Manchester United showed an embarrassing lack of fight at Goodison Park as Everton secured a result which could see them avoid Premier League relegation
There are brief moments in football which offer more searing insight than any amount of hot-aired punditry rhetoric.
At Goodison, there were two such fleeting portraits, which spoke volumes about both teams, and their respective positions at the moment. As the final whistle went, there was a distinctive pause as the Everton support, so wracked with nerves they were subdued for long periods, computed what had just happened, and then let out a primal roar.
As they did, Vitallii Mykolenko sunk to his knees and then lay on his back on the turf, arms spread wide in an almost religious pose, an exhausted, yet still exuberant celebration expressing a relief and joy which was telling enough, even before you consider the defender’s circumstance. Mykolenko is from Cherasy in central Ukraine, where Russian troops are reported to have attacked with vacuum bombs, a particularly brutal weapon whose use is regarded as a ‘war crime’.
He has greater things on his mind than mere football, yet the emotion he showed, the relief, was indicative of what it meant to him. No doubt what it means to his family back in Ukraine too. Because this win was huge for Everton, and huge for the career he hopes to have, after this disgusting invasion is over.
And it is huge for Everton, a result which may well be the pivotal point in their season. Lose against Manchester United, and you not only feared, but actually assumed, they would be relegated. And it is clear their fanbase thought that too. Now, they go into a 10-day break with not only something massively positive to cling to, but with a guarantee they can’t be in the bottom four. They have beaten Manchester United – a huge scalp, no matter how bad they were – and that means something special.
As Frank Lampard said afterwards: “Do these lads want it as much as anything to stay in this league? Yes, absolutely, and they showed that so much in this performance.”
Michael Regan/Getty Images)
That moment as Mykolenko lay spread-eagled on the turf told you that, and it was heartening to see for the fans, who knew the significance of that single image. Yet there was another snapshot too, before the end, which spoke about Everton’s character. And directly about Manchester United’s character too. Or complete, embarrassing lack of it.
You would use the word shameful, but that would be wrong when such truly shameful things are going on in the world. But there was a moment which was still insulting to supporters of this great club. Richarlison, taking the ball out on the touchline as he tried to relieve some pressure on his Everton defence, which had performed so competently in the second half, to give United virtually nothing, controlled with his head.
Then he flicked it up again. And again, and fourth time, a small juggling display that showed the confidence and belief he still has, despite the pressure which has come in torrents towards Everton in recent months. From United? Nothing. Not a response. Not a single challenge, never mind a hack, a scything tackle, a barrelling shoulder. Not then, and not later, when the home side passed the ball around in triangles, as though they were six up against minnows.
Everton FC via Getty Images)
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It was almost circus football, with United cast as clowns. As Everton took the ball towards the corners, they were allowed to keep it there for extended periods, with again no aggression, no response. It is tempting to wonder what Roy Keane would have done to Richarlison. But that Manchester United would not have been in such a position, no team staring into the bleak abyss of relegation would dare provoke them in such a way.
It says this team doesn’t care. Is going through the motions. It also says that the next manager will not turn around such a malaise in a single season; or any time soon, for that matter. It will take years to get rid of such a rotten attitude. Everton on the other hand, showed desire which embarrassed their opponents. There was still a lack of quality at times – the one really decent chance United had, in the dying seconds of stoppage time at the very end – was the result of some poor defending.
But they showed what it means to them, how much staying in the Premier League means to them. And they showed they can do it now.