When Ashley Williams grabs his second assist in four days, you know Everton are pushing their luck. When he then lunges arm first at a goal-bound effort in the last minute and makes contact, the luck has well and truly run out. For the second time this season, Manchester United drew 1-1 with Everton though this time it was Jose Mourinho’s side who levelled with a late penalty. It was a harsh conclusion for the Toffees after a resilient display.

After Everton’s derby no-show, defensive improvement was essential at Old Trafford. With a back four, that’s what transpired. Williams and Phil Jagielka raised their game, Mason Holgate forced Marcus Rashford over to the right while Gareth Barry and Idrissa Gueye scrapped well. Joel Robles had experimented with a highly risky sweeper role at Anfield, but successfully reverted to goalkeeper here with some fine saves.

Phil Jagileka puts Everton ahead against Manchester United as Marcos Rojo and David de Gea look on helplessly.

Once Williams’ flick-on allowed Jagielka to expose Marcos Rojo, nutmeg David de Gea, and become Everton’s 17th different league goal scorer this season, the Blues managed the game well. Man Utd’s persistent crossing allowed Williams and Jagielka to take good positions and clear for the most part. The hosts’ only shot on target in the second half was Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 94th-minute penalty – a cruel end for Everton but a fair result overall after an encouraging display.

Frustratingly inadequate attacking cost the visitors with Romelu Lukaku the main culprit. Pre-match, plenty was spoken of his perceived big game inferiority. It’s a fair criticism. Lukaku’s natural talent does not align particularly well with the balance of play in such games, but here he had no excuse. This was the top six game Lukaku had been waiting for but ultimately his inability to marshal Everton’s counter cost his side two points.

Isolated with Rojo, Lukaku had the conditions he craves: space to run into, a quick player in support, a dodgy defender to take on. Instead, he kept demanding the ball in poor positions, telegraphing his movement then blasting against a nearby opponent. He overlooked two prime opportunities to lay in Mirallas and Barkley though he had more of an effect out of possession.

Clouded judgement

In terms of attack, Koeman himself fell short. Everton blundered on the breakaway – Barkley and Mirallas miscontrolled, Lukaku was lost in his own world – which made it the perfect opportunity to reintegrate Ademola Lookman. The youngster is yet to lose in an Everton shirt but has not appeared since February 25th. The space was there, pace was required. Koeman’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin appreciation, though clearly a good thing, clouded his judgement.

Neil Swarbrick gives Everton's Ashley Williams his marching orders at Old Trafford where the Toffees drew 1-1 with Manchester United.

Consequently, Everton were penned further and further back, unable to provide significant respite from Utd’s forays forward. It likely contributed to Williams’ error of judgement when he found himself four yards out between Luke Shaw’s late effort and the goal. Though it was erratic, Everton should not have been so deep. Lookman would have at least threatened United’s comfort on the half-way line from which they built pressure.

Still, avoiding defeat holds some significance for Everton. It means the Blues are unbeaten in five games against Man Utd, Arsenal and Man City this season, the sides immediately above them in the table. While the considerable weakness of those sides limits the extent of that achievement, it is likely to hold some psychological sway when Koeman’s side seek to finish above at least one of those sides next year.

Seven points ahead of West Brom, potentially nine behind Man Utd and Arsenal if they win their games in hand, seventh it probably is for Everton. That glass ceiling feeling is present again but this time, there is a significant difference. The squad’s limitations and the cushion from West Brom creates a rare, advantageous position, the kind of developmental opportunity that barely ever occurs in the top half of the Premier League.

Koeman simply has to play youngsters now. He has no choice. With Tom Davies, Holgate, Calvert-Lewin and Lookman all integrated to an extent, Matthew Pennington, Jonjoe Kenny and of course Joe Williams who made the bench at Old Trafford, now provide cover. Everton’s draw with Man Utd was tough to take but the hint at a youth-inspired end to the campaign was encouraging as the seniors showed some big game backbone for once.
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789

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