Manchester United 4-4 Everton: Daily Mirror match report
Published 21:32 22/04/12 By David McDonnell
So it has all come down to next week and the biggest Manchester derby of all time.
United’s capacity for doing things the hard way means the title will effectively be decided next Monday, when Manchester’s two football tribes commence battle.
There will be more at stake than in 1968, when both clubs were fighting for the title, or 1974, when Denis Law famously back-heeled a goal for City to help send down his old club United.
The showdown at the Etihad Stadium will also eclipse last season’s FA Cup semi-final between the two sides, which City won 1-0, with the ultimate prize – the title – at stake this time.
And all because
United’s players lost their heads when they were cruising to victory against Everton.
On the eve of this game Sir Alex Ferguson said he trusted his players to use their experience of pressure and big-game situations to clinch title No.20.
But that trust was thrown back in his face during a calamitous finale which saw United concede two goals in three minutes. With seven minutes left, United were 4-2 up and on their way to a commanding lead over City, one that would allow them the luxury of being able to lose next Monday’s Manchester derby and still claim the title. But they simply fell apart when it mattered.
Everton deserve credit, however. Nikica Jelavic and Leon Osman served notice of their intent inside the first 10 minutes, both flashing shots just wide of the United goal.
United felt they should have been awarded a penalty when Osman brought down Rafael.
Everton’s first-half enterprise and endeavour was rewarded with the opener on 33 minutes, Jelavic claiming his sixth in 10 appearances since joining from Rangers in a £5.5million deal.
He won the the ball initially on the left, Everton switching it to the right, from where Tony Hibbert slung in a dipping cross.
The ball was met at the far post by Jelavic, who out-jumped Rafael to send a looping header back over David De Gea and into the far corner of the net.
It was a deserved lead but ultimately a short-lived one, as Wayne Rooney levelled for United eight minutes later, nodding the ball in from Nani’s cross after Phil Neville had misjudged its flight.
United’s second goal, on 57 minutes, was scored against a backdrop of controversy.
Everton were furious the ref did not stop play with Stephen Pienaar down injured, as he had done in the first-half with Jonny Evans on the deck.
With Pienaar down, United striker Danny Welbeck curled home an exquisite finish beyond the reach of Tim Howard.
When Nani, with an impudent chip over Howard, finished off a delightful one-touch move involving Rafael, Michael Carrick and Welbeck, victory looked to be a formality for United. But sloppy defending allowed Marouane Fellaini to score with a sublime first-time volleyed finish in the 67th minute.
Rooney scored a fourth two minutes later to re-establish United’s two-goal advantage, then Patrice Evra hit the
frame of the Everton goal with a diving header.
But within seconds, a scoreline that could have read 5-2, was suddenly 4-3 as Everton went straight up the other end to score.
Confusion between Evans and Rio Ferdinand, with both going for the same header, allowed Jelavic to pounce for his second of the game in the 83rd minute.
And Rafael’s failure to track Pienaar’s run allowed the Everton midfielder to plunder an equaliser two minutes later to cap a remarkable, crazy finale at Old Trafford.
Yet there was time for one last moment of drama, Howard producing a remarkable save to keep out a goal-bound drive from Ferdinand in the fifth minute of added time, seconds before the final whistle.
United’s failure to close out the game means it is all or nothing against City next Monday.
While City need to win, a draw is likely to be good enough for United in their quest for title No.20.
But if Fergie’s men defend as ineptly at the Etihad Stadium as they did here, it really will be squeaky bum time.