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A thriller at Old Trafford

Everton threw a monkey-wrench into Manchester United’s title hopes today, coming from two goals down in the last ten minutes to secure a famous 4-4 draw at Old Trafford, Manchester United’s home ground. That result means that Manchester United leads second-place Manchester City by only three points (the equivalent of one full game, in American terns) with three matches to go. Moreover, Manchester City still has a game with United (at City’s ground) and possesses a better goal difference. Because goal difference is the tie-breaker, City will almost certainly dethrone United if it can win its next three matches.

Frankly, I’m surprised that Manchester United is ahead of Manchester City at all. On paper, City seems the superior side, and this impression is reinforced by their superior goal difference (plus 60 vs. plus 53) and by City’s 6-1 thrashing of United at Old Trafford in October. At that time, and for quite a while thereafter, it looked like City might well run away with the crown. However, it’s a long season, and City finally slumped in March. Meanwhile United kept grinding out results, as it manages to do year after year.

And that’s what makes the 4-4 draw with Everton so shocking. If Everton had parked the bus in front of United’s goal and squeaked out a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, no one would have been terribly surprised. But David Moyes elected to play an open match. Our attack was up to it, but with Leighton Baines missing, United eventually ran rampant on the right side and, on the strength of Wayne Rooney’s second goal, took a 4-2 lead in the 69th minute.

Manchester United simply doesn’t relinquish leads like that in crucial matches, especially against low-scoring outfits like Everton (we’ve scored 42 in 34 matches, less than half of United’s output). But we’re not such no-hopers in front of the goal since we added Nicolas Jelavic in the winter. The Croatian Sensation has averaged basically a goal a game since becoming a starter, and today he netted two. His second, in the 82nd minute brought us within a goal. Two minutes later, Steven Pienaar tied the match.

But Everton’s biggest hero was Mo Fellaini. The big-haired Belgian (whose parents are Moroccan) scored Everton’s second goal and helped create the next two. In addition, he must have covered every inch of Old Trafford today, winning headers in both boxes, winning the ball in midfield, and breaking up United’s attacks all over the park.

The draw leaves Everton in seventh place, but with no real chance of moving into sixth and thereby qualifying for European competition next year. Our typical slow start, during which our forwards could not score, did us in once again. Evertonians are left to wonder what might have been, had Jelavic been on the team all season.

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