Manchester United 3 Everton 2

26th December 2003
Old Trafford, Manchester

United were determined not be the turkeys this Christmas, and turned in a good performance against Everton despite many key players being rested. The defence remained unchanged, with the side showing great belief in the consistent back-four of Neville, Rio, Mickael and O Shea. Ruud was rested in favour of Forlan, whilst Scholes, Giggs and Roy Keane were all given a day off or a day on the bench in order to keep them fresh for the upcoming games against Middlesbrough and Aston Villa over the Christmas period.

The six changes had no effect on the overall result, or the standard of play, however, with the Reds dominating the game in both possession and flair. It took just seven minutes for the first goal, with the fans celebrating Nicky Butt's first goal since last season, and his first appearance since November. Ronaldo's clever pass through to Kleberson on the left wing resulted in a cross from the enigmatic Brazilian. Forlan chased the ball through, forcing a poor clearance from the Everton defence. Butt latched onto the clearance and smashed the ball home with an impressive 20 yard volley.

As United fans sat back and waited for what they hoped would be a glut of goals, Everton stole a lucky equaliser. A free-kick on the edge of the box was inexplicably headed in by Gary Neville, who hung his head in shame, but showed an extra determination to make up for his error for the rest of the game.

The game fell into stale-mate, with neither side making the most of the few chances on offer. Forlan headed straight at the 'keeper from short-distance, but saw his shot parried over the bar. Just as it looked set to be level at half-time, a Gary Neville left-footed cross was headed in by Kleberson. His celebration a dance with twinkling toes summed up Manchester United's play fast, full of flair, and fluent.

The first substitution happened early in the second half, with O Shea limping off to add to Fergie's injury worries. It would have been no surprise if Ronaldo had ended up on the injury list, with Everton having seemingly picked him out as the player to foul. Illegal tackle after illegal tackle rained in, whilst the referee didn't seem to know what was going on, and gave only free-kicks.

Ronaldo dazzled each Scouser in turn, and was at the root of all of United's attacks. When Rooney slid in with half an hour to go, he was yellow carded. The home-fans were baying for a red card, and subsequently booed him each time he got the ball, and cheered whenever he screwed up, which was surprisingly often. His temper slowly rising, he was taken off by Moyes some five minutes later. Our teenage sensation had beaten him fair and square.

The game was effectively over when Bellion poked home from two yards following great skill by Ronaldo to get a cross in.

Jeffers dived in on Silvestre at the death to leave a complately changed back-four. Djemba-Djemba ended up playing at Right-back, whilst gary played right centre back, Rio left, and Quinton Fortune at left back.

Ferguson grabbed a goal at the death, giving Fergie an uneasy finish, but before you knew it, the whistle had been blown, and all three points won.

Man Utd: Howard, Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre (Djemba-Djemba 72), O'Shea (Scholes 50), Ronaldo, Butt, Kleberson, Fortune, Forlan, Bellion. Subs not used: Carroll, van Nistelrooy, Giggs.

Everton: Martyn, Hibbert, Stubbs, Unsworth, Naysmith, Li Tie, Gravesen, Linderoth (Jeffers 63), Kilbane, Rooney (McFadden 70), Campbell (Ferguson 63). Subs not used: Simonsen, Yobo.

Booked: Rooney, Jeffers.

Attendance: 67,642.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).