Manchester United 1 Everton 0: Manchester United started the day by honouring arguably the club’s greatest ever player by renaming the main stand The Sir Bobby Charlton Stand and ended it by keeping up the hope that Old Trafford will see Champions League football next season.
The 90 minutes in between were largely unspectacular but Charlton will not mind one jot if his beloved club return to Europe’s premier competition.
United kept up the pressure on fourth-placed Manchester City with a hard-fought victory courtesy of Anthony Martial’s 54th-minute strike.
The French striker tucked in Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s cross at the back post after Seamus Coleman had failed to make contact with what should have a straightforward clearance.
It was one of only two shots on target in a match that manager Louis van Gaal admitted was more of a grind than a spectacle but it moved United up to fifth above West Ham and maintains the pressure on City.
The Dutchman felt his side were tired after returning from their various international sojourns but said it was important to build on their 1-0 win over City at the Etihad in their last Premier League game.
“We didn’t play so well, it looked like we were not fresh,” said Van Gaal. “You never know how the players will come back from the international break. We were today the lucky team. It was more or less a stolen victory.
“We want to give entertainment for the fans — but the fans were entertained today because of the tension.
“If we lose, the victory against Manchester City is worthless. Now we are still in the race.”
United didn’t seem to show the belief or urgency that the United boss demanded in a lethargic opening 45 minutes as Old Trafford saw it’s 10th goalless first half this season.
It was an unchanged side from the one that beat City with another start for Marcus Rashford, who did the damage at the Etihad.
He and Martial were lively but didn’t cause the Everton back four too many problems although Martial went close with a curling effort that drifted inches wide of Joel Robles’ far post.
England defender John Stones, making just his second start for Everton since January, couldn’t have asked for a more comfortable 45 minutes with the spotlight on him following his slip in midweek in the Three Lions’ defeat to the Netherlands.
However, the breakthrough came early in the second half when half-time substitute Fosu-Mensah crossed to the far post, Coleman failed to clear and Martial pounced.
Everton were almost level three minutes later when Phil Jagielka smashed a header against the crossbar while the defender also went close towards the end but his instinctive strike struck David de Gea.
But the Toffees never really threatened the equaliser and their third successive defeat was greeted by boos from the away end as they remain 12th in the Premier League, although they do have an FA Cup semi-final trip to Wembley to look forward to.
“Trust me, we feel exactly the same,” said Martinez of the fans’ reaction. “We can see the quality we have in our squad and can’t seem to get some momentum.
“But it’s 1984 that we can’t go into two domestic cup semi-finals so I think this young generation can take us a long way.”
For United, there is still the hope of European football next season and their home form will stand them in good stead with just leaders Leicester City losing fewer home games.
Next up is second-placed Tottenham away and Van Gaal insists his side perform better against the bigger sides.
“We keep in touch with City, one point behind, We keep in touch with Arsenal, five points behind. We have to play now Tottenham, it is not an easy match but normally we are playing very well against the top teams and if we continue with that I shall be very happy.”
Charlton , now 78, was beaming with pride before the game at the naming ceremony, he could yet be doing the same again at the end of the season.
De Gea 6, Darmian 6, Smalling 7, Blind 7 (Valencia 82, 5), Rojo 5 (Fosu-Mensah 46, 6), Schneiderlin 6, Carrick 5 (Herrera 58, 6), Lingard 6, Mata 6, Martial 8, Rashford 7.
Subs not used:
Romero, Depay, Young, Fellaini.
Robles 6, Baines 6, Jagielka 6, Stones 7, Coleman 6, Cleverley 6, McCarthy 7, Lennon 7, Barkley 7 (Niasse 87), Deulofeu 7 (Mirallas 63, 5), Lukaku 6.
Subs not used:
Howard, Oviedo, Kone, Besic, Funes, Mori.
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