It's 11.54am, and looksee here at what's on the PA wires. "Wayne Rooney is slumped on his sofa at home, wearing a string vest, smoking tabs and eating egg and chips, runny yolk and salty tears dripping through the gaps in his simmet has not been named in the Manchester United squad for today's Barclays Premier League fixture at Everton."
The match kicks off, sans Rooney, at: 12.45pm.
Everton: Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Osman, Heitinga, Arteta, Pienaar, Fellaini, Cahill.Subs: Mucha, Bilyaletdinov, Beckford, Neville, Gueye, Yakubu, Coleman.
Manchester United: Van der Sar, Neville, Vidic, Jonathan Evans, Evra, Scholes, O'Shea, Fletcher, Nani, Berbatov, Giggs.Subs: Kuszczak, Owen, Smalling, Park, Rafael Da Silva, Macheda, Gibson.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
Non-Rooney-based team news: Everton are without Jack Rodwell, who has a case of Leg Banjax. But you knew that already.
Today's business: We're straight down to it, you'll have noted. Well, what's the point in hanging about?
Pre-match Rooney chat, already out-of-date now he's not playing, but I can't be too fussy with only one email in ma inbox: "Is the Goodison faithful really more vitriolic towards Rooney than (say) Tottenham's supporters were towards Sol Campbell?" wonders Gary Naylor. "The truth is more nuanced. There's a bit of vitriol for sure (though well short of that directed to Francis Jeffers whenever he came back), but most of the crowd's rection is better described as goading. Evertonians work on Rooney because they know it works and his play is compromised. And Bluenoses know it works because he is one of us." It's better to goad a simple creature than to simply fling abuse at it? Nice rationalisation, Naylor, but tell it to the RSPCA.
Oh Goodison! How could you! Here's Sir Alex Ferguson on why Rooney's not in the squad, just in case you're not watching Sky Sports at the moment. "He gets terrible abuse here, we're not going to subject him to it," ran the simple answer. "We've got a fantastic squad, so we'll play without him. He'll play midweek." With this in mind, here's Lola Smith with a prescient email sent a few minutes before Fergie fessed up. "It's pretty amusing that the first story on the manutd.com website is about how the United players can easily cope with the aggro at Goodison," she writes. "Seems that changed overnight!" You got that straight.
Hold on, Manchester United have won 13 of the last 18 here. Good lord, that's a disgraceful stat so far as Everton are concerned. Christ almighty. No wonder the crowd have the radge on when United come to town. "So Sir Alex believes Rooney needs protecting from the crowd's 'terrible abuse'," writes Gary Naylor. "Good job referees don't feel the same way about the way Sir Alex and Rooney abuse them."
The work of John Keating and his Orchestra. The theme to Z-Cars is blaring out of the Goodison speakers. The teams are out. This'll be on in a couple of minutes. "I guess Toffee supporters could come up with some unusually creative chants today, but dropping Rooney does seem a touch on the wimpy side," opines John Micek. "United better hope they brought their other goalscorers with them to Goodison this afternoon. And I say that as a fan." Fergie doesn't often throw a poor curveball, John, so don't be losing hope yet. Everton are playing two midfielders up front, after all.
And we're off! Everton set the ball rolling. Cahill and Evans compete for a long ball down the right. It looks like it's come off Evans' head last for a corner within 12 seconds, but the referee gives United the goal kick.
2 min, but only just: A strong start by Everton, this. Arteta charges down the inside-left channel and has a dig from a tight-ish angle. Vidic is over to deflect the shot out for a corner. From it, Van der Sar claims easily - but nearly belts his quick kick out into the back of Evans! He misses, thankfully for United, and the danger is cleared.
3 min: From a throw deep down the left, Pienaar latches onto a ball on the left-hand edge of the box. He moves inside and tries to steer a shot across Van der Sar and into the bottom right, but the effort's tame and well wide of the post. "I woke up this morning," begins blues legend Antonio Zazueta, appropriately enough on Merseyside playing some Mexican R'n'B. "Put on my Mexico jersey, made Huevos Rancheros, spoke only Spanish to my family and was hoping Wayne Rooney had been killed by his wife so that my beloved Hernandez would start. Now he is not even on the bench!!! Me Mucho Triste!" Hmm. OK, killed may look a bit strong, but remember great artists are emotional types.
