By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Goals in each half from Frenchmen Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial gave Manchester United a 2-1 home victory over Everton in the Premier League on Sunday but they had to survive a nervy finale to secure the three points.
The win, a welcome boost after United’s midweek Champions League loss to Juventus, moved Jose Mourinho’s side above Everton into eighth place although they are still nine points behind leaders Liverpool.
Mourinho left out-of-form Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku on the bench, giving Marcus Rashford a chance to play in a central role, as the Portuguese coach looked to find some of the missing spark from his attack.
It was an opportunity for Rashford to prove he can lead the line but it was Martial, operating on the left flank, who shone at a chilly Old Trafford.
The French winger was dangerous throughout, cutting in from the left flank and forcing Everton’s defence into back-pedalling mode.
It was Martial who was behind United’s 27th minute opener when he burst into the box and referee Jonathan Moss ruled that Idrissa Gueye had brought him down, although replays showed the Senegalese midfielder had fairly played the ball.
Pogba took his trademark slow run-up and his spot-kick was superbly saved by Jordan Pickford but the ball fell kindly to the French midfielder who slotted home the rebound.
Four minutes after halftime United doubled their advantage when Pogba resisted the temptation to shoot from the edge of the box and rolled the ball to the left for Martial who beat Pickford with a superb low curling shot into the far corner.
However Pogba was then at fault, giving the ball away in midfield as Everton got back in the game with a Gylfi Sigurdsson penalty in the 77th. Richarlison was brought down in the box by Chris Smalling after Sigurdsson’s through ball from Pogba’s error.
Lukaku, on as a substitute for Rashford, made a hash of a header from a promising position after a good cross from the right by Pogba.
Everton, who had been positive throughout, probed in the final stages, forcing United to defend deep, but Martial missed a chance to crown his performance with a second goal as he could not beat Pickford after being sent clear on goal.
Still, for a United team that have been lacking inspiration this season, the performance of Martial gives them some encouragement that they might yet be capable of pushing for a place in the top four this season.
Marco Silva’s Everton have no shortage of talent in attack, where Richarlison was a positive presence, but their lack of a dominant figure in the centre of midfield proved to be a weakness they could not compensate for.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; editing by Ken Ferris)