Manchester United’s top-four aspirations suffered a setback as Louis van Gaal’s side were blown away 3-0 by clinical Everton in the Premier League on Sunday.
First-half goals from James McCarthy and John Stones put hosts Everton in control at Goodison Park and substitute Kevin Mirallas sealed victory late on to push Everton into the top half of the table for the first time this season.
Fourth-placed United enjoyed 65 percent of possession but lacked any real cutting edge with striker Radamel Falcao’s frustration complete when he had a well-taken consolation goal disallowed for offside.
Defeat, following last week’s reverse against Chelsea, leaves United still a comfortable seven points above fifth-placed Liverpool although that gap could be sliced to four if Liverpool win their game in hand at Hull City on Tuesday.
“It was very disappointing. I think that was the first time this season that we were off the pace from the first whistle. From the first moment to the last we were second best,” United defender Chris Smalling told the BBC.
“I think we lacked aggression. That is what the manager emphasised to us after the game, that they seemed to want it more than us.”
A sombre pre-match atmosphere following the death this week of former Everton chairman Philip Carter was enlivened after five minutes when Everton took the lead.
United could have gone second with a victory, at least until Sunday’s late game between Arsenal and leaders Chelsea, and they were making the early running until being caught cold with a classic counter-attack goal.
Antonio Valencia failed to win a header and Everton surged forward and the ball eventually came across to McCarthy who burst between Paddy McNair and Daley Blind to poke his shot past United keeper David De Gea.
It proved a frustrating afternoon for former Everton players Wayne Rooney and Marouane Fellaini.
Rooney worked tirelessly but Fellaini wasted a great chance to equalise and was then predictably booked for hacking down Seamus Coleman.
Everton increased their lead with a powerful Stones header from a corner that Ashley Young, positioned on the goal line, could not keep out of the net.
Everton completed their biggest win over United for 23 years in the 84th minute when Mirallas charged through from deep to finish coolly with United’s defence expecting an offside flag to be raised against Romelu Lukaku.
United have four games left, including a home clash with Arsenal, and they should still finish in the top four but what looked a formality a couple of weeks ago is now uncertain.
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