6 min: A free kick for Everton, 30 yards out, just to the left, after Evans put his knee in the back of some blue shirt or other. Arteta takes a magnificent whack at goal, skimming the top of the crossbar on the left. If that had dipped a couple of inches, it'd have beaten the despairing hand of Van der Sar, who had nevertheless extended himself brilliantly to even be in the same ballpark as the effort.
8 min: This is a really impressive start by Everton. United have hardly touched the ball.
10 min: Everton stream forward again. The ball ends up at Arteta's feet, 25 yards out. He cuts inside from the inside-right channel and hammers a shot goalward; it's deflected out for a corner. From which both Pienaar and Osman take shots which - this is getting old already - are blocked by despairing United dives. United are hoding on a bit here, with only one slightly aimless Nani raid down the right to show for their play so far. "How come Vidic is wearing the armband despite Neville and Giggs being on the pitch?" asks Kyan Zarbalian. "I couldn't be bothered to watch the pre-match build-up so I don't know if it was mentioned but I figured who better to turn to than the guardian MBMer." You've made a very basic mistake here, Kyan. I have no idea whatsoever, having paid about as much attention to the pre-match nonsense as you did, and care even less.
12 min: Hibbert rolls down the right and whips a low cross into the United six-yard box. Osman is sliding in, but Van der Sar is out quickly to punch clear. He's also clattered, and wins the free kick. On the touchline, Fergie is chewing like three Peter Reids. I'm guessing he's not happy with the entertainment on show so far.
15 min: United finally get some facetime with the camera down the Everton end. They stroke it around the front of the area, hither and yon. Then, down the left, Fellaini fails to deal with a high ball, allowing O'Shea to skelp a magnificent effort towards the top-right corner. The ball skims off the top of the crossbar and out, having beaten Howard all ends up. "Yeah 13 out of 18 for Manchester United at Goodison," admits Gary Naylor, who's got the Blue battle fever on today, "but I think we've won the last two at Wembley."
18 min: United are beginning to get a bit of joy down the right, where Nani and Berbatov roam. The ball's swung into the heart of the Everton box a couple of times, with Giggs and Scholes waiting. Each time it's hacked clear by either Distin or Jagielka, or both, but suddenly the away side are beginning to show themselves. "Not sure I'm convinced by any of the guff coming from Man U or Ferguson," begins Pete Gay. "You don't get to be as good as Rooney can be after seven years of Premiership football by behaving like some wilting wallflower. He's out of the squad for some other reason (which, if Ferguson has his way we will only find out about when he sells him to Real Madrid). Jeez - he gets a bad time if he plays badly for United at Old Trafford, let alone Goodison Park."
21 min: A free kick for Everton down the right, ten yards from the byline. The delivery from Arteta is a nonsense, cleared easily by Vidic. United have weathered Everton's early storm, it would seem.
23 min: Pienaar and Nani go up for a high ball. The former's forearm clatters into the latter's beak, causing blood to drip from his nose. Or has he been whacked in the mouth? The physio is checking Nani's teeth. Either way, it was an accidental challenge, and nobody's claiming otherwise.
25 min: A lovely flowing move through the misty rain by United. Fletcher strokes the ball forward to Berbatov, who rakes a long pass out left to Scholes. The old lad's not able to break clear past Hibbert and into the box, and the attack fizzles out.
27 min: So close to a brilliant goal by Everton. Heitinga spreads a pass out left to Baines, who rips past Neville and fizzes a low cutback towards Osman, striding into the area. A last-second toe-poke from Vidic puts a stop to the Evertonian's gallop; Osman would have surely scored from 10 yards had he reached that pass. Great football all round. "I'm confused," admits Justin Kavanagh, the latest member of Club Guardian Sport. "Wayne Rooney spent the night at the hotel with the team, but he's not even in the squad? Is Manchester United now becoming a home for homeless footballers?"
