Another One Down, Fifteen To Go For United
It is rather scary now. After the Arsenal game I wrote an article, lamenting the poor form of our defence which was so brilliant last season. Well, since then United haven't conceded a single goal in the league... that's what I call an answer.
Of course, sooner or later we'll concede again. West Ham, for instance, are in good form, held Arsenal to a draw at the Emirates and are capable of breaching our defence. Still, these last 12 games have been extraordinary: we've beaten every record there is: Premier League record, Football League record, everything. I would never have thought that Alex Ferguson's Manchester United will beat great DEFENSIVE records.
But I'm fairly comfortable with it just as our back four and our wonderfully solid keeper was fairly comfortable with everything Everton offered last night. It was exactly the sort of game we've come to expect in this season's Premier League where attacking brilliance is lacking not just at Old Trafford but at every ground. Everton were solid, fought for every ball, made life difficult so chances were few and far between. But United did enough to merit a win and go five points clear at the top with the two closest rivals playing each other today.
There was only a minor surprise in the squad: Paul Scholes has been omitted entirely. But he wasn't overly missed to be honest and we should have been ahead after 10 minutes when Park's clever pass found Tevez whose shot from point-blank range was deflected over by Tim Howard.
United pressed forward with intent but with little verve - yet still, we were only inches away from taking the lead midway through the first half when Ronaldo fired a low shot against the inside of the post. A few minutes later he had another effort, this time Howard got a hand to it to concede a corner of which nothing came.
Meanwhile, at the other end there were a few long shots and dangerous-looking crosses to deal with but Everton could not even fashion half-chances despite the alarmingly poor display of Gary Neville who simply could not prevent Leighton Baines from running behind him with every attack... So, it looked like the half would end goalless when Carrick, picking up a nice pass from Berbatov, burst into the box where he was tripped by Arteta. Definite penalty and Ronaldo duly slotted it home.
Everton players protested but they didn't have a case and had reasons to be grateful to referee Mark Halsey for not pointing to the spot again at the start of the second half. United had already missed a chance - Tevez fired over the bar after latching on to Park's low cross - when O'Shea picked out Carrick (again) with a clever ball. The midfielder took a touch then headed for the byline when Lescott upended him. It was a clear penalty yet Halsey seemed to think that would make life too easy for United and declined.
Carrick, understandably, was furious: after all, it's quite rare that he wins two penalties in a single game. But he really should be delighted with his own contribution because in the first half he was absolutely fantastic, all of our best moves involved him and he dictated the rhytm from midfield. In the second half he was less active but still very effective and would have deserved a goal.
Everton, on the other hand, wouldn't have deserved a goal - and they couldn't get anywhere near scoring one, especially after Brown replaced the rather shaky Gary Neville. There was simply no way through United's back four and even though we rarely threatened in attack - Berbatov was quite passive all night, Tevez faded after a very bright first half showing - it was a relatively comfortable victory in the end.
It seems we have to resign ourselves to the fact that our great team won't treat us to fabulous attacking football this season - or at least not very often, only occasionally. Still, we're five points clear at the top and our main rivals play each other in three hours' time. The destiny of the 2008/09 Premiership title is firmly in the reigning Champions' hands - we've overcome another obstacle on the way and now there's 'only' fifteen left.
We shall not be moved!