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Goals in the first-half from Ryan Giggs and Robin van Persie sent Manchester United 12 points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
In a bright opening, Everton had a couple of shots blocked before Van Persie spurned the best chance. Having beaten the offside trap on 10 minutes from a through-ball by Rooney, the Dutchman rounded Tim Howard in the Everton goal but as the angle narrowed he could only steer his shot against the outside of the near post.
But the respite for Everton did not last long. Two minutes later Van Persie burst into the box and set up Giggs to slot home with his right foot off a post. The goal maintained the Welshman’s record of scoring in every Barclays Premier League season and meant, at 39 years and 73 days, he became the second-oldest scorer in the competition after Teddy Sheringham, who scored for Portsmouth at 40 years and 264 days.
Much like the corresponding fixture last season, when they twice came back from two goals down to clinch the draw which Sir Alex Ferguson believes cost his side the league, Everton responded with vigour.
Osman’s left-foot shot was turned behind by David De Gea on the half-hour and the same player tried to take advantage of the United goalkeeper’s weak punch 10 minutes later to beat him from distance but skewed his shot wide.
United made him pay for his miss on the stroke of half-time. After being called offside a number of times Van Persie timed his run right to Rafael Da Silva’s pass and again rounded Howard. This time his right-foot shot was on target and Johnny Heitinga’s last-ditch slide could not prevent the ball from entering the net for Van Persie’s 19th league goal of the season.
The second half began more quietly. United could have made it three halfway through but Howard and Nikica Jelavic, on as a substitute, each twice denied Jonny Evans in a goalmouth scramble. On 80 minutes Van Persie had a chance to score a second but he steered Giggs’s pass wide. A minute later Jelavic showed his worth at the other end with a fierce shot that De Gea parried away.
Rooney's last-minute header to deny Heitinga a shooting chance epitomised the effort United had put in.
Sir Alex Ferguson made a number of changes with an eye on Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League last-16 tie with Real Madrid, for whom coach Jose Mourinho was watching from the stands.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson: "I thought I'd make about seven changes, but when I saw the result [Manchester City losing to Southampton] yesterday, I knew how important the game today would be for us and we can make more changes later on in the season.
"We have to win our games anyway, it doesn't matter what happened with City yesterday. That’s the way we should look at it, to concentrate on our own game and we will be okay."
"[Giggs’s] legacy lives on, he is a fantastic human being. He's up and down that pitch all day and has shown fantastic energy for the game, it is wonderful to see."
Everton manager David Moyes: "We didn't start the game very well, Manchester United were very good in the opening period. The goal just before half-time made it difficult, but full credit to our lads, we stuck at it. We didn't give in and I am a bit disappointed we didn't get the goal in the game."
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