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Alejandro Garnacho’s astonishing moment of magic inspires Manchester United’s result of the season

Manchester United’s Alejandro Garnacho scores a stunning overhead kick against Everton (AP)
Manchester United’s Alejandro Garnacho scores a stunning overhead kick against Everton (AP)

Amid Evertonian grievance, a beleaguered group delivered their best performance and result of the campaign. Sadly for Everton, that victorious side was Manchester United. And if Erik ten Hag, forced to watch on from the stands as he served a touchline ban, can point out this was his side’s fifth win in six league games, United had failed the major tests this season. In the hostility of an angry Goodison Park, a side missing eight injured players passed this one in unexpectedly impressive fashion.

Deducted 10 points, Everton were unable to claw back three but when, galvanised by a sense of injustice, they launched an onslaught, United survived it. If Ten Hag has appeared to have a revolving-doors selection policy in midfield this season, a decision to hand a first Premier League start to 18-year-old Kobbie Mainoo, who was chosen ahead of the World Cup semi-finalist Sofyan Amrabat, was justified by a goal-line clearance, and much else besides. Another welcome development for United was Luke Shaw’s first appearance since August.

And yet the greatest difference lay in attack. Ten Hag’s team had reached the last week of November with a solitary league goal from a forward. And then a trio thrust together as much by circumstances as planning all scored and, for the first time since May, United won a league game by more than one goal.

It indicated the impact both individual inspiration and an early goal can have. United had not struck in the first 15 minutes of a domestic match all season. Until they did with what will surely prove their goal of the season. The travelling fans were to sing the name of an old Evertonian and perhaps the most famous of Wayne Rooney’s 253 United goals was an overhead kick. Alejandro Garnacho’s tally currently stands at a more modest seven but his third-minute bicycle kick was arguably better still; rarely influential as a starter, the airborne Argentinian made an astonishing intervention, meeting Diogo Dalot’s deep cross with an acrobatic volley that flew past Jordan Pickford.

Everton, feeling battered by fate, may have wondered what they had done to deserve it but, on the ground where Cristiano Ronaldo scored his last Premier League goal, the United supporters customised his chorus to chant “Viva Garnacho”.

Garnacho mimicked Cristiano Ronaldo in his goal celebration (Manchester United/Getty)
Garnacho mimicked Cristiano Ronaldo in his goal celebration (Manchester United/Getty)

The most significant of the three goals, however, may have been Marcus Rashford’s belated second of the season, almost three months since his first, ending a 12-game drought in United colours. It was gifted to him by Bruno Fernandes, the captain presenting a penalty to his teammate, but it was converted emphatically. With Rashford suspended for Wednesday’s trip to Galatasaray, United will not reap an immediate dividend but there may be hope he is spurred back into scoring form. Certainly, Rashford was bright – Garnacho almost scored a second from his cross after a swift break – and he brought verve to his duties on the right where Antony, one of the injured absentees, was not missed.

Rasmus Hojlund was another sidelined. Enter Anthony Martial, who extended a fine personal record against Everton by taking his tally to nine goals at their expense when he scored United’s third. It came after a more conventional assist from Fernandes, the captain’s slide-rule pass bringing a neat dinked finish.

Martial may have a major role in Istanbul on Wednesday. He exerted an influence on Merseyside. The second goal gave United a cushion they have rarely enjoyed this season. Speeding through, Martial went flying over Ashley Young’s challenge. Referee John Brooks, previously Goodison’s bete noire, booked the Frenchman for diving. Summoned to the monitor, Pawson reversed his decision and, before Rashford scored, chose not to give the former United captain his second caution.

Marcus Rashford scored United’s second from the penalty spot (Getty)
Marcus Rashford scored United’s second from the penalty spot (Getty)

Pawson had, though, been barracked off at the break, the Evertonians feeling the authorities conspiring against them included the referee. There were a host of new banners at Goodison Park: the home of the blues became a sea of pink placards branding the Premier League corrupt, both before kick-off and after 10 minutes – reflecting the 10-point punishment. Voices of defiance provided a soundtrack the division’s powerbrokers were unlikely to enjoy. A siege mentality has been generated. Goodison was febrile, temperatures raised further when Abdoulaye Doucoure was booked for dissent for complaining that Garnacho had escaped a caution for kicking the ball away after a foul.

Everton sought to channel it. Mainoo materialised on his own line to deny Dwight McNeil after Andre Onana had saved from Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The striker had four presentable chances in the first half alone. Doucoure sidefooted just wide. Idrissa Gueye blazed over.

It may bode well for Everton’s season that they did not give up. When three goals adrift, Vitalii Mykolenko struck the bar and Jack Harrison drew a goal-line clearance from Victor Lindelof. They amassed 22 shots without scoring.

Not for the first time, their efforts look in vain. The table shows them with four wins but just four points after a weekend when wins for Luton and Bournemouth left them further from safety. Making up those 10 points may take some time.