Little Pea earns Utd big win
Javier Hernandez's late header kept Manchester United on course for a record-breaking 19th title following a 1-0 win over Everton.
Last Updated: 23/04/11 4:14pm
Javier Hernandez's late header kept Premier League leaders Manchester United on course for a record-breaking 19th title following a 1-0 win over a stubborn Everton.
The Mexican striker, nicknamed the 'Little Pea', popped up at the far post when the Red Devils were struggling to find a breakthrough and his close-range finish earned a 16th win from 17 league games at Old Trafford this season.
United required time to hit their stride and it took half-an-hour for Tim Howard to be tested, with the former Red Devils keeper pushing away Hernandez's first-time shot after neat play by Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney.
Everton, who had offered little going forward, had a penalty shout dismissed before Hernandez inadvertently came to the visitors' rescue by deflecting away Nani's shot with Howard beaten.
The leaders struggled to create chances after half-time and Everton came close to a surprise opener when Jack Rodwell's deflected shot was tipped past the post by Edwin van der Sar.
As the clock continued ticking down, and with Everton holding firm in defence, a slice of luck appeared likely to be United's best source of a goal and they almost got it when Fabio's cross deflected off Sylvain Distin and back off the post.
With 10 minutes to go, Howard again denied his old club with a stunning reaction save from Hernandez's header after Valencia's shot had been blocked.
But there was nothing Howard could do six minutes from time when Valencia's deflected cross looped to the far post and Hernandez squeezed home his header from a narrow angle.
The victory allowed United to open up a nine-point gap with four games to play ahead of back-to-back meetings with title rivals Arsenal and Chelsea.
Faced with a familiar selection poser, knowing the following four games, starting with the first leg of that Champions League semi-final against Schalke in Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday, would shape his side's season, Sir Alex Ferguson came up with a typical mixture of solid and experimental.
Jonny Evans was fortunate referee Peter Walton did not view his tackle on Jermaine Beckford as a foul midway through the opening period and Darron Gibson's normally reliable long-range shooting was way off beam.
However, back in the dug-out after completing his five-match touchline ban, Ferguson could be reasonably pleased with his side's first-half efforts, save for the fact they did not actually score.
The time when picking Hernandez was viewed as a gamble has long since passed and, predictably, the fast-moving Mexican was the hosts' biggest threat.
In Howard though, Hernandez was faced with a goalkeeper who has special reason to do well at this venue given he enjoyed three seasons with the Red Devils until joining the Goodison Park outfit, initially on loan, in 2006.
Ferguson's concern about the American had more to do with his concentration levels than any problems with ability.
And Howard proved his worth after 25 minutes when Hernandez was sent sprinting through by Anderson's slide-rule pass and let fly from an acute angle. Howard plunged to his right to make an excellent save by his near post.
Howard's next effort was even better as he beat away another Hernandez effort after the striker had been set up by Valencia and Wayne Rooney.
Hernandez then did Howard's job for him eight minutes from half-time. Valencia's superior strength allowed him to shove Leighton Baines off the ball and roll a pass back to Nani, who had already wasted one early opportunity by taking too long to decide what to do.
This time, Nani went for goal straight away. He would surely have found it too had the ball not struck Hernandez, who had slipped as he made his way in the penalty area, and deflected harmlessly away.
Everton manager David Moyes could take pride in his team's battling qualities, which were exemplified by the stoic defending of Phil Jagielka and Distin, who managed to get in the way of an Hernandez cross that was about to give Fabio a tap-in.
Moyes had even more reason to admire the manner his side started the second period as United failed to rouse themselves.
The introduction of Tim Cahill helped and Rio Ferdinand got away with shoving second substitute Victor Anichebe over when the Everton man had outpaced him in a race towards the United goal.
Everton's luck was also out midway through the half when Rodwell let fly from the edge of the area with a shot that took a deflection off Evans and was heading for the bottom corner until Van der Sar got the slightest touch.
The fluidity had disappeared from United's play, so they dug into their reserves of self-belief.
Distin turned a Fabio cross onto his own post before the introduction of Ryan Giggs, then Anderson got no power at all into a 10-yard shot after being offered a decent sight of goal.
The hosts' momentum gathered pace as Valencia's thunderbolt cannoned into Jagielka and Howard produced a brilliant save to deny Hernandez.Could Everton hold out when so many others had failed? Hernandez ensured the answer was rather predictable.
|Manchester United||Team Statistics||Everton|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|6||Shots on Target||3|
|9||Shots off Target||2|