Goalscorers: Louis Saha 8, 28, Ruud van Nistelrooy 23, 88, David Unsworth 48, John O’Shea 66 OG, Kevin Kilbane 74
Everton: Nigel Martyn, Tony Hibbert, Alan Stubbs, David Unsworth, Alessandro Pistone (Gary Naysmith 46), Lee Carsley, Thomas Gravesen, Steve Watson (Wayne Rooney 46), Kevin Kilbane, Duncan Ferguson, Francis Jeffers (Tomasz Radzinski 46)
Manchester United: Tim Howard, Gary Neville, Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Mikael Silvestre, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher (Cristiano Ronaldo 81), Ryan Giggs, Louis Saha (Quinton Fortune 74), Ruud van Nistelrooy
Referee: Neale Barry, Attendance: 40,190
Reigning champions Manchester United had recently surrendered top spot in the table to unbeaten Arsenal after a surprising loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers three weeks earlier. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were now doing the chasing when they travelled to 14th place Everton, who had won just one of their last six league matches.
The Red Devils are often known for scoring very late goals but they made a stunning opening as they completely dominated the first 45 minutes. Paul Scholes hit the post and new signing Louis Saha headed wide from close-range inside the first five minutes. Three minutes later, Saha made no mistake to score his second United goal since joining from Fulham in the January transfer window. Mikael Silvestre’s hopeful long ball found Saha in acres of space as the Everton defence tried to play offside. The Frenchman brought the ball down, took his time and smashed his strike into the net.
The dodgy defending continued on 23 minutes when David Unsworth’s awful attempt at a clearance dropped into the path of Ruud van Nistelrooy. The Dutchman shook off the attentions of Alan Stubbs and finished from a tight angle to complete a century of goals for Manchester United. Saha quickly made it 3-0, getting his second goal with a weak shot which deflected off the left boot of Nigel Martyn.
David Moyes needed to make changes at half-time and he duly did. A triple change saw the struggling Alessandro Pistone, Steve Watson and the non-existent Francis Jeffers replaced by Gary Naysmith, Wayne Rooney and Tomasz Radzinski. They were about to begin an improbable comeback which won’t have pleased his fellow Scot in the visiting dugout. Four minutes into the second half, United’s lead was trimmed by a third. Tim Howard flapped his arms out on a Naysmith corner. Unsworth made the most of the gift to nod the ball into the unguarded net at the back post.
Manchester United’s weak spot all season was conceding goals from set-pieces and they gifted away another goal on 64 minutes. Yet another Naysmith corner caused chaos in the United penalty area and John O’Shea saw the ball bounce off him and into the net. The comeback was completed 16 minutes from full-time. Nobody picked up Kevin Kilbane who met Thomas Gravesen’s free-kick perfectly with a header that flew into the net. It was game on and either side could go on to win all three points. However, there would be a sting in the tale for Everton supporters.
Substitute Cristiano Ronaldo delivered a delicious cross to the back post from the right-hand side and there was an unmarked Van Nistelrooy to score his 101st Manchester United goal and see them nick all three points. It was a typical ‘Fergie Time’ goal but neither manager was smiling at the end of the season. Everton finished 17th, just six points clear of relegation and United came in a distant third, 15 points behind champions Arsenal.