Manchester United wingers Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard struck wondrous second-half goals to ensure the Red Devils got their 2018 off to a winning start with a 2-0 victory over Everton at Goodison Park.
Winless in their last four games (all competitions), Jose Mourinho’s men were under pressure to win their New Year’s Day clash with the Toffees and while they took their time to get off the mark, United were largely the better side for the entirety of the tie.
Don’t miss: ‘Weakened’ Liverpool edge Burnley on New Year’s Day
Bereft of the services of star striker Romelu Lukaku, United trotted out in their standard 4-2-3-1 formation with Anthony Martial starting at the apex, with Lingard, Paul Pobga and Juan Mata for company while Nemanja Matic anchored the midfield with Ander Herrera.
With Ashley Young suspended, Victor Lindelof started at right-back, while left-back Luke Shaw continued his run of starts.
The last time the sides met, United swamped Everton 4-0 at Old Trafford in September, but Sam Allardyce’s arrival had meant the Toffees had shored up their backline and a repeat scoreline was always unlikely.
Martial sent in a dangerous low cross in from the right flank, but Jordan Pickford got a strong hand to deny the lurking United teammates from tapping-in while Pogba would go close to breaking the deadlock with a curling left-footed shot from distance which whistled past the post.
The interval came with United on top but nothing to show for it and Jose Mourinho must have exhorted his troops to find a goal quickly, for the visitors continued to exert their dominance as Everton forward Wayne Rooney cut an frustrated figure against his former side.
Juan Mata would hit the post with a shot just outside the box, with Pickford well-beaten for once and as the hour-mark neared, it became apparent that the Toffees were happy to settle for a draw.
United, after drawing their last three games to slip behind Chelsea in the league table, were clearly not, and Martial came to their rescue with a deft finish that curled into the top-corner after Pogba found him unmarked on the edge of the box in the 57th minute.
Pogba, who has come under a barrage of criticism of late for his uninspired performances, took the game by the scruff of the neck, conjuring chances from nowhere, only to be denied by a resolute Pickford in the Everton goal.
Everton’s sole chance of the game was solid one, with Oumar Niasse sending his header just wide of David de Gea’s post after a rare foray forward into the United half.
Lingard, who has been in sensational form of late, saw his low shot from distance tipped around the post by Pickford but wasn’t to be denied a second time as his brilliant, jinking run saw him glide past several defenders before firing one into the top corner nine minutes from time.
The second goal had effectively ended Everton’s challenge and United saw off the remainder of the game without much fuss to move into second spot, above Chelsea on the first day of 2018.
Chelsea have a game in hand, an away trip to arch-rivals Arsenal on Wednesday, but it remains to be seen whether Antonio Conte’s men can beat the Gunners at the Emirates.
United next host Derby County in the FA Cup on Friday and will be confident of progressing, while Everton have the unenviable task of facing a resurgent Liverpool side on the same day in the latest edition of the Merseyside Derby.