A defensive performance far removed from their Anfield surrender saw a determined and resilient Everton fall agonisingly short against Manchester United on Tuesday. This 1-1 draw felt like defeat as a cruel final act denied the Blues a rare Old Trafford victory.
Misguided second-half retreat and a tired individual error stopped the visitors leapfrogging their hosts into fifth place. With an extra dose of self-belief and better execution on the break, the visitors could have had the match sewn up long before Ashley Williams' handball and subsequent red card gifted Zlatan Ibrahimovic an equalising penalty.
Amid a season in which young prospects and a growing faith in youth by manager Ronald Koeman has earned various plaudits, this was a night for the old guard within the Everton squad. Using all the experience offered by their combined age totalling over 100, the defensive spine of centre-backs Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams (handball aside) and midfielder Gareth Barry were fantastic in their attempts to protect the lead.
As impressively as Everton resisted in defence until the closing moments, the prominence of the aforementioned players owed to the sheer amount of work forced on them by overly cautious tactics in the final 25 minutes. Once again, Koeman proved too reactive, matching United's switch to a three-man defence rather than trusting the system that had put his team into a winning position.
This defensive approach perhaps had its merits in previous years, when Alex Ferguson occupied the dugout, but the current occupants of Old Trafford are a shadow of their predecessors. Such caution invited pressure and paid undue respect to an ordinary home side. United boss Jose Mourinho commented afterward on how Everton dropping deep and surrendering possession allowed his players to push on and bombard the penalty area.
Manager rating out of 10
5 -- Koeman reverted to the system so effective in recent months from the start, but an ill-advised first substitution and switch to a more defensive formation handed United the initiative.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Joel Robles, 7 -- Fine saves from Daley Blind and Ander Herrera underpinned a fine response to his inexplicable Anfield horror show. Unclear whether he would have gotten to the shot handled by Williams.
DF Mason Holgate, 7 -- Composed on the ball but not afraid to put a tackle in or stand his ground when required. Improved the longer the game went on and snuffed out the early threat of Marcus Rashford.
DF Phil Jagielka, 9 -- A deft finish for his first goal in almost two years ought to have been enough for three points. Virtuoso defensive display at the heart of the defence recalled his best and continued his good form since returning to the starting XI.
DF Ashley Williams, 8 -- A night that began with an excellent early block continued in impressive fashion until one moment of madness, paying the price for dropping too deep and failing to push out with the rest of his defence. Until then, this was arguably his best performance since joining in the summer.
DF Leighton Baines, 7 -- Another of the older players to deliver on his 500th career start. A restrained performance by his usual attacking standards, but the 32-year-old defended well and kept Jesse Lingard quiet on his flank.
MF Idrissa Gueye, 8 -- Some dreadful passing during a jittery start, but his defensive qualities were prominent as the match wore on, seemingly covering two positions toward the end of the match and plugging gaps wherever possible.
MF Gareth Barry, 9 -- Complete with an obligatory yellow card, this typical Barry performance served as a tremendous exhibition in how to shield a defence. Veteran midfielder continually snuffed out danger, regained possession and threw himself in front of shots.
MF Ross Barkley, 7 -- Ran himself to a standstill and generally played well, but his passing and decision-making proved frustrating as wastefulness on the counterattack continued throughout.
MF Tom Davies, 6 -- Pressed and pressed and pressed some more, but a tremendous work ethic in this more advanced role appears to be affecting his influence on the ball and keeping him on the periphery in matches.
MF Kevin Mirallas, 7 -- Strong and purposeful in possession with a touch of snide when playing on from a dropped ball. Disappointed reaction to being substituted appeared to irk Koeman, but it is surely evidence of a player who wants to be on the pitch, which can only be a good thing.
MF Romelu Lukaku, 5 -- One charging run in the second half showed his pace and power, but as teammates buckled under pressure, there was not enough from their centre-forward to ease the burden, whether through hold-up play or closing down. Spurned a wonderful first-half breakaway by ignoring Mirallas.
DF Matthew Pennington, 5 -- Offside flag came to his rescue after poor defending gifted Ibrahimovic a headed chance.
FW Dominic Calvert-Lewin, NR -- Lost his footing on several occasions and failed to be a sufficient attacking outlet for his defence.