Everton heat up the title race as they hold Manchester United to a draw at Old Trafford
|It was well worth the trip South for Everton fans|
Manchester United and Everton clashed in a heated and exciting fixture at Old Trafford. As we near the end of the season, every goal and every point count. Before the match, United were clear at the top of the table by five points. Everton were looking to distance themselves from their Merseyside rivals Liverpool, who sit in eighth place just below the blue half of Liverpool, so points mattered for them as well. Four fantastic goals from each side and a dramatic late equalizer from Steven Pienaar meant that each side went home with just a point apiece, but the match will go down as one of the most exciting games of this campaign.
Both sides opened the match conservatively, neither one really pressing for a goal despite the good form of their strikers, especially Jelavic up front for the visiting side. Osman had an early effort as he tried to head the ball on target but his attempt went wide of the goal. Jalvic forced the first save of the game when he was able to dance around Evans and have a shot at goal. Osman also got another shot off but his second effort went wide like the first. Nani had the first glance at goal for the home side, who were having an uncharacteristically rough start to the match, but his bouncing shot went wide. He continued to press the Everton goal but Jelavic and Osman were causing problems for De Gea and the United defense at the other end.
For much of the half, it was box-to-box play, both teams were pretty evenly matched but the quality chances were made by the visitors. By the thirty minute mark, United had forced Howard to come off his line and claim some loose crosses from Nani on the wing, but it was De Gea between the posts for Manchester United who was making the swan dive saves.
Everton forced the ball forward in response to the attacks from Nani and the United midfield and were now clearly the better side in the first thirty minutes of the match. The visitors from Merseyside were rewarded for their efforts in the 33rd minute when Jelavic met a heavily struck cross from Hibbert with his head and placed the ball beautifully just inside the far post past De Gea. United tried to counter through the legendary Paul Scholes, but a spectacular save from Tim Howard in the Everton goal denied them the equalizer despite the deflection off of Welbeck.
Just seven minutes later, the defending English Premier League Champions went level with a brilliant header from Wayne Rooney. Rooney got on the end of a cross from Nani, heading it down into the ground where it bounced out of the reach of Howard and into the back of the net. Despite being marked by Phil Neville, Rooney was able to beat the former United defender to the ball and put a powerful header past the goalkeeper. United were in a good position to get a second in the 43rd minute, but Nani’s shot that followed a patient buildup went wide of the target. Welbeck also came close to the target in stoppage time, but his header wasn’t on the mark like Rooney’s and went wide. At half time, the two sides were level with a goal each as they went into the locker rooms at Old Trafford.
United were quickly defending in the opening minutes of the first half. Everton won a corner in the sixth minute but it was put out of play for a throw in. The home side attempted to counter but their efforts were easily broken up by the Everton backline. Evra and Nani were the strongest attackers by far for Manchester United as they pushed for the match winner. They were able to penetrate the Everton defense at times but their play was often broken up when one carried the ball too far. Welbeck’s goal in the 56th minute seemingly came out of nowhere at Pienaar was caught in possession by Valencia, who put a long cross in. The ball was knocked around the box before it fell to the young Englishman’s feet. He very calmly took a touch into space and then launched a powerful, curling shot right under the crossbar and into the top corner of the net.
Fueled by the 2-1 lead, United began pressing the Everton goal. With just four minutes gone from Welbeck’s goal to give United the lead, Nani added to the scoreline with a cheeky chip over Howard. The play was lovely as well as Welbeck put an effective through ball at the feet of the Portuguese winger, who was able to pop it over Howard’s head and into the back of the net. David Moyes responded with a substitution, taking off Osman and replacing him with McFadden.
The visiting side settled into a good passing rhythm as they tried to find another goal to put them back into the game. By the 65th minute they had a majority of the possession. egoal, much like Welbeck’s, came out of nowhere and was a spectacular finish. The Belgian striker met Hibbert’s cross on the volley and slammed it past De Gea, claiming a valuable goal for Everton. Pienaar nearly added to the scoreline minutes later, but De Gea was ready this time and made the save. Everton were now responding much like United had at the other end, picking the home side’s defense apart. Rooney opened up the Everton defense with an attempt but his shot rolled harmlessly into the gloves of Tim Howard.
Wayne Rooney got his second goal in the 68th minute after United won the ball back from Everton in their own half. A good dummy and then return ball from Welbeck meant that Rooney could make a dangerous run into the box away from pressure, collect the pass and place it into the bottom corner. Everton knew they were in need of yet another goal now and tried to push forward and keep possession. They were able to break through the midfield of the home side quite easily, but lots of their shots went astray. United hit the woodwork in the 81st minute as time began to dwindle and the pressure began to mount for both sides. Everton needed a goal, United needed to keep them at bay to secure a win.
The pressure doubled on United and was slightly eased for the visitors in the 82nd minute when Jelavic came running into the box to catch a deflected header from Fellaini on the half volley and slam it past De Gea on the ground. Only a goal separated Everton from a point now and they were not ready to back down. The equalizer came from Steven Pienaar with his second goal of the game off of a fantastic assist, much like the rest of them in the fixture, and an equally dramatic finish as he slid in to put Fellaini’s pass into the back of the net.
The equal scoreline brought a nervy end to a well-matched and well-played game, as did the five minutes of stoppage time. United made the most promising last-minute efforts on goal, but Everton were ultimately able to keep them at bay to bring home a hard-earned point and to make the title race much more interesting. Everton remain in seventh place and United in first, however the pressure on the defending champions has increased after Manchester City earned a clear victory against Wolves. They now trail Manchester United by just three points, which means that the Manchester derby on March 30th will be the match to make or break the seasons of the Manchester sides.