Pienaar spoils party as United throw it away


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The Independent Online

The Stretford End sang for Sir Alex Ferguson to wave to them and someone held up a sign announcing the arrival of the club's 20th league championship. At Manchester United there is an old belief that when the title race is reaching its crucial stage their team has what it takes. But to see them lose a two-goal lead twice in one game is to invite disbelief. Modern United teams have made their reputation by exhibiting those characteristics of defensive discipline and sheer bloody-mindedness and yet there was precious little of that yesterday.

United's title-winning seasons can be tumultuous but it is rare for them to throw away a winning position. United attacked like champions but defended like Wolverhampton Wanderers. If they can toss away the advantage at Wigan or at home to Everton then what does that say about their capacity to win at the Etihad Stadium a week today?

The chief worry for Ferguson was a defence which seemed to diminish with every Everton goal, culminating in Steven Pienaar's equaliser on 85 minutes in which Rafael Da Silva simply stopped when he should have been tracking the South African's run.

The performance of David Moyes's team should not be overlooked. They took a first-half lead and were unfortunate not to go in for half-time a goal up when Wayne Rooney scored his first goal four minutes before the break. Marouane Fellaini was outstanding for Everton. Nikica Jelavic scored twice to make it eight goals since he signed in January from Rangers.

That said, Everton were fortunate that the referee did not spot a blatant foul by Leon Osman on Rafael on the edge of the Everton area after 38 minutes. It looked a penalty. By then, Jelavic had scored his first goal with a back-post header which prompted a United response as Rooney equalised.

United came out strong after half-time and took a 2-1 lead with a beautiful finish by Danny Welbeck. On the hour, Nani chipped the ball over the keeper for 3-1. Everton scored to make it 3-2 on 67 minutes, a volley from Fellaini. But Rooney restored the two-goal advantage two minutes later, taking him to 180 goals and fourth place on the club's all-time goalscorers' list.

Patrice Evra then hit the post. But almost immediately Everton scored themselves as Jelavic swept home a loose ball. Finally, Pienaar ran on to Fellaini's pass through the United defence for his team's equaliser.