Man Utd v Everton
Everton’s stunning second half comeback put a dent in Manchester United’s title bid as both teams left Old Trafford with four goals and a point apiece to show for their part in a magnificent game of football.
The goals flowed at either end on an afternoon of high drama, ballsy attacking and woeful defending.
Nikica Jelavic’s header rewarded Everton for their first half industry before Wayne Rooney shook off Phil Neville to head a leveller.
Danny Welbeck’s spectacular goal and Nani’s cute finish had seemingly wrapped up the points for the hosts – but nobody had told the Blues.
The hugely impressive Marouane Fellaini’s spectacular volley cut the deficit to 3-2 but Rooney’s second arrived to sooth the hosts’ ragged nerves.
Yet every time Everton attacked in numbers they looked likely to score and, in the end, their bottle was rewarded with a point from an exhilarating game.
First Jelavic completed his brace with a brutal swipe of the right boot and then Steven Pienaar snaked in behind the United defence to convert Fellaini’s throughball and spark wild celebrations in the away end.
With a record like Everton have in this fixture, you could’ve forgiven inhibition.
Yet in the opening exchanges it was ambition the visitors were showing.
Jelavic latched on to Leon Osman’s throughball and forced a low save from David De Gea before the duo reversed roles – this time Osman shooting low across the face of goal.
There was a sense of urgency about the Blues early on. United edged possession but the visitors were quick to the second ball – the shrill yapping of skipper Neville audible as he coaxed on those around him.
Sylvain Distin, possibly football’s largest ever left-back, did a solid job as the injured Leighton Baines’ understudy and David Moyes’ men were right in the game.
Paul Scholes missed the target from range while a tame header slid off the transplanted hairs on Rooney’s cranium with Tim Howard untroubled.
And as half-time neared there hadn’t been a great deal to upset an Everton side which had kept its shape and played with control – not fear.
It was a good start – it was about to get better.
However impressive Jelavic’s form has been – and it has been seriously impressive – few would have backed him for the first goal here.
But yet again the lethal Croatian came up with the goods. We’ve seen all sorts of finishes from him so far – this time a header.
Hibbert pumped a deep, searching cross to the back stick where the striker had peeled off his man. He still had it all to do, however, and a firm looping connection sailed back across goal and dropped inside the post.
The shock inside Old Trafford was palpable. It was a setback for the would-be champions, but their response was swift and clinical with parity restored before the turnaround.
The hosts worked a good crossing position high up on the left and Nani’s centre found Rooney to head home from close range.
Just as they had in the first half, Everton made a solid start to the second period.
But as the game neared the hour mark, United upped the tempo and two quick goals drastically changed the complexion of the contest.
First, with Pienaar prone on the deck and in need of treatment, the hosts shifted it from side to side before it reached Welbeck on the edge of the box. The youngster dropped a shoulder before opening up and shaping a 20-yard shot into the top corner of Howard’s net.
Neville complained about the game not being stopped but neither the referee – nor United – had any obligation to do so, and the Blues were behind for the first time.
If that wasn’t cruel enough, soon it was 3-1 as Nani made the most of the momentary disarray in the visiting ranks to race through and dink a third over Howard.
All of a sudden it felt like damage limitation, and with the home fans expectant of more goals one soon arrived – at the other end.
Hibbert was again the creator, his cross picking out Fellaini to skilfully volley home on the turn.
Hopes of a comeback stirred but quickly subsided as Rooney’s second – swept in from 10 yards – restored United’s two-goal cushion.
To their immense credit, the Blues kept going and Jelavic latched onto a loose ball in the box to smash home a half-volley to make it 4-3 with eight minutes to go.
Surely it couldn’t be on, could it? After all, the Blues have lost count of the amount of times they have left Old Trafford disappointed. Not this time.
Pienaar collected Fellaini’s pass, United gasped and the net bulged – 4-4.
Eight goals meant plenty of injury time and the visitors knew they weren’t safe yet.
There was a feeling the hosts would get a chance - and they did.
But when Rio Ferdinand shot powerfully towards the top corner, Howard flew through the air, his defiant save emblematic of the spirit Everton had showed all afternoon.