28 min: Hibbert cuts inside from the left and dinks a cross into the centre for Baines, who should hit the target from 12 yards but sidefoots weakly wide. Everton are enjoying a wee second wind here, no doubt helped by the absence of Nani, who's still off the park getting his fizzog seen to.
29 min: Nani's back! And with a fixed face to boot.
32 min: Berbatov twists and turns down the inside-left channel, eventually winning a corner. From it, there's a lot of faffing around, until eventually Hibbert slides across the slippy turf to win the ball and take out Giggs in one swoop. That's a free kick, just outside the area, on the left. This is dangerous for the home side. "Wayne Rooney must be delighted to be missing out on this Cauldron of Hate and screaming abuse at Goodison Park," writes Ben Bamford. "What a relief it must be to spend Saturday morning with his wife."
34 min: WHAT A SAVE!!! Nani rolls the ball inside for Scholes, who hares in to hammer the ball goalwards. His effort is heading to the right, but is then deflected left. Howard, having dived to save, is surely beaten - but sticks out his right leg as he flies through the air and somehow flicks the ball up and over the goal! That is a truly outstanding piece of improvisation from the Everton keeper.
35 min: There was a corner, but, y'know. "This game is being reported as being Sir Alex Ferguson's 700th Premiership game in charge of United," relays Kenneth O'Brien. News to me, but let's run with it. "However, I seem to recall that in November 2000 Fergie skipped the Manchester derby to attend his son's wedding in South Africa, leaving Carlos Quieroz in charge. Surely he can't get credit for this game seeing as he didn't pick the team nor was he in attendance." You're just trying to cause trouble, now, aren't you?
38 min: Another magnificent save from Howard. Fletcher skins Heitinga down the right. He's in acres, and has time to pick out Giggs on the penalty spot. Giggs shifts his feet and hammers the ball at goal, only for Howard to stick an arm up and put in a wonder save. Fletcher attempts to wallop the loose ball in, but slices wide. "I love Naylor-stalgia as much as the next man," smiles Mac Millings, in avuncular fashion, "so please allow me to congratulate Gary on Everton's 1995 FA Cup win, and also on their signing of Dixie Dean."
40 min: GOAL!!! Everton 1-0 Manchester United. Evra tries to clear a long ball down the inside right with an overhead kick just inside his own half. He makes a right cock-up of it, allowing Arteta to tear clear. Arteta reaches the area and hammers a low shot that's saved by Van der Sar. But the keeper's efforts are in vain: the loose ball comes back out of the area to Osman, who calmly sidefoots a pass left to Pienaar, taking a melee of United players out of the game. Pienaar slides the ball into the net. Hats off to Osman for keeping so cool there; he'd have been within his rights to have a thrash at goal himself, but the odds favoured Pienaar. Top play.
42 min: By all accounts, 28 seconds passed between the Howard save from Giggs, and Pienaar's goal. Oh me, oh my.
43 min: WHAT A RESPONSE BY UNITED!!! Everton 1-1 Manchester United. "Nani's back, and with a fixed face to boot?" repeats Reg Lawless. "Are these the secret thoughts of the entire Gwladys Street end?" They will be now, Reg. Nani picks up the ball on the right, and curls a cross into the Everton area, in that uncertain area between defenders and keeper. Fletcher times his run perfectly, and sidefoots confidently into the goal. That was a simply undefendable cross. Is there such a word as undefendable? Erm.
44 min: Giggsy goes in the booksy for a pensioner's lunge on Hibbert down the right. Outpaced by Tony Hibbert. Oh dear.
45 min: Well, what a stunning effort at goal from Berbatov here. Giggs sends a ball into the area from the left. It drops over the shoulder of Berbatov, just to the right of goal, 12 yards out. Berbatov sticks out a leg and whacks a volley towards the bottom-left corner; it flies this far wide. That would have been picturebook.
HALF TIME: Everton 1-1 Manchester United. Well, that was a very decent 45 minutes of football indeed. More, please!
