Alex Iwobi gave Everton a dream start but the Blues’ unbeaten run came to an end after a narrow 2-1 defeat to Manchester United at Goodison Park.
Buoyed by two straight Premier League victories and without tasting defeat in seven matches in all competitions, Frank Lampard’s men looked to be on their way to more success when Iwobi stroked home a sweet 25-yard finish past David de Gea with just five minutes on the clock.
That proved to be the peak moment, however, with Everton the makers of their own downfall as mistakes in possession enabled Anthony to level on 14 minutes before substitute Cristiano Ronaldo netted his 700th club goal just before the break.
The Toffees were much improved in the second half – with the welcome return of Dominic Calvert-Lewin off the bench – but they could not find a leveller despite a spirited response.
There won’t be many more night games under the lights at the Grand Old Lady and that feeling among Evertonians helped create a typical raucous atmosphere before kick-off between two English football giants.
It certainly enabled the hosts to get on the front foot as, seconds into the contest, Amadou Onana did well to break up play on halfway and start a counter down the right. The Belgium international fed Anthony Gordon – the only change from the XI that beat Southampton last weekend – but the forward overhit his cross with Neal Maupay waiting at the back post.
Onana was back at it moments later – and this time it reaped rewards. The summer signing from Lille pounced on Casemiro to rob the Brazilian of possession, enabling Demarai Gray to move towards goal. The forward was unable to get away a shot but the ball fell to Iwobi and, with Goodison urging the in-form Nigerian to shoot, he duly obliged with a sumptuous 25-yard curling finish into the top right-hand corner.
That should have given Everton a platform to build on but, as United went in search of a quick leveller, they were gifted a route back into the encounter.
With 14 minutes gone, Idrissa Gana Gueye miscontrolled a pass, allowing Martial a path towards goal, and when the Frenchman slid in Anthony down the right-hand side of the area, the former Ajax man finished past Pickford.
Having seized back the momentum, United went close to taking the lead, Bruno Fernandes sending in a dangerous low cross from the right that fizzed around the Everton area. With Martial – so often the scourge of the Blues – ready to pounce, Pickford did well to sprint off his line and make a crucial block.
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LAMPARD ON WHAT EVERTON MUST LEARN FROM UNITED LOSS
Moments later, Martial was forced off through injury to be replaced by Ronaldo and the Portuguese took little time to make an impact.
Having been involved in a move that saw Fernandes squeeze a shot into the back of the net – only for Ronaldo to be rightly ruled out for offside – he gave the visitors the lead just before the break.
Iwobi couldn’t find a way past Casemiro and the midfielder’s incisive pass allowed Ronaldo to race clean through and put the ball beyond Pickford.
Everton needed to improve in the second half and, as the Goodison approval confirmed, they did 10 minutes into the second half as faster, more accurate passing saw Gray and Gordon both have United’s full-backs on their heels.
That continued on 61 minutes when slick play across the park ended with Vitalii Mykolenko lofting a cross to the back post for Iwobi to volley across goal which was close to being met by Gordon and Maupay.
Mykolenko was provider again moments later, another looping cross providing panic in the United defence after a neat interchange between Onana and Gana.
With the Blues seizing back the upper hand, Gray’s inswinging corner was narrowly headed over by Onana.
Lampard looked to his bench to turn the tide on 75 minutes as James Garner replaced Seamus Coleman for his Blues debut since joining from United on transfer deadline day. That was followed by the welcome sight of Calvert-Lewin back on the Goodison turf, much to the delight of Evertonians, as the striker came on for Gana.
It set up a grandstand finish as the Blues pushed for a leveller, substitute McNeil swinging a cross into the area that just missed the head of Calvert-Lewin with 10 minutes to go.
Seconds later, it looked game over when Marcus Rashford pounced on a fortuitous deflection off James Tarkowski’s slide tackle to round Pickford and score. But as the away end celebrated, it was the home crowd who were soon in full voice when the effort was ruled out for the England international using his hand in the build-up.
There was always going to be one last chance for Everton and it came moments before four minutes of added-time were signalled when Gray whipped in a pinpoint cross from the left that Onana nodded agonisingly wide.
There was still time for Garner to go so close to netting against his former club with a curling 20-yard shot that de Gea had to tip over the bar. And from the resulting corner, Calvert-Lewin headed just wide from two yards out.
It was typical spirited stuff from Lampard’s Everton but, on this occasion, the Blues fell just short.