More than one hard-bitten Everton supporter was heard to remark that it is all downhill from here after Marouane Fellaini inspired victory over Manchester United in the Toffees’ first Premier League game of the season on Monday. Rueful cynicism aside, the performance of David Moyes’ team against United will go down in Evertonian folklore.
In what is destined to become one of those “Where you there when…” games, Everton as a whole and Fellaini in particular dominated United. Sir Alex Ferguson’s churlish – and likely well-calculated – post-match comments aside, there did not appear to be a neutral observer who felt that the three points belonged anywhere but Goodison Park. David de Gea made four stunning saves in the first-half alone while his Everton counterpart, Tim Howard, was barely called into action throughout the match.
But the story of the 90 minutes will be told over and over. So will the tale of the performance of Fellaini, although both were so sublime they can stand a little re-telling. Perhaps the best way to illustrate from an Everton stance just how phenomenal both the game and the display were is to search for a comparable moment, best judged by the noise emanating from the old ground. For supporters of a certain generation the 3-1 victory over Bayern Munich in the semi-final of the 1985 European Cup Winners’ Cup is a seminal night. Watched back today and it is easy to see why. Goodison was a bear pit.
There is a more recent case, however, one that throws up more direct similarities, not least because it was a match that ended with the same scoreline against the same opposition. The manner of the winning goal and the performance of the goal scorer are uncannily reminiscent, too. It was April 2005 and United were again the visitors. An evening game, under the floodlights, and Goodison was rocking. Midway through the second-half a set-piece was converted by a precise header from a player United had been unable to cope with all night. It was Duncan Ferguson then, scoring from Mikel Arteta’s free-kick after giving Rio Ferdinand a torrid time.
Replace Ferguson with Fellaini, Arteta with Darron Gibson and Ferdinand with Michael Carrick and the two matches are almost a mirror image. But then, two stark differences crop up. Seven years ago Ferguson did bully Ferdinand into submission. The former England defender could not cope with the Scot’s roughhouse style. Fellaini, however, played with all of Ferguson’s fight but his performance was based on finesse as much as anything else. Deft lay-offs with the chest are not the stuff of a bully blundering around the pitch.
And then there is the difference that will live longer in the memory than even Fellaini’s magnificent showing. Goodison was raucous in 2005. On Monday it was booming. A wall of noise greeted the final whistle. At the same time a few Everton players collapsed in exhaustion. The ones that stayed on their feet joined in the singing. They were there.
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