And we're off again! "Not a bad half of football considering there is only one designated forward on the pitch," suggests Gary Naylor. "Can the tired nonsense that a failure to play two upfront is negative be put to bed now? Frankly, any point made so often on 6-0-6 and the likes is ipso facto rubbish isn't it?" No changes at half-time, as you'd expect. Giggs and Berbatov get the half going, the latter choosing not to fanny around, running head down for the box with the ball at his feet. He's eventually hustled out of it, but for a split second looked like busting clear on goal from the inside-left position.
47 min: GOAL!!! Everton 1-2 Manchester United. Berbatov has come out with intent, taking a low shot on goal from 25 yards. The ball deflects off Distin's ankle for a corner on the right. Nani strokes the ball out to Scholes, who feeds the ball back to the winger. The resulting cross falls right on Vidic's head, six yards out. He can't miss, and doesn't. That's another superlative cross from the Portuguese winger. Goodison falls silent.
49 min: Everton have hardly touched the ball this half so far. It's a mirror image of the opening to the first half, only United have plundered a goal.
50 min: An Everton corner down the left. Arteta swings it into the six-yard box. There's a bit of head tennis, but it's a cheap sugar rush in terms of excitement for the home fans, because Everton never look like getting a powerful header on goal. Eventually Vidic clears.
51 min: Heitinga clatters into Neville, and is booked for his trouble.
52 min: Pienaar romps down the inside-left channel. It's a determined run, and he's clipped on the heels by Nani. Pienaar attempts to stay on his feet but he fights a losing battle. It's a free kick in a not particularly dangerous situation - and not a booking either, though it really should have been.
54 min: Cahill and Vidic go up for a high ball, the former's forearm clattering in the latter's jaw. Vidic rolls around for a bit, then gives Cahill a piece of his mind. Cahill responds in kind. Both men are under the impression the other has hit them upside the head this afternoon once too often. The referee might do well to keep an eye on this.
57 min: Everton are beginning to come back at United here. First Osman nearly breaks clear past Evra down the centre, only for the ball to skim off the turf and run away from him. Then a lot of Evertonian passing around the front of the United area, before Fellaini whips a cross in from the left. The ball ends up at the feet of Hibbert on the right; the resulting slap at goal is currenly sailing over Stanley Park. "How closely were you able to inspect Nani's 'fixed face' when he returned after getting an arm in the face from Piennar?" asks David Wall. "Given his out-of-character productive crosses for the two United goals, can you rule out some kind of 'Face/Off' style shenanigans instead, replacing the ineffective Nani from earlier in the half with Valencia-with-Nani's-face-sutured-on?"
60 min: United take the sting out of that brief Everton burst with a lot of not-particularly-interesting passing around the back. Like they'll care about keeping you lot entertained with the scoreline as it is.
62 min: A lovely effort from Pienaar, who picks the ball up on the left-hand edge of the United D, shifts it inside, and welts it towards the top right corner. It's not quite a clever-enough shot, and Van der Sar gets over to claim.
64 min: Another fine save from Howard. Berbatov rips clear down the right after Distin lunges clumsily to cut out a pass. He cuts inside and rolls the ball to Nani, whose low shot is bundled clear. Hibbert hacks away. Everton were all over the place at the back there.
66 min: GOAL! Everton 1-3 Manchester United. It's Berbatov v Distin take two, and again the defender is all over the shop. Scholes rakes a pass from the centre out right, just over the badly positioned defender's head. Berbatov romps clear, and strokes a delicious shot into the bottom-left corner with the outside of his right boot. What a finish.
68 min: Everton aren't giving up; Baines wheechs down the left and stands the ball up, Cahill nearly getting his head on it eight yards out in the middle. But again Vidic - who has been staunch today - clears.
70 min: A double substitution for Everton. Heitinga is replaced by Yakubu, and in a real quality upgrade, the hapless Hibbert goes off for the excellent prospect Coleman.
71 min: Evra, crawling around on all fours like a drunk who's lost his contact lenses, upends Osman on the edge of the area, just to the right of goal. Baines takes the free kick, sending a curler inches wide right of goal. If that was on target, there was no way Van der Sar was getting it, who was down on his knees like Van Morrisson in The Days Before Rock 'N' Roll.
