Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial combined to secure Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United a much-needed victory against in-form Everton.
Talk of crisis and the need for a managerial change may have dissipated at Old Trafford but the importance of a win remained having been outclassed by Juventus in the Champions League and frustrated late on at Chelsea.
Pogba and Martial netted either side of half-time as United emerged 2-1 victors against Marco Silva’s Everton side, although Gylfi Sigurdsson’s penalty brought a nervy conclusion to Sunday’s game.
Mourinho’s men usurp the Toffees in eighth place with a win that was not always straightforward as the visitors displayed flashes of the confidence brought by three successive league wins.
Everton were aggrieved to go in at the break behind. Idrissa Gana Gueye was adjudged to have brought down Martial in the box, but the visitors’ complaints fell on deaf ears as Pogba fired home the rebound after Jordan Pickford had saved his penalty.
Goalscorer became provider in the 49th minute as the World Cup winner fed Martial to curl home a superb second on an afternoon when United again failed to keep a clean sheet.
Pogba sloppily gave away the ball before Chris Smalling took down Richarlison in the box. Sigurdsson smashed home the spot-kick, but it proved a consolation effort as United hung on.
It was an entertaining game watched by the young Thai footballers that were rescued from a cave earlier this year – the guests of honour as United won their first match since the international break.
The hosts veered from passive to purposeful in an opening period that Everton started well. Bernard was close to meeting a cross as the visitors looked to unsettle from the flanks, while Andre Gomes should have done better with a header from a corner.
United looked a little creaky defensively but were growing into the match at the other end.
Martial showed patience and no little ability to cross for Juan Mata to get a header on Pickford’s goal – an attempt far easier to stop than the stinging strike that the 22-year-old Frenchman would soon unleash.
Martial’s movement was proving a handful and referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot after a challenge by Gueye. The Everton midfielder avoided a booking shortly after earning his first, but his team-mates argued that he got the ball and it should not have been a penalty at all.
Those pleas were ignored and Pogba put a finger to his lip after slotting home at the second attempt after Pickford impressively denied the penalty that came at the end of a long, stuttered run-up.
The offside flag rightly denied Marcus Rashford a quickfire second and Fred thumped wide, but Everton ended the opening period on top with Sigurdsson’s header followed by a Theo Walcott attempt.
Richarlison got a strike away moments after the restart but United would quickly extend their advantage.
Pogba’s ball to the edge of the box was met by a superb first-time effort by Martial, whose shot bent into the bottom corner in front of the Stretford End.
United fans were soon celebrating again – albeit this time at the visiting supporters’ misfortune as Bernard beat the offside trap, rounded David De Gea, only to hit the side-netting.
It was a let off Mourinho’s side quickly looked to build on, with Pickford denying Rashford with his feet and then getting down low to thwart Pogba.
Romelu Lukaku, dropped to the bench after eight scoreless club matches, came on in the 65th minute to whistles from the Everton fans that once adored him.
United were still in the ascendancy but their attacks were being interspersed by concerning moments at the back, with Seamus Coleman fizzing over under pressure.
Everton were then gifted a way back into proceedings with 13 minutes remaining after Pogba gave away possession as stupidly as the sliding challenge that followed from Smalling on Richarlison inside the box.
Sigurdsson stepped up to smash home the penalty and Lukaku mistimed a header as nerves began to jangle.
Tension built as both sides pushed to score, with Martial wasting a glorious chance when put through one-on-one in stoppage time. It mattered not as United celebrated three hard-fought points.
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