PL25: Osman runs the show as Everton break their ‘big boy’ curse

To celebrate 25 years of the Premier League each week in Football Fancast we’re going to be looking back at a memorable game that took place on the corresponding date. This time out we revisit a ferocious correction of a dire run against top flight giants.

Everton’s league record against Manchester United throughout the Noughties was pretty dire, managing just one win from 19. Time and again Sir Alex Ferguson’s men would saunter away from Goodison Park with all of the points and for a club that prided itself on rising to the big occasions – a club too that had finished inside the top six all but once in the last five years – that frankly wasn’t acceptable. Something had to change.

Maybe it was the turning of the calendar that spurred on the Toffees on February 20th 2010 – a new decade signifying a less respectful approach to the 11-time Premier League champions – and perhaps too their recent impressive victory over Chelsea was a motivating factor instilling in them an emboldening belief. Whatever the root causes the illustrious visitors certainly weren’t allowed to saunter on this occasion. Not for a second. David Moyes’ side ripped into them from the off, sparking the fiery environs of Goodison into life, and resulting in a memorable encounter that is still talked about on one side of Stanley Park to this day.

In truth there were other factors that contributed to this famous 3-1 win that Everton can take no credit for. Four days earlier the Reds had travelled to Milan in the Champions League and emerged with a precious first leg advantage that came at a cost. With his star players fatigued Ferguson reluctantly rang the changes and gambled on a back two of Brown and Evans that always had a mistake in them along with Fletcher and Park stationed centrally. It helped too from an Everton perspective that Wayne Rooney was returning to his old stomping ground and past experiences had shown that he would rarely rise to his devastating best when saddled with the emotion of the day. True to form Rooney was all but anonymous throughout.

Furthermore this was hardly a vintage United. The previous summer they had embarked on a recruitment drive that supporters still claim now is the starting point of their gradual decline as the club eschewed the option of reinvesting their £80m bonanza for Ronaldo and shopped in the bargain bins instead for Gabriel Obertan and Mame Biram Diouf. There would be immediate punishment for their frugal outlay as United finished second that year to Chelsea and solely won the League Cup in an era when silverware was commonplace.

Yet that should take precisely nothing away from Everton who delivered a long overdue victory here with unremitting relish and even refused to let a 16th minute opener from Dimitar Berbatov knock them from their stride.

Before we get to that however the Bulgarian’s strike is worth lingering on. Loitering inside the box and surrounded by a sea of Blue the ball is fired across at great pace and any forward with limitations would instinctively throw a boot out and hope for the best. Not Berbatov who instead cushions it first with artistic aplomb. The finish is ordinary; the control that precipitates it is exceptional.

It took Everton just three minutes to draw level and most encouragingly of all for the majority of the 39,000 in attendance it came courtesy of their summer signing Diniyar ‘Billy’ Bilyaletdinov. With United’s rejigged defence in disarray the Russian winger cleverly used Johnny Evans as a blocker and fired the ball past an unsighted Van der Saar to prompt mayhem on the terraces. United were there for the taking and everybody knew it.

Yet 1-1 it remained for the next hour, an hour where Everton were dominant for the large part and Leon Osman appeared to have cloned himself into three players given how much grass he covered. There is no question that this was the veteran’s finest performance in a blue jersey.

With a quarter of the contest left Ferguson brought on Scholes in order to stiffen up his midfield and close the game out but even a reversion to a 4-5-1 couldn’t contain the swarm that increasingly sensed an upset. Substitute Dan Gosling redirected a stray ball goalwards to put Everton in front and late on, with United chasing and stretched, another sub picked up a loose pass from deep and ran directly at a back-peddling Wes Brown. Jack Rodwell’s composed finish was beyond his teenage years and hinted heavily at a searingly bright future in the game. In retrospect there is no pleasure taken in deeming this his career highpoint.

“I keep being told we don’t beat the big boys often enough and we don’t,” a bellicose Moyes said on the final whistle. For 90 minutes, in February 2010, Everton briefly put that notion firmly in its place.

What happened next?

For both teams a mediocre season ultimately played out. United ran Chelsea close but seven defeats over the course of the campaign was always going to be damaging while Everton solidified their establishment as a top ten club by finishing eighth. Jack Rodwell was named the club’s Young Player of the Year.