74 min: Coleman swings a lovely cross from the right to the far post. Cahill attempts to guide an effort back to the top-right corner, but can't quite get enough on a ball that's just a smidgen too high. Everton are giving it their best shot, but you sense it's not going to be enough.
77 min: Everton pass it around a lot. To no effect whatsoever. "What's wheech (68 mins)?" asks Karen Murdoch. It's onomatopoeic. Which is a fancy way to admit to being a lazy writer, really. Zzzzzzz.
78 min: From a muddle on the edge of the United box, Fellaini manages to feed the ball forward to Osman. He's clear on goal, but can't dig the ball out from under his feet, and sends a weak effort towards the bottom-right corner. Van der Sar flops on the ball, and Goodison Park reflects at perhaps the last chance to get back into this match being spurned. Certainly if they want to scramble an unlikely draw, they'll need to score very soon.
80 min: Arteta drags a low shot from outside the area wide right of goal. That wasn't particularly good. Park replaces Evra, who hasn't been very good today. Unlike Nani, who has been magnificent. "Perhaps Nani was concussed," suggests Justin Kavanagh, "and in time-honored fashion, Lord Ferg issued the instruction to 'tell him he's Ronaldo'. In any case, it seems as if Everton are not only down on their knees but have let the goldfish go."
82 min: Scholes clips Yakubu up into the air like an old sock. It's a nailed-on booking, but yet again Scholes doesn't get punished. How he's managed to get away with this all his career, I'll never know. You've got to take your hat off to him for a masterful number on the nation's referees.
85 min: Swipes at the Everton goal from the right from first Berbatov, then Nani. Neither are on target. This is over, though, and Goodison knows it. "So much for the nightmarish atmosphere," notes Callum Hamilton. "Unless Tevez has upset Merseyside and there's some stigma about Mancunian unemployment, all I've heard is United fans."
87 min: Arteta tries to feed Baines down the inside-left channel, but the ball's too heavy. Baines has put in a shift today, but nothing's quite come off for him. "As Scholes bears a striking resemblance to the cat in Shrek," writes Ian Copestake, "he just does the eye thing and refs instantly melt."
89 min: It's been a fantastic performance by United, this, coming from a goal behind, and a complete mirror image of last year's equally majestic display in the same fixture by Everton. Everton will still be in the relegation zone, like that counts for anything at this stage of the season, but playing like they've done for vast chunks of this game, won't be down there too long. There will be three minutes of injury time.
90 min +1: THERE GOES THAT MIRROR IMAGE OF LAST SEASON'S GAME! Everton 2-3 Manchester United. Finally something happens for Baines, who picks up a pass from Fellaini down the left and whips a cross into the six-yard box. It drops on Cahill's head, and he can't fail to hammer a header past Van der Sar. With only a minute to go, though, this is too little too late, surely?
90 min +3: OH MY GOD, WHAT DRAMA HERE!!! Everton 3-3 Manchester United. Oh no it's not too late! Baines suddenly turns into Nani. He whips a cross in from the left, Cahill knocks down a header, and an onrushing Arteta smashes a low shot into the left-hand corner (admittedly off the body of Scholes)! Amazing!!!
FULL TIME OF AN AMAZING GAME!!! Everton 3-3 Manchester United. The match ends in a total shambles. United nearly grab a winner through last year's hero, Own Goal, as Distin and Howard get in a terrible mess under a Scholes high ball into the area. Then, from the resulting corner, Everton stream up the other end, Jagielka getting a shot on target after zipping down the inside-right channel; it's saved by Van der Sar. But the game's already over, the referee having blown up with Everton in full flight. David Moyes rushes onto the pitch in full-on Begbie mode, convinced the referee would have robbed them of victory had Jagielka's shot gone in. And he's got a point: there were 93 minutes and 30 seconds on the clock, 30 seconds over the initial three minutes of added time, but then there had been two goals. And everyone remembers what happened in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford last season. Everton are still in the bottom three, and United still played wonderfully for 90 minutes, but it didn't quite end as we - well, OK, I - assumed it would. "Fitba' eh?" asks Gary Naylor, who doesn't bother supplying the punchline, which you can deliver yourself.
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