Sir Alex Ferguson was left counting the cost of Manchester United’s failure to beat Everton at Goodison Park after Marouane Fellaini’s header canceled out Darren Fletcher’s opening strike.
United seemed set to close the gap on Premier League leaders Chelsea to just three points when Fletcher fired the reigning champions ahead during a one-sided first half yesterday.
But Fellaini’s second-half header secured only Everton’s second home point of the season and brought an end to the run of six straight victories by the reigning champions that had prompted the United manager to claim his side were back in control of the title race.
With Chelsea due to face joint leaders Liverpool at Stamford Bridge today, this was a chance for United to increase the pressure on the top two.
But with Wayne Rooney out of sorts and missing out on the chance to claim his 100th career goal against his former club — he was taken off in the 71st minute by Ferguson in what seemed a bid to pre-empt further trouble after the striker provocatively kissed his United badge after being booked — the visitors paid the price for failing to finish the game off when in total control.
In the end they had cause to be grateful for a point, as Everton improved dramatically to fight back during a thrilling second period.
United had looked on course for a routine win during a memorable opening 45 minutes in which Ryan Giggs played a starring role.
With Fletcher supporting Giggs, Everton quickly lost any foothold they may have had in the game and United were able to attack at will.
United’s complete dominance, though, appeared to deprive them of their urgency in front of goal and instead of going for the kill after Fletcher’s superbly taken 22nd minute opener, they were guilty of over-elaboration.
Predictably it was Dimitar Berbatov and Cristiano Ronaldo who showcased the most flicks and feints at the expense of delivering the quality final ball that would have brought more reward.
Halftime couldn’t come soon enough for David Moyes’ side and it was to the manager’s credit that Everton emerged for the second period transformed.
At times Everton’s more robust approach stepped over the line, most tellingly when United old boy Phil Neville’s thunderous challenge left Ronaldo flat out, earning the home skipper a yellow card and sparking an ugly melee.
But Moyes’ men largely kept their composure and were rewarded in the 63rd minute when Neville’s cross was met by Fellaini’s towering header, the Belgian claiming his second goal since his £15 million (US$24 million) move from Standard Liege.
The momentum was clearly with Everton and they should have been ahead 60 seconds later when Yakubu burst into the United box and saw his shot deflected onto the post by Edwin Van der Sar’s leg.
Then, having been forced onto the back foot for most of the second period, Ronaldo had a great chance to clinch victory two minutes from time, but his miss summed up Ferguson’s frustration.
At the Stadium of Light, Kieran Richardson ended Sunderland’s 28-year wait for a home victory over Newcastle United with a 75th-minute free-kick.
Sunderland went ahead in the 20th minute when Djibril Cisse lunged with his right foot to steer in Steed Malbranque’s misdirected shot.
But the lead only lasted 10 minutes, with Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi, unmarked at the far post, heading in Geremi’s free-kick.
“We deserved it and played some good stuff,” Sunderland manager Roy Keane said.
Sunderland could face repercussions after their fans came onto the pitch to celebrate the victory.
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