United held in thriller
Eight goals at Old Trafford as Toffees snatch a share of the spoils
Last Updated: 22/04/12 3:19pm
Manchester United opened the Premier League title door a little further on Sunday as they were held to a thrilling 4-4 draw by Everton.
Nikica Jelavic bagged a brace for the Toffees, who snatched two goals in the last seven minutes to claim a share of the spoils.
Wayne Rooney also netted twice, against his former employers, but it was Steven Pienaar who had the final say on an afternoon which saw United drop their first home points of 2012.
Jelavic set the tone for what was to follow when he met a Tony Hibbert cross on 33 minutes and sent a looping header over David de Gea and into the back of the net.
United restored parity four minutes before half-time when Rooney nodded home an inswinging delivery from Nani, and they edged in front when Danny Welbeck curled a spectacular effort into the top corner on 57 minutes.
Nani put the Red Devils two goals clear on the hour mark as he dinked delicately over Tim Howard, but Everton refused to lie down and Marouane Fellaini displayed impressive technique to crash another Hibbert cross past De Gea on 67 minutes.
Rooney appeared to have ended the game as a contest two minutes later when he swept home a Welbeck centre to record his 180th goal for United - taking him past George Best and Dennis Viollet on the club's all-time scoring chart.
There was, however, to be a late twist in the tale, with Jelavic firing in his second of the game on 83 minutes and Pienaar arriving on cue two minutes later to poke past De Gea and leave United shell-shocked.
Though it had been almost 20 years since Everton's last success at Old Trafford, 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 City faithful.
And the Merseysiders certainly did City proud, starting on the front foot, defending stoutly and thoroughly deserving their lead when it eventually came.
Jelavic had already sprung the United defence once, early on, when Pienaar sent him through, but 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 flashed wide.
However, United had no answer when 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 goal-bound effort.
|Manchester United||Team Statistics||Everton|
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|8||Shots on Target||7|
|10||Shots off Target||7|
|51.7||1st Half Poss.||48.3|
|51.9||2nd Half Poss.||48.1|
Barclays Premier League
|4||West Ham United||17||31|
|15||West Bromwich Albion||17||17|
|16||Queens Park Rangers||17||17|