“Today was a chance to play in another big game and stop people thinking our season was over. I don’t think at any time we deserved to be two goals down.” DAVID MOYES was thrilled with his side's spirit.
“It was a bad performance by us, they were soft goals, yet some of our football was magnificent and our forward play didn’t deserve that. Their goals were very soft, easy, no challenges on their goals. That’s unusual for a team going for a championship; you should see the game out." ALEX FERGUSON refused to give Everton credit for the quality of their comeback.
IT WAS the surreal weekend that giants roamed the city – and just down the M62 Everton proved that they too could achieve the downright improbable.
Whether it was the ridiculous angle of Nikica Jelavic’s opening header, the implausible feat of bouncing back so quickly from their Wembley heartache, or the head-scratching moment they registered four goals at Old Trafford for the first time in 26 years – this was the sort of game you had to pinch yourself afterwards.
Never mind what it did for the title race – Everton took inspiration from the hardy souls who ran the London Marathon, to prove that if you keep going through the pain barrier ultimately there are rewards.
The Toffees were everything they were not on that depressing day in the capital. Bold, carefree, adventurous and unbowed in adversity. If only David Moyes could turn the clock back, and somehow coax his men to approach their FA Cup semi-final in this thrilling fashion.
Despite taking the lead through goal machine Jelavic in the first half, it seemed like normal service would be resumed when Manchester United clicked into gear and surged into a 4-2 advantage with just over 20 minutes left.
But they reckoned without the type of stirring comeback many doubted Everton had in them, after the Liverpool defeat effectively killed their season.
The Blues simply refused to know when they were beaten, and kept attacking a United defence which at times belied their lofty ambitions with some hazardous defending.
Even when Marouane Fellaini, who was tremendous in an advanced role, neatly volleyed the deficit back to just one goal, few would have believed the visitors would really go and score another.
But score they did, when another fast-flowing attack saw Fellaini tee up Steven Pienaar to send the away end into raptures. It was poetic justice that the little South African should have the final say, after referee Mike Jones allowed play to continue when he lay injured in the second half and United took the lead.
Nobody would have argued, Pienaar had slipped and there was no misdemeanour from a player in red, except Jones had earlier halted the game when a United player was down and Everton were counter attacking.
Typical deferent refereeing at Old Trafford perhaps, but there was nothing otherwise typical about this game.
The pre-match talk had focused on Everton’s inability to win in the Red Devils’ back yard in 20 years, and coupled with the setback last Saturday, few were expecting much to raise morale short of a plucky defeat.
Yet Moyes’ men started like they meant business, and registered the game’s first shot on target, as Jelavic was set free by Leon Osman, but the Croatian’s tame effort did little to concern David De Gea.
In reply Nani bent a curler from the edge of the area wide of Tim Howard’s far post, as the Champions started to wake up.
And they went closer when Patrice Evra’s deep cross was headed just off target by an unmarked Wayne Rooney.
Yet Fellaini was bossing things, becoming increasingly influential in that attacking role, and United old boy Darron Gibson gave De Gea a fright with a pile driver from 20 yards which was inches wide.
It signified Everton’s defiant mood, and then along came an even bolder declaration. Tony Hibbert crossed superbly and Jelavic got easily ahead of his marker at the far post, Rafael Da Silva, to score.
If only the former Rangers man had joined in the summer he might be in double figures by now, although who would rule out that feat being achieved before May 13?
It didn’t take United long to hit back. Everton dropped a bit too deep, and United typically exploited the extra space, as Nani crossed and Rooney darted across Phil Neville to bury a close range header.
Distin, who deputised commendably for the injured Leighton Baines, was laughably booked just before the break for simply daring to shoulder barge Antonio Valencia.
Whatever Alex Ferguson said in the home changing room at half-time worked. United were far slicker, as Danny Welbeck capitalised on the match official’s double standards to score a fine goal.
It started to get ominous when Everton were torn asunder by razor-sharp passing soon after, as Carrick orchestrated and Welbeck swapped passes with Nani, who lifted a deft finish over Howard.
Game over? Fellaini thought otherwise, as he superbly volleyed Hibbert’s cross past De Gea to give Everton hope.
But at the back, the reshuffled defensive personnel couldn’t live with United’s movement and passing, as Welbeck found Rooney and the former Evertonian converted his second.
Even Ferguson afforded himself a valedictory wave to the home fans at that point, but somehow Everton found a response that stunned everyone. First United’s comical defending allowed Jelavic to rifle home another typically ice-cold first time finish, and then came Pienaar’s sucker punch.
Five minutes of injury time seemed designed to gift United a winner, but Tim Howard saved superbly from Carrick and the Blues held out to send their travelling support heading home in high spirits.
Who knows why they can perform on some big stages and not others? The Blues also must learn to flourish in games when the pressure is on, and they can’t fly under the radar as under-dogs.
But nevertheless this was a display to savour, which showed Everton have no intention of limping to a mediocre finish.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): De Gea, Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evra (Capt), Evans, Carrick, Valencia (Hernadnez, 89), Nani, Scholes (Jones, 86), Rooney, Welbeck.Not used: Amos, Giggs, Smalling, Park, Young.EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard, Hibbert, Distin (Cahill, 83), Jagielka, Neville (Capt), Fellaini, Gibson, Heitinga, Osman (McFadden, 64), Pienaar, Jelavic. Not Used: Mucha, Stracqualursi, Gueye, Barkley, Anichebe.GOALS: , Rooney 41, 69, Welbeck 57, Nani 61; Jelavic 33, 83, Fellaini 66, Pienaar 85. CARDS: Booked – Distin, Neville, Evra.REFEREE: Mike Jones.ATTENDANCE: 75,522.Not used: Amos, Giggs, Smalling, Park, Young.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard, Hibbert, Distin (Cahill, 83), Jagielka, Neville (Capt), Fellaini, Gibson, Heitinga, Osman (McFadden, 64), Pienaar, Jelavic. Not Used: Mucha, Stracqualursi, Gueye, Barkley, Anichebe.
GOALS: , Rooney 41, 69, Welbeck 57, Nani 61; Jelavic 33, 83, Fellaini 66, Pienaar 85.
CARDS: Booked – Distin, Neville, Evra.
REFEREE: Mike Jones.