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Last Updated: Friday, 26 December, 2003, 16:58 GMT
Man Utd 3-2 Everton
Manchester United returned to the top of the Premiership with a deserved victory over Everton at Old Trafford.

Sir Alex Ferguson rested Ruud van Nistelrooy, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs in readiness for a busy programme.

And the ploy worked in style with goals from Nicky Butt, Kleberson and David Bellion sinking the Merseysiders.

Gary Neville's own goal levelled Butt's early strike, and Duncan Ferguson's late goal was only a small consolation.

United boss Ferguson felt able to rest a host of first-choice players, despite Everton's improved recent form.

But Everton suffered two late injury blows when they were forced to rule out Tomasz Radzinski and Lee Carsley, which gave Wayne Rooney a starting role.

And Ferguson's decision was instantly justified inside seven minutes when Butt gave United the lead.

Alan Stubbs could only find the edge of the area with a clearing header, and even though Everton goalkeeper Nigel Martyn got a hand to his 20-yard drive, he was beaten.

Everton were on terms four minutes later, courtesy of a huge slice of good fortune.

KEY MOMENTS
7 mins: Nicky Butt puts Man Utd ahead
11 mins: Gary Neville's own goal gifts Everton an equaliser
42 mins: Kleberson's header restores Man Utd lead
68 mins: David Bellion puts Man Utd further ahead
89 mins: Duncan Ferguson gets Everton's second

Thomas Gravesen's free-kick was dangerous, and it glanced off the head off Neville to beat Tim Howard low to his left.

Diego Forlan almost restored United's lead after 20 minutes, but his close-range header from Quinton Fortune's cross was well turned over the top by Martyn.

The rest of the first half was played out in low-key fashion until United restored their advantage three minutes before the interval.

Neville was transformed from villain to hero with a delightful cross which was powered home by Kleberson.

Manchester United made a change after 49 minutes, sending on Paul Scholes for the injured John O'Shea.

Rooney infuriated Old Trafford with a wild lunge at the dancing Cristiano Ronaldo that earned a booking.

Everton were making no impact in attack, and it was no surprise when boss David Moyes made a double substitution, sending on Ferguson and Francis Jeffers for Tobias Linderoth and Kevin Campbell.

It was a move that did not have time to work, with United extending their lead after 68 minutes.

Bellion had missed a clear header seconds earlier, but made no mistake when more fancy footwork from Ronaldo set him up from only six yards.

Everton gave United an anxious finale when Ferguson's 89th minute header left Old Trafford playing on their nerves - but United survived for a deserved win.


Man Utd: Howard, Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre (Djemba-Djemba 72), O'Shea (Scholes 50), Ronaldo, Butt, Kleberson, Fortune, Forlan, Bellion. Subs not used: Carroll, van Nistelrooy, Giggs.

Everton: Martyn, Hibbert, Stubbs, Unsworth, Naysmith, Li Tie, Gravesen, Linderoth (Jeffers 63), Kilbane, Rooney (McFadden 70), Campbell (Ferguson 63). Subs not used: Simonsen, Yobo.
Booked: Rooney, Jeffers.

Attendance: 67,642.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).


WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC Sport's Jimmy Armfield
"For Everton this was a chance to break the Old Trafford hoodoo"


Man Utd boss Sir Alex Ferguson
"I thought we expressed ourselves well"




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