Fletcher gem headlines United win
Darren Fletcher added another memorable entry to his bulging CV as he launched Manchester United on their way to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Everton. Although they were already well on top against the Merseysiders who, apart from a brief five-minute flurry in the second half, were completely outclassed, the Red Devils were struggling to make the breakthrough until the Scotland midfielder fired home a magnificent volley.
Over the past 12 months, Fletcher has emerged as one of the most influential players in the Premier League. The Scot's style might not be to everyone's taste - Arsene Wenger labelled him "anti-football" earlier this season.
But his value to the Red Devils is immeasurable, to the point he was shifted to right-back when Paul Scholes was introduced after an hour. Indeed, May's sobering UEFA Champions League final defeat by Barcelona was part of a sequence that has seen Fletcher miss seven of United's last nine losses.
His effectiveness, it has to be admitted, is mostly destructive. However, he scored twice in the thrilling derby win over Manchester City in September, and Fletcher is making a point of getting himself into scoring positions more often.
He did not exactly have the Everton goal at his mercy, though, when Antonio Valencia stretched to nod a deep Patrice Evra cross into his path ten minutes before the break. On the edge of the area, surrounded by visiting defenders, David Moyes might even have been relatively relaxed.
How wrong he would have been. With one swinging boot of the right foot, Fletcher sent the ball curling into the top corner, giving former team-mate Tim Howard no chance.
The goal at least provided United with some tangible reward for their overwhelming domination of possession. Chances were at a premium, with Wayne Rooney going close and Ryan Giggs testing Howard, both efforts from the edge of the area.
Ferguson could not have had that in mind when he penned programme notes that called for a more clinical edge and a return to the form that saw United score five at Wigan Athletic, three at Tottenham Hotspur and four to beat Manchester City.
Indeed, Everton, for all their failure to keep hold of the ball, also had a couple of decent long-range efforts, through Jack Rodwell and Louis Saha - returning to Old Trafford for the first time since calling time on his four-and-a-half injury-plagued years at the start of last season. Moyes was more vexed about an aerial collision between Nemanja Vidic and Johnny Heitinga that left the Dutchman with a nasty cut to his head, the inference from the Everton camp was clearly that an elbow had been used.
It was a point Moyes made to the fourth official at half-time, although by that stage he had decided direct intervention was needed. The introduction of Ayegbeni Yakubu for Dan Gosling took a while to have an impact but for a five-minute spell just after the hour mark, it had the hosts in trouble.
Everton's best chance fell to the Nigerian himself after he had muscled his way round Wes Brown. Yakubu has scored for three previous clubs - Maccabi Haifa, Portsmouth and Middlesbrough - against United and must have thought he had completed a remarkable four-timer when he sent his shot fizzing towards the bottom corner.
Edwin Van der Sar was struggling but, unfortunately for the visitors, it went just wide. It was just the invitation United needed to seal the contest.
By his own high standards, Giggs had endured a quiet evening. But, in exactly the right position to retrieve a Rooney shot that would have gone for a throw, the veteran Welshman quickly spotted Carrick on the edge of the area. It is just the situation Carrick thrives on and he placed a low, precise shot into the corner, again leaving Howard helpless.
Valencia bagged a third when he strode on to Scholes's lay-off to ensure United remained five points adrift of Chelsea and, with injuries beginning to bite at Arsenal, the title race already looks to be narrowing to two.