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Bridging The Gap
Chief football writer at Goodison Park.
  Tuesday 09 January, 2018
Chief football writer at Goodison Park.

Manchester United moved back into second place in the Premier League behind Manchester City as they eased to victory over Everton at a subdued Goodison Park.

United manager Jose Mourinho was keen to end a sequence of three draws and they were able to achieve it with the minimum of fuss against Sam Allardyce's toothless hosts.

Anthony Martial compensated for the absence of Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a superb curling effort from 20 yards in the 57th minute after former United star Wayne Rooney lost possession.

Everton barely posed a threat apart from an Oumar Niasse header off target, and United wrapped up a win that reduces Manchester City's lead to 12 points before they play Watford on Tuesday when Jesse Lingard struck a brilliant shot from outside the area beyond Jordan Pickford.

Jose Mourinho praises players after 'worst possible schedule'
United's goals may have been spectacular but this was a largely efficient display settled by an increase in tempo and work-rate at the start of the second half that was more than enough to dispatch a timid Everton.

Mourinho was missing Lukaku, ruled out of a return to Everton after suffering a heavy knock to the head against Southampton, and Ibrahimovic, who has a knee injury, but they were still far too strong for Everton.

The United manager has cut a downbeat figure after a winless run of four matches, which included the shock League Cup loss at Bristol City and Premier League draws against Leicester City, Burnley and Southampton.

Jesse Lingard now has 10 goals for the season in all competitions
This, however, was an untroubled return to second place in the table apart from a couple of moments of anxiety after Martial put them ahead just before the hour.

In a match short on high excitement, it needed moments of magic to add a layer of gloss to a colourless occasion and Martial provided it, along with the prolific Lingard.

Something special was required to beat Everton's outstanding goalkeeper Pickford and it duly arrived via the quick feet and precise finish into the top corner from Martial after a neat pass from Paul Pogba, who was again involved later on when the rapidly maturing Lingard added a stylish second.

United's chase of City at the summit is surely forlorn but the battle for the top four looks increasingly competitive, so this was an important victory.

Everton creatively bankrupt
Everton manager Allardyce's problems are the same ones Ronald Koeman had before he was sacked in October - a horribly imbalanced squad with weaknesses exposed by the inexplicable failure to replace leading scorer Lukaku after his move to United.

Everton have ground out grim goalless draws against Chelsea and West Brom while they were spared defeat in the Merseyside derby at Liverpool by Rooney's late penalty.

Oumar Niasse heads wide in one of Everton's few chances in the second half
Allardyce has addressed defensive weaknesses with his customary zeal but Everton will continue to struggle to score until he can bring in a striker to offer serious threat.

Everton hope to secure a deal for Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun - and the mounting body of evidence suggests this needs to be done as a matter of urgency.

Niasse is willing but very limited while Dominic Calvert-Lewin is in need of a rest after taking on such a heavy workload this season.

Everton's fans demonstrated some impatience when Rooney was replaced by James McCarthy - who briefly made a difference before Lingard settled matters - with jeers from some sections.

Allardyce's pragmatic approach is being accepted for now, and any criticism must be placed in the context of his lack of potent attacking options, but it is a serious problem he must tackle swiftly.


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