Moyes’ young guns shoot down rueful Rooney

AFTER his stellar performances of recent weeks, it took an off-day for Wayne Rooney to really show the alarming level of Manchester United’s reliance on their talisman.

Of course the work-rate and desire were there but with less than an hour gone, he was already showing the signs of frustration he is supposed to have stamped out, throwing his arms and screaming at his team-mates as yet another attack did not even result in Tim Howard being worked.

Alex Ferguson has dismissed any suggestion of Rooney burning out over the next few weeks, with a World Cup to worry about in four weeks, but the manager’s acknowledgement that there is tiredness in his ranks must be a major concern. Poor old Dimitar Berbatov must he exhausted.

But the worry as United, who face West Ham tomorrow ahead of Sunday’s Carling Cup final with Villa, slipped to their sixth Premier League defeat and dropped points from a winning position for the first time this season, was how over-run they were in midfield.

David Moyes has always liked the angles that an energetic five-man midfield can give and once you add their energy and vision to that – even in the absence of Tim Cahill and Maroune Fellaini – it can do a lot of damage.

Mikel Arteta is still some way short of his best after a long stint on the sidelines but Landon Donovan is still confounding predictions he would struggle after arriving from the LA Galaxy on loan and he will be badly missed when he returns next month.

Leon Osman is an unheralded constant, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, who can rightly complain about tiredness after joining at the end of the Russian season and playing without a break for 14 months, still looks like the weak link despite whacking in from long range against the champions, while Steven Pienaar continues to produce on a consistent basis.

The South African can pop up anywhere and is showing why Moyes is desperate to extend the former Dortmund man’s contract, which ends next summer. Bayern Munich are considering him as a cheap alternative to Franck Ribery and he is justifying such plaudits.

And then to United. Darren Fletcher was not at his best but still did what he always does but Michael Carrick looked lost and Ji-Sung Park ran around a lot with little effect. Antonio Valencia was outstanding for the opening period but was no longer able to influence after Everton worked out that he had too much room.

With the score at 1-1, Ferguson wheeled out the old legs of Paul Scholes and the unproven Gabriel Obertan before Moyes threw on the energy of Dan Gosling and Jack Rodwell and it was no contest.

From Patrice Evra, there were harsh words. “Myself, every player, a lot of players have been tired but I think on mentality we lost that game because before the game everyone was just talking about, ‘Oh I feel tired, my legs,’you know? I don’t think we were focused on the game and this is why I don’t want to give that excuse.

“It’s not damaging because a lot of teams, big teams, come here and don’t win. This is why it was the target before the game; to say, ‘If we can win there, we can win the title’ We didn’t do that. It’s not damaging it just makes it more difficult.”

Chelsea also lost at Goodison earlier this month but United effectively threw that opportunity away with this defeat and now trail Carlo Ancelotti’s side, who have to travel to Old Trafford in April, by four points.

They actually took the lead when Valencia’s cross beat Sylvain Distin and Berbatov, making his second start in eight games, took a touch before thumping a shot in off the bar.

But Bilyaletdinov’s tired left leg swung to put Everton level from 25 yards just two minutes later. As the second half wore on, Everton slowly got themselves on top and with a quarter of an hour left, Donovan slipped Pienaar in behind Gary Neville and his low cross picked out Gosling, who got in front of Evra to score.

Then came Rodwell’s first Premier League goal, which was almost a carbon-copy of Steven Gerrard’s first, in a 4-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday in 1999. He picked it up from deep and drove forward, beating Fletcher’s lunge before hitting a low cross-shot into the corner of Edwin van der Sar’s net. Everton have lost just once in the league since November. “The way our season is panning out, we have probably deceived a few people, but we are showing now that when we are on our game, we can compete with the very best teams in the League,” Tim Howard said.

“It is a belief thing, really. At the start of the season, when games were close, we were crapping ourselves and thinking there was every chance we could lose. Not any more. Now, we are holding on to leads, scoring late goals and generally going into games thinking we can win.”

That is a feeling that United must restore to stand a chance of picking up a record fourth consecutive league title.

MATCH RATING: **** – What a performance from Everton and what a finish to what a good game. Both teams went for it, resulting in a great tussle.

REFEREE: Howard Webb (South Yorkshire) 8 – Solid performance from the official. The game flowed like few others in the Premier League this season and he coped well with some meaty tackles.

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up