Backs to the wall as injuries eat away increasingly at his options (No Rodwell, Anichebe, Saha) David Moyes resorted to the old gauard for the visit of Manchester United, with Cahill up front on his own and Arteta playing in a more forward role. And after all the hoopla in the media,... no Wayne Rooney.
Everton continued the attacking dominace of teh Aston Villa game with a blistering onslaught in the firts 10-15 mins, but United withstood the pressure and went on to have the better chances until a little before half-time. A United corner was defended away and Cahill, wide right, resorted to Route One, scoping the ball up toward Arteta who tokk the ball well, beating Evra and scampered on to fire at Van der Sar but he blocked it out to Osman who's controlled pass gave Pienaar just enough time to slide the ball intelligently under the avaning golakeeper and into the United net for a wonderful lead. A smart breakaway goal, that took just 28 seconds from United's corner at the other end.
But the lead was short lived, Baines at fault leaving Nani acres of space on the Everton left and his cross flew past Heitinga where Fletcher advancing behind him had the easiest of tasks to slot it past the stationary Howard
Second half had hardly started and United were ahead through another ssimple goal, a cross defended poorly and Vidic with a free header from in fairly close drove his header into the ground and past Howard into the net.
A strange shoulder barge from Heitinga on Giggs earned him a yellow card, then Nani caught Pienaar for a frree-kick that Arteta did nothing with. But Utd now had the lead and were able to sit on to an extent while Everton went into huff-and-puff mode. Pienaar got in a shot from the edge of the area but nothing Van der Sar could not handle.
United broke down the Everton left, Berbatov beating Distin too easily on the half-way line and galloping on to beat Howard easily
Another long ball beat Distin and Berbatov took it forward to beat Howard for the third goal. Dithering Dave finally changing the plan, bringing on Yakubu and Coleman far too late, with almost 70 minutes gone, to make any difference, Hibbert and Heitinga the ones to make way.
Baines took over free-kick duty and came very close to scoring, curling the ball just past the post, with Van der Sar well beaten.
Coleman put in a great ball for Cahill on the far post but he was leaning backwards and could not control it. Meanwhile, Everton looked vulenerable in defence, Scholes scooping high and wide from a strrong position.
Osman and Yakubu did well to creat a chance in a cowded area but Osman, all alone, scuffed his shot horribly. As Everton pushed forward, wwwide open sapces were appearing when United attacked, and the pattern of the game became increasingly depressing for Everton, the lack of off-the-ball movement when they did have possession just a painful indictment of their attacking naivety.
The standard stuff actually paid off in added time, Baines putting in a nice cross and Cahill powering home a great header. Then on the next attack, the ball came back to Arteta, who drove it ferocialously onto the corner of the net.. 3-3!!!
United rallied and Distin almost caused a problem at the other end, getting in Howard's way, but the ball came out to Pienaar and a sweeping movement looked for all the world like a winning goal but incredibly Atkinson blew the final whistle with the Blues swarming forward in attack, Jagielka's shot too close to beat Van der Sar. David Moyes was on the field, absolutely livid that the attack had not been given a proper chance before the game ended. It looked suscoisouly like Atkinson had not added any more time for the goals, but Everton had really left it far too late.
Still, a point clutched from the jaws of defeat.
Plus Ça Change... That was the overriding theme running through the head as another demoralising match against Manchester United was petering out into what seemed to be its inevitable conclusion. In full, that old French lament muses that the more things change, the more they stay the same and at 3-1 down in the second half, that just seemed to sum up not just the game and a fledgeling Premier League campaign that looked stillborn, but David Moyes's tenure at Goodison Park as a whole.
Two midfielders deployed as forwards, Tony Hibbert and Leon Osman in the starting XI, unforgiveably sloppy goals conceded and, of course, a heavy home defeat to the Blues' nemesis of the modern era, United... it was all just a horrible case of deja-vu, not helped by two more Gallic facets to the equation — the absence through injury of Louis Saha and some stunningly awful defending by Sylvain Distin.
But then, that finale... what a finale! As unexpected as it was redeeming and both exhilirating and then sickening in equal measure, it saw Everton do what is almost the unthinkable against Sir Alex Ferguson's men and score twice in stoppage time. But when the unimaginable was unfolding before the eyes of those optimistic souls who had stuck around to the bitter end, referee Martin Atkinson intervened to remind us all that only so much insubordination against England's elite can be permitted.
