Manchester United 1 Everton 1: United fail to convince

A good weekend for Jose Mourinho, whose team are now 12 points ahead of United, who have played one game less. A miserable five days for Sir Alex Ferguson who called upon his team to banish the horror of defeat to Benfica but could only watch as another trophy seemed to slip further from his grasp. Boos resounded around Old Trafford at the final whistle for a team who now trail Liverpool, in second place, on goal difference.

They were, in the words of their manager, "all hurting", but Sir Alex Ferguson did nothing to punish a United team that failed to make the knockout stages of the Champions' League last week because, it appears, he trusts those he has in reserve even less. Defeat to Benfica was one of the most disastrous results in his club's recent history but Ferguson made, by choice, only one change from the team that failed that night.

The omission of Ruud van Nistelrooy was enforced, he is suspended, but other than that it was John O'Shea, replaced by Kieran Richardson, who paid the price for last week's defeat. There were simply no other alternatives for Ferguson although after eight minutes he may have considered any option preferable to the back four that crumbled in the face of Everton's only second significant attack.

There had been a warning on four minutes when Mikaël Silvestre was forced to block James Beattie's shot from close range. On eight minutes, Kevin Kilbane came down the left wing and moved across the United area. It was there that Leon Osman intervened, redirecting the play from off Kilbane's toes and back to the left where James McFadden smashed a shot from an awkward angle past Edwin van der Sar.

It was a calamitous re-run of all that had gone wrong in Lisbon and for a few minutes United struggled to regain their composure. That they managed to strike back so promptly was only down to the brilliance of Paul Scholes, whose passing from midfield looked like United's most dangerous option. On 16 minutes, he struck a long ball into the path of Ryan Giggs, who beat the offside trap and touched the ball past Richard Wright.

Wayne Rooney left Goodison Park 16 months ago but his exit still smarts. Contrasting his reception from the away support to Old Trafford's warm welcome for Phil Neville will have been a depressing moment for the 20-year-old should he really care about what his former club feel about him. The impression is that he does not and Rooney gleefully tore off his gloves after the equaliser to make a hushing gesture to the Everton fans.

Rooney was still United's surest route to goal, turning on Scholes' pass before the equaliser but having his shot palmed out by Wright. A header from a Giggs' cross in the 37th minute stretched the Everton goalkeeper as United asserted at the end of the first half.

Park Ji-Sung then tore in from the right only to lose his footing. Gary Neville was an unfamiliar presence in the United area with a volley from Louis Saha's flick that Wright had to save.

The fragility of United's defence has been Ferguson's greatest concern of late, but by the mid-point of the second half there did not seem a department on the pitch - in either team - that was not stretched to its very limits. One place above the relegation zone, before last night, but with a record of four wins from the last five matches, Everton evidently still believed that they could win this one too.

When the away support were not concentrating their invective upon Rooney, they sang the name of United's departed captain Roy Keane - half, it seemed, as an invitation to him, half in mockery of their hosts. Their most impressive player apart from the graft of Phil Neville was McFadden, who mastered Kieran Richardson and made the kind of runs in from the flanks which United found difficult to handle.

It was the Scottish winger and Kilbane who broke on 65 minutes against Richardson, and the Irishman timed the release of the ball perfectly to allow McFadden to bear down on goal - his rising shot was stopped by Van der Sar. There was more attacking invention from David Moyes' team than from United and it showed in Ferguson's substitutions as he threw on Cristiano Ronaldo and the American Guiseppe Rossi as time dwindled.

Ferguson was also obliged to take off Alan Smith with 15 minutes left after another baffling performance from the converted midfielder. The progress he appeared to have made against Chelsea was undone by another succession of self-destructive tackles that really should have seen him dismissed.

Referee Rob Styles waited as long as possible before booking him for a challenge on Simon Davies and was even more lenient not to then send him off for a lunge at Phil Neville.

Saha, starting his first game in eight months, won a free-kick on the edge of Everton's box in injury-time and Wright had to be equal to Giggs' curling free-kick. But the last chance went to Everton and had the substitute Marcus Bent been more confident about his pass as he tried to pick out the unmarked Duncan Ferguson, this would have been an even worse week for the United manager.

Goals: McFadden (8) 0-1; Giggs (16) 1-1.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Richardson (Rossi, 79); Park (Ronaldo, 64), Smith (Fletcher, 74), Scholes, Giggs; Rooney, Saha. Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Brown.

Everton (4-4-2): Wright; Hibbert, Yobo, Weir, Valente; Osman, Neville, Davies, Kilbane; McFadden (Bent, 80), Beattie (Ferguson, 86). Substitutes not used: Turner (gk), Kroldrup, Li Tie.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Bookings: United: Smith. Everton: Weir

Man of the match: Phil Neville.

Attendance: 67,831.

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