Martinez succeeds where Moyes failed 11 times

To get an idea of how Everton has fared at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, think of a punk biker in a Clint Eastwood film (to borrow an ancient Bill James line). Until yesterday, we had not beaten Man U there since 1992.

Indeed, since the English Premier League was formed that year, no EPL club has beaten another EPL club more than Man U has beaten Everton. And no EPL club has scored more goals against another than Man U has scored against Everton.

This record reflects, in part, the fact that nearly all clubs inferior to Everton have been unable to stay in the EPL continuously since its founding. But you can still understand the basis for the punk biker analogy.

Yesterday, though, Everton turned the tables, defeating Manchester United at Old Trafford by a score of 0-1. To make things even more fun, the victory come against David Moyes who, until taking over at United this season, managed Everton.

Everton failed to win at Old Trafford in all 11 matches in which Moyes guided us. Under his successor, Roberto Martinez, we won there at the first time of asking.

The winning goal came in the 85th minute on a strike by Bryan Oviedo, the left back. Oviedo was playing only because our best player, Leighton Baines, is out with a serious injury. Baines, by the way, has just been named one of 20 players on the shortlist for the FIFA World XI.

Bainsey could scarcely have contributed more than Oviedo did yesterday at both ends. But Oviedo was only one of our heroes.

Tim Howard was brilliant in goal. Phil Jagielka, now a fixture in England’s starting XI, marshaled the defense superbly. Gareth Barry shielded the back four well and distributed the ball soundly. James McCarthy, Barry’s partner in central midfield, made more mistakes than usual but was tigerish throughout.

Up front, Kevin Miralles had several fierce strikes on goal, including the free kick that led indirectly to Oviedo’s goal. Fellow Belgian Romulu Lukaku assisted on the goal. He also edged his personnel battle against Man U’s great center back Nemanja Vidic. It was no disgrace to Vidic that the match commentators noted how knackered he looked after 85 minutes of contending with Lukaku. If Lukaku is Belgium’s Number 9 at the World Cup next summer, look for plenty of knackered center backs.

Our young guns, Ross Barkley (who turned 20 today) and later Gerard Deulofeu (19), consistently troubled United’s defense, but failed to deliver the passes that would have unlocked it.

Man U had its moments. In fact, it dominated the match for maybe 25 minutes in the first half and again for a while in the second following the introduction of young gun Adnan Januzaj (18). The rest of the time, we looked like the better side.

As the match drew to a close, the Everton fans unleashed song after song directed at David Moyes. It seemed like good fun; I certainly enjoyed it.

However, the online barracking of Moyes suggests more than good fun. Some of this “hate mail” (since removed) reminded me of messages we used to get from leftists during the heyday of the Bush administration.

This is unfortunate. Under Moyes, Everton went from a relegation-threatened joke to a club consistently knocking on the door of European competition — and sometimes entering. Pre-Moyes, the standard response to me telling a knowledgeable soccer fan that I support Everton was “Oh, I’m sorry.” After a few years, the response was always respect for the club and admiration for its manager.

It’s true that, under Moyes, Everton was unable to crack the EPL’s big five, all of whose members spend far more money on players than we do. Will Roberto Martinez crack it? I hope so. But unless we become big spenders, I doubt it. Even with the great start we’ve had, Everton sits in fifth place as I write this.

Will Martinez be able to maintain Everton’s status as “the best of the rest” of the EPL? The early signs are promising, but who knows?

Will we play more attractive soccer under Martinez than we did under Moyes? Yes, it certainly looks that way. Were we as dour under Moyes as his critics claim? Not really, except at times during away matches against the likes of Manchester United.

It should be possible to salute the new, more adventurous Everton while remaining grateful for what David Moyes accomplished.


Books to read from Power Line