EVERTON FC produced a stunning fight back to hold title chasing Manchester United to a 4-4 draw in a scintillating encounter at Old Trafford.
The Blues seemed dead and buried after Alex Ferguson’s side surged into a two-goal second half lead, but late goals from Marouane Fellaini, Nikica Jelavic and Steven Pienaar pegged the hosts back.
David Moyes’ men had taken the lead after a vibrant start, but when Wayne Rooney equalised there was a feeling of the inevitable as any hopes of a first win at Old Trafford in 20 years dwindled.
However, the Toffees ensured the title race will remain a going concern and proved their own momentum has not been ruined by the crushing FA Cup semi-final defeat by Liverpool at Wembley, with their breath-taking show of defiance.
They had 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.
Then Osman unleashed a low rasping effort across the face of goal, as the visitors set the more urgent early pace.
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.
But Everton were giving as good as they got, and next Phil Neville’s canny back post delivery was met by Sylvain Distin, although the Frenchman couldn’t steer his header on target.
And after more end to end play, when Marouane Fellaini became increasingly influential in an advanced role, 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 with an improbable header.
United were dismayed, but might have equalised within minutes when Paul Scholes’ low drive was almost deflected past Howard.
It didn’t take them long to hit back. Everton dropped deep, and United typically exploited the extra space, as Nani crossed and Wayne Rooney darted across Phil Neville to bury a close range header.
Distin was booked just before the break for seemingly daring to shoulder barge Antonio Valencia, and Evra was carded after the interval for a similar non-offence.
Whatever Alex Ferguson said in the home changing room at half time worked. United were far slicker, and when Mike Jones failed to stop play as Steven Pienaar lay injured, the hosts scored courtesy of a tremendous Danny Welbeck effort.
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 of the game.
Credit to the Toffees they kept attacking, and Fellaini again did well to win the ball back in United’s area and feed Jelavic, who skewed his first-time shot wide.
The game seemed over as a contest, but somehow Everton found a response few thought them capable of producing. First United’s comical defending allowed Jelavic to rifle home another first time finish, and then Neville fed Fellaini, who turned neatly and fed the on rushing Pienaar
Five minutes of injury time seemed designed to gift United a winner, but Tim Howard saved superbly from Carrick, and the Blues held out for a wonderfully pulsating draw which sent their following heading back up the M62 in high spirits.
EVERTON: (4-2-3-1) Howard, Hibbert, Distin (Cahill, 83), Jagielka, Neville (Capt), Fellaini, Gibson, Heitinga, Osman (McFadden, 64), Pienaar, Jelavic.
Subs not used: Mucha, Stracqualursi, McFadden, Gueye, Barkley, Anichebe.
Bookings: Distin, Neville.
Goals: Jelavic (33, 83) Fellaini (66), Pienaar (85)
MANCHESTER UNITED: (4-4-2) De Gea, Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evra (Capt), Evans, Carrick, Valencia (Hernadnez, 89), Nani, Scholes (Jones, 86), Rooney, Welbeck.
Subs not used: Amos, Giggs, Smalling, Park, Young.
Goals: Rooney (41, 69) Welbeck (57) Nani (61)
Ref: Mike Jones