Everton’s Premier League winning run was halted by Manchester United, as goals either side of half time from Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial condemned Marco Silva’s side to a first defeat in four.
Two distinct passages of play put United in the ascendancy, before Gylfi Sigurdsson assuredly dispatched a penalty following Chris Smalling’s trip on Richarlison with 14 minutes to play.
On 27 minutes Pogba responded to Jordan Pickford repelling his penalty – awarded for Idrissa Gana Gueye fouling Martial – by coolly placing the rebound into the opposite corner of the goal.
Then in the minutes after half-time Everton twice came close, while United made full capital on their one opportunity in the same period.
Martial curled with the precision of a surgeon’s knife across Pickford – outstanding but utterly helpless in this instance – and into the far corner after being fed by Pogba on the left edge of the box.
Moments earlier Richarlison had worked a shooting opportunity and forced a fine reaction save from David de Gea.
And shortly after United had doubled their lead, Everton skilfully ripped through the heart of their opponents but could not apply the kill.
Sigurdsson passed forward to Richarlison. He saw Bernard’s run and timed his pass to enable the winger to foil Ashley Young’s attempt to play him offside. Bernard sat De Gea down but in the process narrowed his angle. The forward skipped by the grounded 'keeper but directed his shot into the outside of the net, with Victor Lindelof scrambling across to deal with anything on target.
United goalkeeper de Gea was relatively busy in the opening 45 minutes, without being overly extended.
The Spaniard’s sharpest piece of work arrived on the stroke of half-time. Theo Walcott latched onto Michael Keane’s pass inside Luke Shaw and thrashed a shot at the near post which tested De Gea’s reactions, the ‘keeper palming the ball behind.
Everton were searching for an equaliser by now. Pogba’s radar had been way off early in the piece when he sent a 25-yard effort hurrying out for a throw in.
On 27 minutes, though, the French World Cup winner had the chance to convert from 12 yards after Gana was judged to have impeded Martial as the United flyer chopped onto his right foot inside the box.
After what seemed like an eternity as he trotted up to address the ball, Pgoba swiped his effort slightly left. Jordan Pickford was diving in that direction but had gone past the ball and needed to jab out his left hand to save.
Pogba, however, was the coolest man in the building. He opened up his body and nudged the rebound into the space vacated by the prone Pickford.
Minutes later Pogba was marauding forward again, arriving in the area via an extravagant exchange of passes with Martial before drawing a sharp save from Pickford down to his left.
Everton had a penalty shout of their own on five minutes. Andre Gomes's shot from 18 yards thudded into a crowd of bodies and ran wide for Bernard.
The Brazilian dug out a cross in search of compatriot Richarlison, who went over following contact from Shaw. Referee Jon Moss was not interested.
Bernard was inches from connecting with Sigurdsson’s low right-wing delivery, the ball skipping behind with Young using his body intelligently to balk the Everton man.
The Blues were committing bodies forward when they crossed halfway. Midfielders were prepared to run beyond their forwards, while Everton’s coherent pressing was ruffling feathers in the hosts’ rearguard.
Gomes, perhaps encouraged by his earlier effort, advanced to receive a return ball from Sigurdsson and head into De Gea’s midriff.
The United number one was equally comfortable eight minutes before the break when Sigurdsson was the man executing a one-two and nodding goalwards from Seamus Coleman’s flighted delivery.
Pickford was rather more stretched on 19 minutes when Martial’s run and cross teed up Mata for a header. The attacker’s effort reared up nastily off the turf but found Pickford up to the task of diverting it round the post.
Pickford was called into action again midway through the half, Martial powering a strike destined for the inside of the ‘keeper’s right post without his smart intervention.
United’s Brazilian midfielder Fred had a go from distance but directed his hard-hit shot off target. Walcott was more accurate with a left-foot drive after dashing in from the left but De Gea held on at his near post.
The five minutes immediately following the restart were pivotal. Martial executed his curling finish with the confidence of a man who struck twice at Chelsea last week.
Everton had presentable chances either side of the former Monaco player’s goal, De Gea thwarting Richarlison and Bernard scuffing into the side netting after rounding the goalkeeper.
At 2-0 Pickford used his legs to keep out Marcus Rashford’s cross-shot and opted for more conventional means to deny Pogba with a fabulous stop at the foot of his left upright.
Everton continued to probe as the game reached its business end, Richarlison to the fore as Silva’s side tried to chisel out a way back into it.
Coleman struck over after steaming forward on the overlap and being picked out by the Brazilian – before Richarlison was downed in the box by Smalling with 14 minutes remaining.
Sigurdsson’s penalty was driven high to De Gea’s left. The United man had no chance.
On came Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin – joining earlier substitute Ademola Lookman – as Everton went for the jugular, Tosun joining Calvert-Lewin in a two-man strikeforce.
Richarlison shot over from the left but Everton could not complete their comeback in six minutes of added time, played out to the sound of nervous howls and whistles from the locals.
