Barclays Premier League 2010/11 – Everton 3 United 3
United conceded twice in injury-time to somehow allow Everton a point, after the Reds had seemingly sewn up victory at Goodison Park.
Darren Fletcher quickly cancelled out Steven Pienaar’s opener for the Toffees, before second-half goals from Nemanja Vidic and Dimitar Berbatov put United in a commanding position.
Tim Cahill’s header in the first minute of injury-time appeared nothing more than a consolation, but Everton continued to press and took a share of the spoils when Mikel Arteta drilled home a loose ball deep inside the United area.
Sir Alex Ferguson, who omitted Wayne Rooney from his squad, would have been left mystified by his side’s late lapses in concentration after defending capably for much of the match and spurning several chances to tie up victory.
Rio Ferdinand was also absent, while Antonio Valencia and Chicharito missed out after their midweek international exertions. That prompted the deployment of Dimitar Berbatov as a lone striker, flanked by Ryan Giggs and Nani and supported by a three-man central midfield of Fletcher, Paul Scholes and John O’Shea. As the Irishman shunted forward, Gary Neville returned at right-back in an otherwise unchanged defence.
Everton’s team selection betrayed the spate of injuries that had claimed the majority of their striking department. Yakubu was only fit enough to make the bench, while Louis Saha missed out entirely, provoking David Moyes’ selection of Marouane Fellaini and Tim Cahill as his side’s roving focal points.
Makeshift or not, the hosts flew out of the traps and pegged United back for the best part of 10 minutes. Everton hassled and harried, giving the Reds no time to savour possession, and it some sturdy defending to repel the hosts’ aerial bombardment and scrap feeding.
The woodwork also chipped in to keep the Toffees at bay. After Neville had blocked Pienaar’s run towards the area, Mikel Arteta’s subsequent 25-yard free-kick clipped the top of Edwin van der Sar’s crossbar and bounced to safety.
The Everton playmaker was soon involved again. After another sustained spell of possession from the hosts, Arteta cleverly shimmied past Scholes, but his drilled left-footer thudded against Jonny Evans’ chest and behind for a corner.
Having largely ridden out Everton’s early flurry, the Reds’ first sustained spell of pressure almost yielded the opening goal. The hosts failed to properly clear a United attack, and O’Shea cracked the loose ball against the outside of Tim Howard’s post from 25 yards.
As the half wore on, Berbatov’s wandering repeatedly caused consternation for the home defence, while United’s massed midfield ranks were quick to offer support wherever possible, with Neville and Nani particularly keen to sling in crosses
Although there was a scare when Leighton Baines wastefully screwed a half-volley wide, United began to turn the screw. Former Reds goalkeeper Howard twice thwarted his former employers: magnificently sticking out a leg to divert Scholes’ free-kick over the bar after a wicked deflection off Baines, then turning away Giggs’ right-footed effort at close quarters.
The significance of those stops became apparent when, from the corner which followed Giggs’ chance, Everton broke and took the lead. Arteta pounced on a missed bicycle kick by Evra and bore down on van der Sar. Although the Dutchman denied the Spaniard in a one-on-one, Leon Osman displayed tremendous awareness to slip the loose ball to Pienaar, and the South African slotted his side into the lead they just about deserved, even if it had come amid United’s best spell of the half.
Nevertheless, having built up momentum, United were of the mindset to hit straight back and parity was restored within four minutes. Nani took advantage of non-existent pressure from Pienaar and Baines to curl a magnificent cross between Howard and his defence, and the onrushing Fletcher was on hand to volley home his third goal in as many seasons against Everton.
Incredibly, the Reds almost snatched the lead before the interval. Giggs picked out Berbatov with a raking cross, and the Bulgarian’s magnificent stretching volley skidded fractionally past Howard’s upright. United wouldn’t have to wait long to take the lead, however.
Less than two minutes of the second period had elapsed when Berbatov’s shot was deflected off target by Sylvain Distin. Nani’s subsequent corner was cleared to Scholes, who picked out the winger with an impishly poked pass, and Nani crossed superbly between Distin and Cahill to find skipper Vidic, who glanced home his first goal of 2010.
Although Everton’s response was plucky, United withstood their pressure manfully, with Vidic and Evans repelling anything airborne and Fletcher, O’Shea and Scholes dropping deep to pick up the leftovers. As Everton toiled and kept an increasingly high defensive line, United were able to pick them off.
Nani’s scuffed low shot was kept out by Howard, but the American was left completely exposed by his defence on 66 minutes. Scholes’ superb 50-yard pass exposed Distin’s poor positioning, and Berbatov’s immaculate first touch compounded it. The Bulgarian then caught Howard cold by taking an early shot with the outside of his right boot and putting United two goals clear.
Having superbly turned the game on its head, United’s gameplan was simply to contain and counter; which yielded further opportunities. Scholes, Berbatov and Nani all fired off-target from presentable openings, while in normal time Everton came no closer to reducing the deficit than when van der Sar comfortably clutched a poked Osman effort.
In injury-time, however, the game underwent a stunning transformation. First Cahill rose to thump home a header from Baines’ left-wing cross then, as United retreated, another Baines cross landed at the feet of Arteta, and the Spaniard smashed in a leveller.
So swift was United’s collapse, that time remained for both sides to attack again. A United corner was cleared, allowing Everton to break, but referee Martin Atkinson sounded his final whistle just before Phil Jagielka forced a smart save from van der Sar – much to the ire of David Moyes.
Given the manner in which his side conceded two points, one suspects Sir Alex Ferguson’s mood would have been significantly darker. – by Steve Bartram
Short URL: http://www.myxpitstop.com/?p=1211