Manchester United will have to wait longer than anticipated to confirm a Champions League return after they were beaten 3-0 by Everton at Goodison Park.
The Red Devils appear on course to finish in the top four with rivals Liverpool, Tottenham and Southampton all drawing this weekend, but missed the chance to go ten points clear in fourth with the defeat.
And it was an impressive performance from their hosts who produced a brilliant display of counter attacking football to dismantle Louis van Gaal’s side, who have been much-improved in recent weeks.
Former Toffee Marouane Fellaini had the first chance of the game with a 25-yard strike which clattered into the crowd behind Tim Howard’s goal.
But it was the hosts who took the lead just five minutes in as Roberto Martinez’s side swiftly hit the Red Devils on the counter and after beating Paddy McNair and Daley Blind, James McCarthy prodded the ball beyond David De Gea.
Fellaini was in the book soon after for a foul on Seamus Coleman, with Van Gaal’s side clearly frustrated, while Daley Blind lashed a shot goalward, which was easily claimed by Howard.
Manchester United had plenty of possession at Goodison Park but found it hard to breakdown their determined opponents, who had struggled defensively at times this season, and on the break Romelu Lukaku remained a danger thwacking shots at De Gea when chances arose.
The visitors’ task became harder after 35 minutes when John Stones, in his 50th appearance for Everton, scored with an excellent header from a Leighton Baines corner, which beat both De Gea and Ashley Young, who had been stationed on the back post.
After the restart Radamel Falcao entered the fray to replace Fellaini but couldn’t breathe life into the Red Devils attack, while Ross Barkley and Lukaku, on the counter, continued to threaten for the hosts.
And on the break is exactly how Everton grabbed their third of the game, as a Barkley pass found Mirallas with the Man United defence concentrating on stopping Lukaku and the Belgian winger guided his strike home from the left side of the penalty area.
Lukaku’s involvement in the goal, having been in an offside position, will no doubt be queried, but it would have made no difference to the outcome with Mirallas going close again later on as Van Gaal’s side struggled to make an impact.
The victory moves Everton up into tenth as they finally hit form following a poor start to the season.