at the expense of a corner that came to nothing. Landon Donovan, again impressive, could have put Everton ahead before the break but fluffed his lines, instead leaving Dan Gosling to do the honours in the 76th minute. Jack Rodwell crowned the day with a choice solo effort in the final minute of normal time.

Rooney might have been the pre-match focus but Leon Osman outshined his fellow Everton academy graduate, controlling the midfield with poise reminiscent of Paul Scholes’ younger days. Rooney’s disappointment was not for lack of trying but rather lack of support, with Berbatov showing little after scoring, Valencia fading despite originally getting the better of Leighton Baines and Ji-Sung Park full of running but little invention. The No 10’s prospects were not helped by another superb John Heitinga outing, the Dutchman putting in a display the benched Nemanja Vidic would have been proud of and the unsteady Evans could only dream of.

The ex-Everton striker was barely even the hub of Evertonians’ hatred, generating little more vitriol than any other former player who left under a cloud. Perhaps there has been a thawing between the two camps but more likely time and Everton’s development in the five-and-a-half years since Rooney left Merseyside, combined with the Blues’ performance today removed the need to antagonise the former hero. While his name was greeted with boos and the crowd revelled in any missteps, compared to the fury previous appearances at his former home created the reaction was as tame as United’s performance.

It is Everton that deserve discussion in the game’s aftermath however, as to concentrate on Rooney would be doing a disservice to the Toffees, such were the heights they reached in the winter sunshine. What could have been a terrible month for the Blues, with games against Liverpool, Chelsea and United as well as a two-legged tie with Sporting Lisbon and a trip to White Hart Lane, has instead provided some of the highlights of the season, none more so than this richly-deserved three points.

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