Manchester United v Everton
Everton's unbeaten start to 2013 came to an end at Old Trafford as first-half goals from Ryan Giggs and Robin van Persie condemned the Blues to only their fourth defeat of the season.
David Moyes' men were looking to regain fifth-place in the Barclays Premier League table after Arsenal had leapfrogged them and moved two points clear with a 1-0 victory at Sunderland on Saturday.
With memories of last season's 4-4 draw at Old Trafford still lingering happily in the memory, not to mention a 1-0 opening weekend success at Goodison Park back in August, hopes had been high Everton could end a run that had seen them go more than two decades without a win on the home turf of England's most successful top-flight side.
As it was, Manchester City's slip up at Southampton was all the motivation Sir Alex Ferguson's charges needed. That standing between them and a 12-point advantage in the title race was a team they still feel cost them the crown last term, could only have inspired them further.
Critically, a full-strength United outfit had learned their lessons. Phil Jones, and then Michael Carrick, sat deep and shackled Marouane Fellaini; Antonio Valencia and the impressive Rafael nullified the twin threat of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar down the left.
Key players thwarted, the hosts did what they needed to do. The scored, they sat on it, and after nicking another on the break, they set about keeping hold of what they had.
Following last weekend's 3-3 draw with Aston Villa, Moyes made just one change, recalling skipper Phil Neville for his 300th Everton appearance, dropping John Heitinga to the bench. As it was, the Dutchman would ultimately take his place alongside Phil Jagielka, a virus striking Sylvain Distin during the warm-up and - on the day he was set to become the first overseas outfield player to reach 400 Premier League appearances - forcing his withdrawal from the squad.
Moyes promised before the game that his side would display the same attacking intent of their previous visit to Old Trafford, an afternoon they deprive United of the two points Ferguson maintains cost his club their 20th domestic championship.
And the Toffees did make a lively start, Pienaar - the subject of some gushing pre-match Ferguson praise - twice driving at goal only to see a body thrown to thwart his efforts.
While United had shipped 15 goals in their opening 12 home games - more than any other top-four side - they had also netted 32. A more telling statistic was that they had won 11 of them, drawing none and suffering just the one defeat - a 3-2 reverse against Tottenham in September.
However prepared, Everton - themselves having been defeated just twice on the road ahead of kick off - would have travelled down the M62 knowing the gravity of the challenge ahead.
In Van Persie and Wayne Rooney, Ferguson named a 35-goal strike pairing; any hopes he'd play it safe ahead of Wednesday's Champions League trip to Real Madrid emphatically dashed.
And it was the in-form pairing who combined to almost open the scoring just 10 minutes in.
Rooney played in Van Persie down the inside right channel and as Everton's defence stepped out so did four arms go racing to the air. An offside flag never came, but after rounding Tim Howard - and with the goalmouth gaping - Van Persie inexplicably thumped the ball against the outside of the post. A let-off.
Unfortunately for Everton, in the richness of form the 29-year-old has discovered since swapping Emirates Stadium for Old Trafford last summer, he doesn't make two mistakes in succession. United's very next attack led to the Dutchman bamboozling his compatriot Heitinga and slotting the ball sideways for Giggs. Eight-yards out and unmarked, the old head could hardly miss and duly stroked home via the post to give United a 13th-minute lead.
A goal down, Moyes' men stuck doggedly to their game plan. It got them chances too and after Pienaar found Leon Osman, the midfielder produced a swerving first-time shot that David de Gea was forced to tip away at full stretch.
From the resulting corner, the presence of Fellaini caused a clumsy clearance and though it fell nicely for Kevin Mirallas, the Belgian's shot was well blocked by Nemanja Vidic.
Fellaini was predictably at the hub of things when Everton did get forward and another chance came and went after his perfectly weighted ball played in Mirallas down the right. This time the winger picked out Victor Anichebe in the centre, but the Nigerian's attempt to roll Vidic allowed Rafael the time to saunter in and hack away the danger.
Undoubtedly, Everton were enjoying more possession then usually afforded guests at the Theatre of Dreams. United, in fact, were forced into something of a lull. Even the most blue-tinted of supporters would not have expected that to last though, and five minutes before the break, the league leaders sprung back to life.
The warning came when Rooney prodded the ball through the legs of England teammate Jagielka, looking to tee up Van Persie. On that occasion, Heitinga was the more alert of the two countrymen and produced a timely stretch of his right leg to poke away the threat.
As with the opener, Van Persie’s response was destructive. Just two minutes more had passed when the former Arsenal man burst between Jagielka and Heitinga, beating the offside trap, before gliding past Howard and steering home his 19th Premier League goal of the season.
In April last year, it had taken Everton just the final seven minutes to overturn a two-goal deficit at Old Trafford. As United went into second-half cruise control it quickly became evident the natives wouldn’t be surrendering again.
Indeed, it could have got worse for Moyes' men, who survived a goalmouth scramble on 65 minutes when substitute Nikica Jelavic, on for Anichebe, cleared a Jonny Evans snapshot off the line.
From the resulting corner Heitinga's headed clearance dropped for Tom Cleverley on the edge of the box and the midfielder's thunderous first-time effort had to be athletically tipped over the bar by Howard.
Jelavic did force one save from De Gea before the end but United just weren't going to budge. They've got their eyes on that 20th title and this time they weren't prepared to let us spoil it.
By Adam Clark at OId Trafford