Indeed, Martial could have scored on the counter but was denied in a one-on-one with Pickford. The visitors chucked everyone forward for one final corner - Pickford and all - but after substitute Romelu Lukaku cleared Lucas Digne's delivery Lookman thrashed high into the October night.
The Evertonians inside Old Trafford went through a decent share of their back catalogue before kick-off. But one of the more modern tunes – the one which highlights Jordan Pickford’s standing as England’s best goalkeeper – got an airing as enthusiastic as any other.
Pickford confirmed his status in front of a global audience in the summer, a heady mix of breathtaking stops, incisive distribution… and penalty saves, opening the eyes of the wider world to his talent.
His effort to repel Paul Pogba from the spot here was as good as anything Pickford has conjured in similar circumstances. He has developed a technique for choosing a side of the goal to leap towards, while leaving something behind to repel anything struck down the middle.
On this occasion, Pickford went right and pawed out Pogba’s kick with a massive left claw. It needed a special piece of play from Pogba to ultimately win that one-on-one duel.
Inside the game’s opening couple of minutes Pickford fired the ball 60 yards in search of Richarlison. Victor Lindelof was living on his nerves, exposed one-on-one with the Brazilian, as he cleaned up unconvincingly.
Pickford has spoken this term of developing the mental capacity to dispel anything negative from his mind.
No sooner had Pogba defeated him than the moment was gone. When the leggy Frenchman next advanced and hit a shot across goal Pickford was down to his left in jiffy to push the ball to safety.
A man in demand for interviews these days, Pickford was in front of journalists again this week and revealed he would never seek to ape another goalkeeper’s style.
There was nevertheless something of opposite number De Gea in the way Pickford improvised to save with his legs from Marcus Rashford’s drilled, close-range strike soon after United’s second goal.
His reaction stop not long after to prevent Pogba from scoring his second of the game, however, was pure Jordan Pickford
Gylfi Sigurdsson’s lime green boots ensured no one was going to miss the midfielder under the Old Trafford floodlights.
If his choice of footwear was apt with the nights drawing in, then Sigurdsson’s decision making on the pitch was very good, too.
Sigurdsson lasered a fabulous pass into Richarlison to open up United and win Everton’s penalty. He chose well from the spot, too, firing high and out of the grasp of David de Gea.
Everton’s arch-creator was on point with his distribution all afternoon, spreading balls into his widemen or threading the eye of a needle with passes jabbed decisively into the feet of his strikers.
One of Sigurdsson’s dead balls – an early right-wing corner – was landed square on the forehead of Andre Gomes. His run off the ball for Theo Walcott and subsequent deep cross intended for Bernard in the first half was a demonstration of Sigurdsson’s ability to get in front of the play and cause havoc.
He showed no little courage in steeping up to take the penalty, too, having seen his most recent strike from 12 yards rattle the bar against Fulham last month.
Lucas Digne, who has played football in France, Italy and Spain, is as well qualified as anyone in this Everton squad to assess the relative characteristics of Europe’s top leagues.
Asked about English football specifically this week, the Frenchman smacked his hands together and exhaled sharply. “Intense,” said Digne smiling. “I like it”.
You better had do if you want to play in this Everton team. Marco Silva wants things done quickly.
Indeed, to labour in the Premier League is to as good as surrender. Pace and power courses through the division’s better sides. And Everton under Silva look every inch the modern football team.
It was Digne who motored forward in the game’s opening exchanges to reach a pass from centre-back Kurt Zouma.
His cross was struck first time and consequently pinned United to the ropes. Had Digne waited to size up his options, United would have regrouped, the threat-level decreased.
On Everton’s other flank Theo Walcott kept Victor Lindelof honest when the defender dawdled a fraction too long before passing from defence.
Lindelof was scanning the horizon as Walcott alighted on the Swede, before making off with the ball at his feet. Quick as a flash Walcott fed Gylfi Sigurdsson’s ambitious run. The Icelander in turn rolled the ball across the box but a fraction out of the reach of Bernard, chasing in at the back stick.
These were examples of Everton being sharp, quick to the ball and eager to pounce in areas where it really matters.
You have to be able to take a bit, too. With half-time looming, Digne was the recipient of a storming challenge from Ashley Young – the United right-back arriving at one hundred miles per hour and sending Digne cartwheeling through the air.
The Everton man caught his breath, climbed to his feet and got on with the game. No complaints. Indeed, within moments he was racing forward at full pelt to add numbers to a visiting attack.
Everton did not slacken in the face of disappointment either. There remained a good tempo to the Blues’ football as they sought a route back into the contest.
The joined-up play of Sigurdsson, Richarlison and Bernard to slice through United was as fast and efficient as it was pleasing on the eye.
Silva’s team never wanted for ambition in their approach either. Right-back Seamus Coleman was still galloping forward with the match entering its final phase – and lifting a shot marginally too high after being slid in by Richarlison.
And Richarlison’s driving run – in tandem with Sigurdsson’s exquisite slide-rule pass - pulled Smalling from his comfort zone and scrambled the mind of the defender, who lunged into his injudicious challenge to give Everton hope.