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Saturday, 31 January 2009

Manchester United 'v' Everton HT Roundup

2 min: The first attack for Manchester United - who, incidentally, are wearing black armbands for the 51st anniversary of the Munich disaster, which falls next Friday. Tevez, Ronaldo and O'Shea ping it around down the left, but the final ball of a crisp move is chipped through straight to Howard. Everton have barely touched the ball yet.

4 min: Fellaini clips the back of Carrick's legs just outside the Everton area. Ronaldo takes the free kick, but it's straight into the wall; Fellaini makes up for his earlier misdemeanour by spiriting the ball upfield and away from danger.

6 min: Cahill gets on the end of a long Howard punt and, running down the inside-right channel, unleashes a low shot towards the bottom-left corner. Van der Sar is forced to tip round the post, but there's no corner as Cahill is judged - incorrectly - to have been offside.

8 min: Park hits a cross from the right-hand edge of the box which somehow nearly creeps into the bottom-left corner. Howard fingertips away brilliantly, and the danger is cleared. This is a lively end-to-end start.

10 min: Some nice interchanges between Fellaini, Osman and Cahill on the edge of the United box. Fellaini looks to have sprung clear down the left, but again the offside flag goes up. The linesman is on a bit of a hair trigger today by the looks of things, because again that decision was marginal at best.

12 min: A superlative challenge by Hibbert here. Ronaldo was about to latch onto a Tevez pass down the left and scoot clear of the Everton defence, until the full-back's boot pops up to deny him.

13 min: More staunch defensive work from Everton, this time from goalkeeper Howard. Berbatov returns a poor Lescott header straight into the Everton area, and the ball ends up at the feet of Tevez, six yards out and facing the goal. It's surely the opener, but... well, think Shevchenko v Dudek at the end of extra time in the 2005 European Cup final, and that's pretty much what happens here. A wonderful save from Howard at point-blank range.

16 min: Vidic takes a smack in the mouth after smashing his face into the back of Fellaini's head, the Everton midfielder's luxurious bouffant failiing to cushion the blow.

18 min: Both teams are flinging crosses into both boxes from either side. At some point one of these keepers is going to make an almighty ricket. At the moment, however, they're both claiming tricky high balls with ease. A really open game with both teams going for it, this.

19 min: Ronaldo nearly scoots free on goal but is flagged offside. Hibbert was across to slide in just before he reached the box anyway, but that's yet another dubious decision from the linesfolk; Lescott looked to be playing him on in the centre.

21 min: Cahill nearly gets on the end of a deep free kick at Van der Sar's left-hand post. But doesn't. Still, at least Everton are getting forward regularly.

24 min: Tevez tears down the inside-right channel. Baines can't make a challenge as the United striker races into the box. Tevez dinks a ball across the front of the six-yard box. It's dangerous, and it's brilliantly cleared by Jagielka.

28 min: United are beginning to turn the screw a bit. Ronaldo has another whack at goal, a much better curling strike from the left of the D which nearly creeps in the top-left corner. Howard palms the effort over the bar. The corner is a complete waste of time.

30 min:
United are flinging a lot of high balls into the Everton area. Everton are just about dealing with them, but there's a sense their opener is just a matter of time. That means their manager should take off Berbatov and replace him with Brown. Yes, I've been reading 'How Not To Lose Games But Still Alienate People: The Art of Football Management' by Rafa Benitez."

33 min:
Neville rolls a simple ball straight down the middle, into the United area. For some reason Fellaini - free in the centre - lets the ball roll through his legs, when it would surely have been simple enough to trap the slowly-moving pass, turn, and have a crack at goal. United fell asleep there.

34 min: Carrick tries to hook a shot home from an acute angle on the left. His effort is just wide.

36 min: Baines bustles free down the left. He reaches the byline but his attempt to dink a cross over Van der Sar is weakly hit and the keeper snaffles the ball without fuss.

39 min: United have taken their foot off the gas a bit here. Fellaini and Baines are seeing a lot of the ball down the left at the moment.

41 min: Baines has got the better of Neville, for whom it might all be over sooner rather than later on this evidence, six or seven times down the left. If he'd managed to put in one decent cross, Everton could be a goal up. As it stands, every single time he bowls into space, his crossing is either panicky or ponderous.

44 min: GOAL! Manchester United 1-0 Everton. Carrick bustles into the Everton area down the inside-left channel. Arteta nicks his ankles. Carrick attempts to stay on his feet, but it matters not: the ref points to the spot. Upon which Ronaldo places the ball and hammers it straight down the middle as Howard dives off to the right.

HALF TIME: Manchester United 1-0 Everton. Carrick has a wallop from 25 yards out. Howard makes a right song and dance about holding onto the low shot, the ball squirming towards the lurking Berbatov for a split second. And that, pretty much, is that for the first half.

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