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Sticky situation but Moyes has plenty resolve

If Manchester United can winkle out a victory over Everton, then perhaps we will finally be spared the kind of corn ball observations that used be the staple diet of the comedy fare at the end of the pier.

David Moyes
David Moyes

"It's taken David Moyes 11 years but he's finally managed to get Everton above Manchester United in the table," seems to be the gag of choice for those who like their punch lines straight from the dusty archives.

Tonight's game at Old Trafford pits Moyes against the team he guided admirably for over a decade for the first time since he swapped the blue half of Liverpool for the red side of Manchester in the summer. A win for the hosts would allow them to leapfrog Everton on points but a defeat may land the Scot in another sticky situation.

For Roberto Martinez, the canny Spaniard who replaced Moyes, there has been no awkward transition. His easy-on-the-eye approach, somewhat removed from the old-school pragmatism of his predecessor, has earned both plaudits and points. Martinez's team currently sit fifth in the Barclays Premier League.

In Romelu Lukaku, plucked from Chelsea on a season-long deal, Everton have the kind of trigger happy Loan Ranger (pardon the spelling) not seen since Tonto was available in the transfer window, while Barcelona teenager Gerard Deulofeu, another player signed on a temporary deal, attracted rave reviews for his performance against Stoke City at the weekend. It seems life after Moyes is pretty sweet for the club with the confection-related moniker. Tonight's affair should give everybody plenty to chew over.

When long-term relationships come to an end, nothing is simple. Upon succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson, Moyes angered many Everton fans by attempting to lure two of their players away from Merseyside. A joint £28m bid for Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines was branded as "insulting." While Baines stayed put, Belgian playmaker Fellaini did make the switch.

Given Everton fans will be vastly outnumbered in the colosseum of Old Trafford, any vocal grievances will probably be as futile as breaking wind against thunder but there still should be plenty of edge and intrigue to the proceedings. Moyes maintains his attempts to strip his former club of their assets should not have come as a great surprise. "Once I got the job, I discussed it with Bill [Kenwright, the chairman] near enough immediately," he said. "I said that there would be some players I would be interested in.

"Bill was well aware of it but obviously it was always going to be a difficult thing when it actually came to it. We both knew that this would happen but it is never that easy. But time moves on as well. Life is too short to hold any grudges."

In what will surely be billed as a grudge match, Moyes and Martinez will go head-to-head. After the initial and inevitable teething problems, which led to United stuttering to their worst start in 24 years, Moyes' men are in the midst of a 12-match unbeaten run. Everton, meanwhile, have made their best start since 2004-2005 - the season Moyes led them to fourth - and Martinez is keen to capitalise on the optimism. "I do feel the game is as big a test as we are going to get but after 13 games I feel we are ready for that," he said. "That's our aim. I don't know how long it's going to take us but if we want to be successful over the course of the season we should be able to go anywhere and be ourselves."

It's been 21 years since Everton won at Old Trafford when goals from Peter Beardsley, Robert Warzycha and Mo Johnston gave the visitors a 3-0 victory on the very first day of the newly-formed Premier League. What happened next? Manchester United went on to capture a first title in 26 years. It's a funny old game.

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