United continued the defence of their title with the visit of Everton to Old Trafford, the first of a run of four games which will ultimately decide the destination of the Premier league trophy. A win was imperative in order for the reds to go into next weeks Manchester derby safe in the knowledge that even defeat would still leave the title in their hands. Everton , despite defeat to Liverpool in the FA cup semi final the week prior, came into the game on the back of good form, and were keen to make amends for their poor recent record at Old Trafford. Nani was recalled to the starting line up in favour of Ashley Young, as United fielded what has now become a very familiar team in this title run in.
Although Everton could have been excused being slightly deflated after losing their biggest game of the season at Wembley, the visitors showed no signs of doing so, starting very brightly and capitalising upon a nervy United start. Marouane Fellaini, playing as an advanced midfielder, was frustrating United’s midfield duo of Carrick and Scholes, denying them time and space therefore preventing a rhythm building up in United’s attacks. On the half hour mark, United’s iron grip on the title took another huge blow, as Nikica Jelavic peeled off of Rafael at the back post, and nodded Tony Hibbert’s cross brilliantly back across goal to send the visitors into the lead. Everton’s goal seemed to give United the wake up call they needed, and the reds responded terrifically in the minutes remaining before half time. With just 2 minutes remaining of the half United restored parity through Rooney, the beneficiary of a delightful cross from Nani, leaving him the simplest task of heading home and giving the reds a crucial lifeline back into the match.
Having been somewhat underwhelming in the first half, most expected a United backlash in the second, and to drive home the initiative from gaining such a well timed equaliser before half time. Everton however were intent on maintaining their discipline, and continued to prove a handful with both Jelavic and Fellaini providing a constant outlet for the visitors. It took a moment of inspiration from Danny Welbeck on the hour mark to break the deadlock, with the England striker collecting the ball on the edge of the box and curling a sublime shot into the top corner. The points looked safe two minutes later, as Nani rounded off a clinical United move by lifting the ball over Tim Howard with consummate ease, and seemingly sending United 8 points clear.
A remarkable finale however turned the game on its head, and left United reeling from what seemed to be an impenetrable position. Firstly, Fellaini clawed Everton back into the game with a swell struck right foot volley from the edge of the box, setting alarm bells ringing. United again responded well however, and Rooney doubled his tally with a well taken side footed finish to make it 4-2, and surely this time put United out of sight. A bizzare game soon turned into a classic though, as with just 7 minutes on the clock, Everton struck with a double blow, firstly Jelavic slid home after some school boy United defending, failing to deal with a routine ball into the box, and Piennar completed a stunning comeback by tapping home from 7 yards to leave United reeling. A final salvo from the reds nearly brought a winner, with ex red Tim Howard tipping over Rio Ferdinand’s left foot strike with just seconds remaining. It wasn’t to be however, and United saw two precious points slip away, making next weeks Manchester derby an effective title decider.
DDG – 6 Not at fault for any of the goals.
Rafael – 5 Attacking wise superb, defensively frail and cost United dearly at the end.
Evans – 5 Calamitous final 5 minutes.
Ferdinand – 5 Failed to deal with simple ball for 3rd goal.
Evra – 5 Too gung ho with just 7 minutes of the clock.
Valencia – 6 Quiet game by his high standards.
Scholes – 6 Overrun for much of the first hour.
Carrick – 6 Likewise Scholes, coped much better second half.
Nani – 7 Tore Hibbert apart frequently.
Rooney – 6 Much improved on last week.
Welbeck – 9 MOTM best performance of the season
Hernandez – 6
Jones – 5