This dismal Manchester United display will not quite go down as the poorest of a terrible season, which says it all about David Moyes' first term in charge. The 2-0 defeat at Olympiakos in the Champions League may take that dubious honour, though there are still four matches remaining and nothing would surprise.

Yet if the United board wants a barometer of whether this group of players are performing for the manager, then folding in such insipid fashion on the Scot's first return to his previous club offers a fair one.

The defeat produced yet more unwanted statistics. United are on course for their lowest league position since finishing 13th in the 1989-90 season. And this is the first time Everton have done the league double over United in 44 years. And, in 12 matches against the Premier League's top-six teams, Moyes' side have managed only six points. The growing pressure was signalled in his post-match press conference.

Asked what he can do to convince fans that United will improve, Moyes said: "They realise it has been a difficult season. The supporters have supported the team. They understand it has not been good, I recognise it has not been good, it needs to be better."

Yet as the briefing finished, Moyes refused to answer when pushed if the board still recognises that this was going to be a difficult campaign.

There was also further disquiet on MUTV, the club's in-house channel, as the former defender David May was moved off the subject when suggesting Moyes may be out of his depth, after the manager had appeared to see a different contest to most witnesses. "I didn't think we deserved to go in 2-0 down at half-time, that's for sure," Moyes said before concurring with the suggestion that superior possession statistics are pointless with no end-product. "Correct, I agree with that," he said.

Disjointed, clumsy, aimless and sluggish: all the words familiar to United fans during the season could be attached to this particular outing.

Here is one more: lucky. As in fortunate that Everton did not seriously embarrass Moyes and his team by putting five or six goals past them on an afternoon when Roberto Martínez underlined why his side are challenging for a Champions League place and United currently trail them by 12 yawning points.

Seamus Coleman's pace has been a telling factor in Everton's rise under Martínez. The fact that Moyes did nothing to stem his threat down the right by leaving Shinji Kagawa, who offered no protection to Alexander Büttner, on too long was one illustration of a concerning tactical ineptitude.

Time and time again Coleman skated along the right wing at will. The Irishman was also able to turn inside whenever he liked, as he did when unloading a left-foot shot.

Later Steven Naismith, who excelled all afternoon, blasted over from a Romelu Lukaku knock-down, after the referee Mark Clattenburg had turned down a penalty appeal when the Scottish forward's shot hit the hand of Jonny Evans inside the area.

This all pointed to Everton's domination, with a further measure of how little United played the match in home territory.

Everton's opener had been coming. On 28 minutes Lukaku's swerving run caused Phil Jones to slip. The Belgian's shot was handled by the defender and Clattenburg booked Jones and pointed to the spot. Leighton Baines strolled forward, coolly sent David de Gea the wrong way, and Everton had a first successful penalty against United in league competition for 42 years.

Kevin Mirallas, operating ahead of Coleman, ensures Everton's right flank is comprehensively jet-heeled. After slicing open United with one delivery, Mirallas doubled their advantage.

The goal derived from a combination with Coleman: the latter's weighted ball found him in precise fashion and the Belgian made no mistake.

If the buildup had been about Moyes' return to Everton – he was booed before kick-off, while a person dressed in a grim reaper's outfit lurked behind the dugout –half-time posed the question of whether the Scot could salvage this match. The answer would prove to be resoundingly in the negative.

Arsenal's 3-0 win at Hull City earlier on Sunday had exacerbated the damage of Everton's home defeat to Crystal Palace last week. Yet this victory ensures that their pressure is maintained on Arsenal.

Of the quest for Champions League qualification Martínez, who said that Sylvain Distin will have a hamstring scan on Monday after being replaced by Antolín Alcaraz at half-time, said: "We learn not to look elsewhere."

Moyes may spend now until the end of the season peering over his shoulder. He cannot afford to have many more performances like this.