Manchester United and Everton shared the spoils after an eight-goal thriller at Old Trafford served as a stumbling block to the Reds' march towards a 20th league title. United blew a two goal lead on two separate occasions to draw the game 4-4, which especially at home as been something of a rarity in the previous 20 seasons of the Premier League. Sir Alex opted for his strongest eleven, certainly looking to keep the momentum going before next week's season-defining encounter against Manchester City, with the major change coming in the form of Nani, who took the left wing position ahead of Ashley Young.
The game started with the Merseyside outfit posing some threat to the United backline in the forms of Jelavic, Pienaar and Fellaini, certainly a sign of things to come in the next 90 minutes. From the very outset, Everton's five-man midfield looked capable of overrunning the midfield duo of Carrick and Scholes, but it was from the wide position that the team in blue found the opening goal of the game. Tony Hibbert crossed from the right, and the leaping Rafael was unable to clear the ball out of danger, only for Nikica Jelavic to send a looping header over David de Gea into the far corner of the goal.
United had barely managed to sustain any form of pressure or possession before this, and the atmosphere around Old Trafford had been especially non-existent, but Everton's goal seemed to spark some life into the United system. The response came soon enough, thanks to some neat work from the returning Nani on the left, who sent in a wonderful cross in from the left, only for Wayne Rooney to glance in against his former team from two yards out. The two sides went into half time on level terms, with nobody in the stadium with any clue of the drama that was in store in the next 45 minutes.
United came out in the second half with a greater sense of purpose, and with certainly a higher tempo than at the start of the first. Within 12 minutes, relief set across Old Trafford when Danny Welbeck gave United the lead with a tremendous finish. Finding some space for himself at the edge of the box, the striker opened up his body to curl his effort high into the top corner of the net, leaving Howard in the Everton goal absolutely no chance at all.
Moments later, Nani got on the scoresheet himself, doubling United's advantage in the process. Some stupendous passing between Welbeck and Nani found the Portuguese winger one-on-one with Howard in the box, and he coolly chipped the ball into the net, in a goal reminiscent of the gem against City in the Community Shield. With United two goals ahead, the game was seemingly out of Everton's reach. How wrong could one be?
In amongst all of United's attacking play, Everton hadn't given up on their own cause. Hibbert once again found space for himself down the right, and his first-time cross into the box found Fellaini in some space, and the Belgian volleyed in Everton's second with great execution.
Rooney then restored United's two goal lead after his wonderful link-up play with Danny Welbeck brought back memories of the Cole-Yorke partnership from days gone by. 4-2 the score.. did things end there...?
...no. Fellaini, who was causing untold misery to Evans and Ferdinand at the back all day managed to knock down Phil Neville's speculative ball into the box, only for the onrushing Nikica Jelavic to sweep in from inside the box. With only seven minutes left on the clock, the momentum was with Everton, and it only took them a couple of minutes in the end to level matters at 4-4, when Fellaini found Steven Pienaar unmarked in the box, to tap into the net, past a helpless De Gea.
With five minutes of time added on, United piled on the pressure, coming closest through Rio Ferdinand, who struck a beautiful half-volley with his left foot, only to be denied by Howard. The referee blew the final whistle, and the final result of a draw certainly felt like a defeat to all in red, especially after City's 2-0 win over Wolves later on in the day. This means that United from being eight points ahead, now only have a three point advantage over City, and so the outcome of the clash on Monday, April 30 could certainly determine the destination of the Premier League title this season. Sir Alex often speaks of requiring a response after suffering disappointing in the way that the team and the fans did today -- and boy, do we ever need a response now.
Best Moment: Welbeck's superb goal
Worst Moment: Pienaar's equaliser
Man of the Match: Danny Welbeck
Manchester United 4-4 EvertonRooney 41', 69'; Welbeck 57'; Nani 60' - Jelavic 33', 83'; Fellaini 67'; Pienaar 85'(Assists: Nani x2, Welbeck x2)
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