When excellence is its own reward

I’ve been writing a lot lately about Wayne Rooney and Landon Donovan, but three far less heralded players stole the headlines in Everton’s 3-1 victory over Manchester Untied. The three were goal scorers Dan Gosling and Jack Rodwell (both substitutes) and Russian winger Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. Gosling scored the go-ahead goal. The seldom-used 20-year old also scored the winner against Liverpool in the FA Cup quaterfinals last year. He thus cements his place as an Everton legend.
But the key to the match, in my opinion, was the absence of Man U’s outstanding central defenders, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Their replacements, Wes Brown and Johnny Evans, are not a quality pair. Vidic was expected to start. As soon as he heard he wouldn’t, I felt we had a good chance for at least a draw.
But a team like Man U can get away with a mediocre central defense if the opponent lacks the quality to “ask questions” of it. Fortunately, David Moyes has put together a collection of skillful attacking players who are capable not just of maintaining possession (a challenge for many an Everton side) but also putting opposing defenders under serious pressure. In place of the likes of Mark Pembridge, Kevin Kilbane (bless them both) and James Beattie, we now have Donovan, Bilyaletdinov, Louis Saha, Mikel Arteta, and Steven Pienaar.
The first goal was a brilliant strike by Bilyaletdinov. The second was set up by some nice work from Donovan and Pienaar. The third came in the dying moments when the Man U defenders, exhausted from their afternoon of chasing Donovan, Saha, Pienaar and company, were unable to stop Rodwell from marching through the middle.
But, for me, the man-of-the-match was Little Leon Osman, another skilful player who sacrifices his attacking game to perform the dirty work necessary to provide a platform for Donovan, Saha, Pienaar and company. Honorable mention goes to Sylvain Distin in central defense, who played a major role, along with Johnny Heitinga and (on one key occasion Phil Neville), in subduing Wayne Rooney.
Right now, no team in the English Premier League is playing better than Everton. Unfortunately, our dreadful start — the result of injuries and our annual failure to strengthen the squad until the season starts — means that we’re unlikely to qualify for European play. But beating Chelsea and Manchester United in back-to-back league games is its own reward.

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