Man Utd 4, Everton 4
Call it a pundits’ paradise, a title showdown or the most important ever Manchester derby, but there is no disguising the significance of next Monday’s clash between City and United at the Etihad Stadium.
Instead of closing in on their 20th top flight championship, Manchester United tossed the initiative back into City’s court by throwing away a two-goal advantage twice at Old Trafford.
The Blues grasped the opportunity with a 2-0 win at Wolves.
When City host United next Monday, a home win will leave the Blues top of the table thanks to a vastly superior goal difference.
In their last two games of the campaign, United are at home to Swansea before travelling to Sunderland, while City go to high-flying Newcastle before entertaining relegation-haunted Queen’s Park Rangers.
The Reds put their supporters through the full gamut of emotions with the worst saved for the end.
Magnificent goals were interspersed with defending which would have caused deep embarrasment to a schoolboy team.
Anyone who may have thought Everton’s FA Cup semi-final defeat by Liverpool would leave them with a Premier League hangover was way off the mark.
They had tested United goalkeeper David De Gea well before they beat him for the first time in the 33rd minute.
Tony Hibbert’s cross from the right saw Nikica Jelavic leap above Rafael Da Silva at the far post to send his header looping back across goal past De Gea and into the net.
United were level seven minutes later.
Luis Nani’s cross from the left was met perfectly by Wayne Rooney when he sneaked in between Phil Neville and Phil Jagielka to head the ball into the net from six yards.
The first half seemed almost subdued to the events after the interval.
United were out of the traps like a pedigree greyhound.
In the 57th minute, Nani worked the ball to Danny Welbeck courtesy of an Everton deflection. The England striker took a step forward, checked and curled a glorious shot into the top left corner of the net from the edge of the box.
United’s third goal on the hour was of an equally high quality.
Nani worked a superb one-two with Welbeck on the right corner of the Everton penalty area before chipping the ball beyond goalkeeper Tim Howard and into the net from eight yards.
The Reds gave their visitors a glimmer of hope six minutes later.
Hibbert was again given total freedom on the right to find Marouane Fellaini unmarked 10 yards out on the near post and he scored with a crisp volley.
But United restored their two-goal advantage three minutes later with another classic goal.
Welbeck’s dummy left Everton defenders floundering when he ran on to Antonio Valencia’s pass from the right.
Rooney collected the ball, played a fine one-two with Welbeck and scored with a low shot from eight yards – his 26th league goal of the campaign.
It could have been five after 81 minutes, but Patrice Evra headed Rafael’s right-wing cross against the far post from close range.
But there was to be a mighty sting in the tail for United.
With seven minutes of normal time remaining, United’s defence went to sleep.
Neville’s cross into the penalty area saw both Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans go for the ball with Fellaini on the right side of the box.
The ball came off the Everton man and Jelavic stroked it home from eight yards.
United’s defenders were again culpable a minute later .
Neville this time found Fellaini on the left side of the penalty area and he knocked it back for Steven Pienaar to score with a shot from close range.
There was drama in the last of five minutes of injury time when Ferdinand popped up in the Everton box to fire in a shot which was well tipped over by Howard.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said: “For us to score four goals at Old Trafford and not win is unbelievable.
“We scored some fantastic goals, but it was a bad defensive performance.
“It will be the most important Manchester derby game we have played next Monday and we have to go there and get a good result.”
Everton boss David Moyes said: “We lost a big game last week and we were determined to show people that our season is not over.
“We did not deserve to be two goals down and we decided to get at them. We came here to win.”