LIVERPOOL, England -- "We'll see on Sunday," Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said last week, when asked how far his Manchester United team have come since suffering humiliation on their last visit to Everton.
Solskjaer will have hoped for a better result than a 1-1 draw, but having demanded a response after a 4-0 thumping at Goodison Park last April, he got what he wanted.
It would have been easy for United to fold again after going behind so early, thanks to a goal that will end up on many a blooper reel, but in the 315 days since they were last on the blue side of Merseyside, they have found an ability to fight. Sometimes the result of a game is not the most important thing.
Goalkeepers David De Gea and Jordan Pickford were at fault for the goals they conceded, then made terrific saves in the closing stages to save their club a point. Full-time arrived with home fans incensed after VAR chalked off a late Everton winner for offside. For his protestations toward referee Chris Kavanagh, home manager Carlo Ancelotti was shown a red card after the final whistle.
For United, this was a hard-fought draw that kicked off a month in which they also face Manchester City, Tottenham and Sheffield United -- three of the top seven -- in the league, as well as an FA Cup fifth-round clash with Wayne Rooney's Derby County and a Europa League last-16 tie against LASK Linz.
Come through March unscathed and Solskjaer's team will be in the final stages of two cup competitions and in the hunt for Champions League qualification via the league.
Ahead of such a crucial spell, they are eight games unbeaten in all competitions and, in Bruno Fernandes, have a player in top form. The January signing's goal, which cancelled out Dominic Calvert-Lewin's opener, was his third goal in as many games.
"It keeps the run going," Solskjaer said. "We have a few games coming up that will be defining for the league but there are still 10 games to go. [Today] we played against a good team in a difficult stadium with a fantastic manager. We stuck together as a team and we ground out a point."
The build-up saw Solskjaer suggest that previous calamity at Everton -- his "lowest point" since taking charge at Old Trafford -- marked a watershed moment for some players and De Gea, Victor Lindelof, Nemanja Matic, Fred and Anthony Martial were the only holdovers in Sunday's starting line-up; Chris Smalling, Romelu Lukaku, Ashley Young and Alexis Sanchez have all since moved on.
De Gea, it should be said, gifted Everton the lead after three minutes when he dithered over a Harry Maguire backpass and then saw his attempted clearance cannoned off the closing Calvert-Lewin and into the net. The Spain goalkeeper made amends later and was called "the best goalkeeper in the world" by his manager.
"There is more confidence now," Solskjaer said. "We are on a decent run. We have got more characters, personalities. We have been through that experience last season. The start was the worst possible one. You might start to think, here we go again."
After Calvert-Lewin went close to making it 2-0, Matic hit the crossbar from the edge of the box before drilling a good chance at Pickford, before Fred's cross was glanced over by Mason Greenwood. These days, though, it seems to be the same man at the centre of everything positive for United, and soon Fernandes was at it again.
With 31 minutes gone, Djibril Sidibe's loose pass was picked up by Matic and when the ball was rolled into Fernandes' path, the Portuguese midfielder whipped a first-time shot inside Pickford's new post from 25 yards. With Gareth Southgate watching on, the England goalkeeper should have done better, but it was a fierce strike that resulted in chants of "Bruno, Bruno, Bruno" from the away supporters.
The 25-year-old, a £47 million buy from Sporting Lisbon in January, has been a transformative signing. A team that has looked stale now looks dangerous, with passes going forward instead of back and across.
Even members of United's coaching staff have admitted privately that they have been surprised at how good Fernandes has been and, of all the changes at Old Trafford since the last trip to Everton, his arrival might turn out to be most important. The obvious question is where would United be had he come in sooner, but Solskjaer only has eyes on the future.
"I can't look at it that way," he said. "I am very happy he is here. You do understand Sporting wanting to keep him until the last minute because he was such an influential player for them."
Fernandes has already reached the same status at United and is a major reason why hope for a positive end to the season is still alive.