Manchester United 4 Everton 4: Champions suffer title blow as Toffees launch late comeback in eight-goal thriller
14:07 GMT, 22 April 2012
Manchester United's title hopes suffered a serious setback as Everton struck back to deny them victory in an eight-goal thriller.
Instead of setting the scene for an ultimate revenge act at the Etihad Stadium on April 30, United will meet Manchester City knowing they cannot afford to lose if a calamity even greater than the one that unfolded here is not to take place.
Blue must be kidding! Everton celebrate the equaliser in front of their jubilant fans
Manchester United: De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Valencia, Scholes, Carrick, Nani, Rooney, Welbeck. Subs: Amos,
Jones, Giggs, Smalling, Park, Hernandez, Young.
Everton: Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Neville, Osman, Heitinga, Gibson, Pienaar, Fellaini, Jelavic. Subs: Mucha,
Stracqualursi, McFadden, Cahill, Gueye, Barkley, Anichebe.
Referee: Mike Jones (Cheshire)
Click HERE for the Premier League table
United looked on course for victory as strikes from Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Nani wiped out Nikica Jelavic's opener.
Although Marouane Fellaini made it 3-2, Rooney's second appeared to finally kill them off.
But a late rally saw Jelavic and then Steven Pienaar net to earn the Toffees a share of the spoils at Old Trafford.
The result moves six points clear at the top of the table ahead of City's match at Wolves later today.
Though it had been almost 20 years since Everton's last success on this ground, this was always viewed as a key game
With 10 points from their last 12,
the Toffees represented a formidable obstacle and the return of
Pienaar merely offered more reason for optimism amongst the Manchester
And the Merseysiders certainly did
City proud, starting on the front foot, defending stoutly and thoroughly
deserving their lead when it eventually came.
Heads up: Nikica Jelavic jumps to nod home the opening goal to stun the crowd
Delight: Everton celebrate their surprise opening goal at the home of the champions
Jelavic had already sprung the United
defence once, early on, when Pienaar sent him through, but David de Gea
was equal to the shot.
Leon Osman had a couple of
opportunities, Sylvain Distin guided a header wide and United old boy
Darron Gibson chanced his arm with a trademark thunderbolt, which
However, United had no answer when Tony Hibbert crossed deep from the right touchline.
Jelavic won the aerial duel with Rafael at the far post, lifting his header over De Gea and just inside the goal.
It was the 5.5million man's seventh
Everton goal and sixth in six games, emphasising his status as one of
the bargain buys of the season.
Spray to go: Wayne Rooney heads home his first goal for Manchester United
Leveller: Rooney rises to head home the equaliser to ease the hosts' nerves
Clinical: Rooney wheels away as old team-mate Phil Neville holds his head in his hands
A wave of anxiety swept around Old
Trafford as United fans feared another sizeable chunk was in danger of
being carved off what, just a fortnight ago, seemed an impregnable lead.
After a couple of decidedly dodgy
penalty awards involving Ashley Young over the past fortnight, it was
perhaps no surprise referee Mike Jones was unimpressed when Rafael went
down under Osman's challenge, although it did appear to be a foul.
United needed to come up with
something fast. And, restored to the starting line-up after a nine-match
absence in place of Young, whom Ferguson insisted had not been dropped
for disciplinary reasons, Nani provided it.
The Portugal winger curled over a
brilliant cross from the left which dropped just over Phil Neville and
perfectly for Rooney to head in.
Take that: Danny Welbeck curls home a superb second for the hosts at Old Trafford
And relax… Welbeck celebrates putting his side in front for the first time in the match
In a sense though, an equaliser was
neither here nor there. The difference between a two or three point lead
largely irrelevant considering City had a better goal difference.
United needed three points. And, in the space of two minutes just before the hour, it seemed they had been secured.
Everton complained that Osman was down and in pain when the hosts went in front.
However, they had many chances to nullify any potential danger before
Nani showed admirable desire to out-jump Neville on the edge of the area
and nod down for Welbeck.
Leap of faith: Nani tucks home United's third goal past goalkeeper Tim Howard
Jumping for joy: Nani is mobbed by his team-mates as they think victory is sealed
After side-stepping John Heitinga's rash challenge, the youngster calmly curled a superb shot into the top corner.
Old Trafford had not stopped celebrating when Welbeck fed Nani, whose chip sailed over Howard and bounced into the empty net.
It should have been all over and
still seemed that way despite Fellaini smashing home a brilliant volley
and Rooney had soon struck again to restore their two-goal cushion.
In truth, the drama was only just
starting. With seven minutes left Jelavic capitalised on unusual
hesitancy inside the United penalty area and drove a precise shot into
the bottom corner.
Hair-raising match: Marouane Fellaini is congratulated on making it 3-2
Finish: Rooney tucks home United's fourth goal as they aim to kill Everton off
Net gains: Jelavic fires home again to make the scoreline 4-3 at Old Trafford
Even then, what happened afterwards
came with jaw-dropping surprise, Fellaini creating space for himself
inside the penalty area before sliding a pass through to an unmarked
Pienaar, who planted a first-time shot beyond De Gea.
The bedlam of earlier had been
replaced by a different kind of mayhem as United tried to get a grip on
the calamity that had just unfolded.
Phil Jones and Javier Hernandez were thrown on in a desperate attempt to salvage the situation.
But even in five heart-stopping minutes of injury time there was to be
no final twist as Tim Howard tipped over Rio Ferdinand's goalbound
Gr-eight: Steven Pienaar steers home the crucial equaliser for Everton
Incredible: Pienaar races away to celebrate after completing Everton's fightback
What happened there Rooney and Welbeck look dejected after conceding the fourth