It was all going so well. A goal to the good at half-time and keeping a frustrated Liverpool at arm’s length, Everton had a famous victory and a place in the FA Cup final within touching distance.
Yet all too predictably, the Toffees’ hopes took a nosedive that Ashley Young would be proud of when in the opposing penalty area.
A 1-0 lead was turned into a 2-1 deficit and all the pre-match talk of Everton momentum and superiority over their neighbours was put to bed as Liverpool took the spoils at Wembley to leave one man above all else wondering how it all went so wrong.
Too often in David Moyes’ ten years as Everton boss has this been the case – no matter what the respective fortunes of the two clubs when they meet, the red half of Merseyside have enjoyed the edge and Moyes has been powerless to reverse the trend, as a desperate record of only three wins in 24 derby matches testifies.
As the Scot reflects on his latest derby-day disappointment, he must now be seriously considering his future at Goodison Park.
Ten years of keeping Everton relatively competitive despite having a fraction of the budget enjoyed by others is admirable (things are so bad chairman Bill Kenwright has to turn up on Coronation Street to top up the coffers), but as Liverpool’s fans cruelly taunted him with chants of ‘David Moyes is a football genius’, the reality surely dawned on him that to finally compete with the big boys, a move from Everton is a must in the summer.
Where that would leave Everton in the long term is questionable, but what is certain is that in the short term, the defeat to Liverpool also renders the rest of Everton’s season irrelevant, save the carrot of finishing above their Merseyside rivals.
United shouldn’t be fazed by an Everton side that has scored only 17 goals in 16 games on their league travels, with just five of those coming against teams in the top half, to whom Everton have lost six of their seven away fixtures.
But even that is scant consolation when compared to the lack of a trophy, especially as the moral victory would be as much down to Liverpool’s gross underachievement as anything else.
All of which is just to Manchester United’s liking. The two sides meet at Old Trafford on Sunday and with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men still on course for a record 20th league title, the Red Devils must be delighted to be meeting an Everton side who could well have had the wind taken from their sails.
The odds compilers certainly don’t give Everton a chance by quoting them at 9/1, with the draw at 4/1 and United strong favourites at 3/10.
It was back to business as usual for United last time out, a comfortable victory against a woeful Aston Villa side getting the title favourites back on track after their defeat at Wigan.
The 4-0 success over the Villans maintained their five-point lead over rivals Manchester City with just four to play and although City will be looking at this as a match in which Ferguson’s side could drop points, both recent form and history suggests not.
Old Trafford has been its usual fortress in 2012. United have won seven league games on the bounce, scoring 16 goals and conceding just one.
They shouldn’t be fazed by an Everton side that has scored only 17 goals in 16 games on their league travels, with just five of those coming against teams in the top half, to whom Everton have lost six of their seven away fixtures.
History is against Everton, too. Their record at Old Trafford is pitiful and you have to go back to the opening month of the first ever Premier League season in 1992 to find their last win down the East Lancs road.
Since then, Everton have lost 16 of the 18 fixtures, failing to score in 11 of those games.
I don’t expect them to be scoring on Sunday either, so take the 3/2 that United win 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0, scorelines which account for eight of their 14 home wins this season and five of the last seven successes.
Recommended bet: Manchester United to won 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0 @ 3/2
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