Monday, April 23, 2012

Coming Unstuck: Manchester United 4 - Everton 4


Everton begin the game on the front foot, denying United easy possession in their own end, and pressing the ball as if they are impersonating a certain team from Catalonia. United respond with a catalog of errors and miscues, surrendering the ball time and again, which leads to a number of chances for the visitors in the contest's opening ten minutes.

Nani appears one of the few Reds awake for the early Sunday kick off, cutting in from his left hand position to test Everton 'keeper Tim Howard. Paul Scholes offers a long-range bomb that misses the mark as the home side finally engages the opposition after fifteen minutes has passed.

Half way to the interval and the statistics show United with 54 percent of the possession -- but statistics can lie. Everton have had the majority of the game's true opportunities and United have been wasteful with the ball. Danny Welbeck bears the brunt of much of the early frustration, dribbling into crowded situations and reliably popping up at the post opposite from the one at which crosses are being directed.

Nikica Jelavic opens the scoring for the visitors, directing his header off Tony Hibbert's cross well beyond David De Gea's grasp for a deserved opener for the visitors, and the flat home side have no one to blame but themselves.  Paul Scholes' impression of Darren Gibson nearly equalizes minutes later, tipped by three bodies during its trip through the box, but Tim Howard's extended foot keeps the ball from hitting the back of the net. It's none other than Wayne Rooney who does equalize five minutes before the break, nodding Nani's cross past Howard to haul the Champions back to level terms.

In truth, United are fortunate to head to the locker room tied at one, and the only person who's had as poor a half as the home team is the man in charge of the proceedings, Referee Mike Jones -- failing to recognize an ankle stamp on Evans, a clear foul on Rafael in the box and much more on his way to dishing out only a solitary yellow card.

It's more of the same from the home side to begin the second half, their movement devoid of fluidity and rhythm, and at times appearing flat and unmotivated. Just when the patience level has rached its breaking point, things change: Danny Welbeck makes the most of a ball that Everton are unable to clear, opening his shoulders and steering the ball past an outstretched Howard for a 2-1 United lead. A sniff of the lead sends United running rampant, the Champions surging forward like an unchecked ocean tide in search of another goal.

Welbeck tees up Nani in the box, the Portuguese wideman casually flipping the ball over Howard for a third straight unanswered goal, and the second in the space of five minutes. United appear to have hit a gear to which Everton are momentarily unable to respond.  But Everton's fighting spirit can't be denied, and they display a response that makes David Moyes proud: the game not over yet, Marouane Fellaini pulling one back, knocking in a knee high volley from yet another dangerous Hibbert cross.  The Champions respond to the unexpected Everton haymaker as only Champions do -- Rooney to Welbeck, and back again for a fourth goal, and the two goal cushion restored.

Evra bangs the frame with a header in the 81st minute, and if it's at this moment that the Reds appear at their imperious attacking best, it's in the very next one that the game reveals a final twist in the tail. Jelavic pulls back another goal as Everton refuse to say die, causing their Manager to applaud wildly and a collective groan to ripple through Old Trafford. When Steven Pienaar equalizes, it's not wholly unexpected, such has been the wild swing of moods on the afternoon, and the goal is met with a grim determination by the home fans who have now been through the wringer.

Although Chicharito is introduced for Valencia in the 88th minute, the move fails to spark the home side, who have defended shoddily and twice surrendered a two goal advantage at home. It's the first 4-4 draw witnessed at Old Trafford in over 40 years, and it's not the kind of history Sir Alex will enjoy making. The result puts a ton of pressure on the men in Red heading into next week's derby, a game which will answer the question of whether or not United has come unstuck at exactly the wrong time of the year.

This is farlieonfootie for April 23.

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