Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Good Evans as Manchester United are back in the title hunt

Victory over Gunners is a signal of intent says Jonny

In favour: Jonny Evans (centre) is back playing well and part of the Man United first team

Northern Ireland star Jonny Evans believes Manchester United are now in prime position to launch their bid for the Premier League title.

Evans was at the heart of the United defence on Sunday as they defeated table toppers Arsenal 1-0 at Old Trafford with former Gunners hero Robin van Persie scoring the only goal of a vital game.

Defeat for the Red Devils would have seen them slip a massive 11 points behind Arsene Wenger's men, leaving Evans and co with a mountain to climb to retain the crown they won at a canter in Sir Alex Ferguson's final season as boss.

The home success, however, cut the gap to just five points.

It was an excellent weekend for David Moyes and his team with title rivals Manchester City suffering a shock loss at Sunderland and Chelsea drawing against West Brom at Stamford Bridge.

United's win moved them above City and Tottenham, who were defeated by Newcastle. They are in fifth place and there is confidence in the ranks that in the weeks and months to come they can catch and overhaul the current top four Arsenal, Liverpool, Southampton and Chelsea.

Evans admitted that beating Arsenal was a huge result for his side. He revealed that even after an indifferent opening to the Moyes era there was belief in team meetings that things could be turned around.

With three league wins in a row and an unbeaten run of nine games, United appear to have found their feet and the 25-year-old Ulsterman suggests the club's trademark strength later in the campaign will be a crucial factor in the battle for the title.

"The result was important, especially with Arsenal being top of the league," said Evans.

"Apart from Liverpool, the other teams around us have slipped up, so it was big in terms of the points. It needed to be a good performance to beat Arsenal, and it was.

"We got off to a bad start this season, but we talked about it, and we want to be within touching distance of top spot by the Christmas period.

"We know that we always finish the season well, we've got experience on our side and we've got history at this great club, so we're in a good position."

At the start of the season, Evans was down the pecking order at United, but having been given the nod to play in United's biggest match so far under Moyes, the new manager has obviously grown to have faith in the Northern Ireland star. Evans did himself no harm whatsoever on Sunday with a fine performance and he did it playing alongside a different partner in each half after Nemanja Vidic was taken off injured at the break with Phil Jones slotting in at the heart of the back four.

Delighted to keep free scoring Arsenal at bay, Evans insisted: "We always want clean sheets. We defended collectively and I thought that our team shape was very good.

"It was great in the first-half and obviously Nemanja got injured, but Phil Jones stepped in and he's a natural centre-back, so we defended as normal. We held on well as a team. We limited them to very few chances."

Star of the show was Wayne Rooney (pictured), who produced an all action display maintaining his excellent run of recent form. Rooney also delivered the corner for van Persie to net the decisive goal.

Evans admitted that he loves it when his pal Rooney is at his best.

"It really helps us a lot. He needs to be involved in the game, he likes to be the main man on the ball, and he enjoys getting back to make tackles.

"That's what he thrives on, and as we've seen, if he puts the effort in, we get the reward for that," said Evans.

Another factor that pleased him was the noise inside Old Trafford.

With the fans still getting used to life after Ferguson in the hotseat, the atmosphere in the stadium this season has often been tense. That was not the case on Sunday, with the Stretford End in full voice as their heroes made a statement of intent on the pitch.

"I think that's the best atmosphere I have heard at Old Trafford in a long time, other than against Real Madrid in the Champions League last season," Evans said. "The fans were very loud and it was a really enjoyable game to play in. The tempo of the game and the spirit that it was played in was very good."

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