With Blue shirts streaming forward in the last attack of the game, the official blew his whistle as Everton approached the visitors' area and called time on an attack that might have yielded the shock of winning goal, a refereeing intervention that virtually everyone watching, neutral, Blue and red alike, knows would not have happened had it been Manchester United on the ball at Old Trafford. They don't call it Alex Ferguson Time for nothing...
The take-away from this thrilling 3-3 draw, though, is what it says about Moyes' Everton. Defensively, as they have showed in all four of their League games so far, they can be shambolic, and they shot themselves in foot three times this afternoon to first throw away a hard-earned lead and then gift United a two-goal cushion. Schoolboy marking — indeed, "marking" would be a generous description of Marouane Fellaini's total dereliction of duty for United's second goal— ceding too much space down the left, and vulnerability to the ball over the top all directly contributed to a 3-1 deficit by the 66th minute.
Going forward, despite having more strikers on the books than at any time in Moyes's time at Everton, Tim Cahill was deployed as a lone striker, presumably on the premise that he would be sufficiently supported by the midfield, but poor shooting by all four midfielders — in particular three moments that, unfortunately, exposed Osman's lack of composure and ability with the goal at his mercy — threatened to doom the manager's strategy.
And then there were Moyes's decisions themselves, not least the one to leave both Yakubu and Jermaine Beckford on the bench and play a starting XI with no strikers. Presumably a lack of fitness influenced the decision regarding the Yak and a lack of faith in Beckford is the answer where he is concerned, the fact that the ex-Leeds man has barely had a goalscoring chance to speak of so far was obviously not enough to earn him an opportunity.
But then, despite all of those challenges that may yet prove an insurmountable obstacle to their Champions League aspirations, the Blues still found that strength of character and indefatigable resolve that they often draw on to come back from the dead.
For the first 30 minutes, then, you had the schizophrenic notion that it didn't look as though any of that was going to matter and yet all of that was going to matter. For while the Blues completely dominated the opening half hour, the goal they deserved didn't come and, with a history of conceding the first goal to United, that didn't bode well at all.
From the first minute, Everton were in purposeful mood and Steven Pienaar set the tone for a fine personal performance by getting the first shot off, one that deflected behind from a corner that Mikel Arteta would eventually waste before dinking another effort across the face of Edwin van der Sar's goal.
A minute later, after Gary Neville hasd fouled the South African outside the penalty area, Mikel Arteta clipped the top of the crossbar with a direct free kick. The fact that the Spaniard would go on to score the equaliser at the death atoned in large measure for his regular failings from dead ball situations for the remainder of the game, but in open play he had some really pleasing moments, not least when he jinked smartly past John O'Shea's lunging tackle and fired goalwards, only to see shot deflect off Johnny Evans for a corner. The resulting kick fell to Pienaar and when his effort was blocked, Osman ballooned the inviting rebound into the Park End.
The visitors eventually got some relief from Everton's early siege with their first real attack after a quarter of an hour and O'Shea came within inches of pulling something spectacular from his hitherto unknown box of tricks when he arrowed a long-range shot off the outside of the post.
Cahill and Fellaini then swept poor efforts of their own well over the crossbar from the edge of the box before Leighton Baines was presented with as good a chance as he might get all season when Evans glanced Hibbert's cross into his path but he scuffed the shot off his studs and it dribbled behind for a goal kick.
It was at that point that the pendulum started to swing back, United visibly moved out of first gear and were one miracle intervention by Tim Howard away from taking the lead just past the half-hour mark. Hibbert was harshly adjudged to have fouled Nani just outside the box — even though he got the ball — and with the Blues' defence completely negligent of the threat, the Portuguese winger simply rolled it sideways into an ocean of space for Paul Scholes to drive hard through the crowd of players. His shot deflected off Baines and looked destined for the net until Howard stuck up a foot and diverted it up over the bar. A stunning save.
Still the Blues looked shaky at the back and when Darren Fletcher got past John Heitinga with embarrassing ease down the right and found Ryan Giggs with a square ball, Howard again sprang into action, this time with a superb one-handed save. Fletcher's side-footed attempt to tuck it inside the near post was deflected behind by Distin and when the resulting corner drifted out to Cahill on the far side, he cleared towards the centre circle where, under normal circumstances, there is never a Blue jersey when defending a corner.
Arteta, though, had anticipated the possibilities and when Patrice Evra missed completely with an attempted overhead kick, the Spaniard raced away to go one-on-one with Van der Sar. With the angle closed down and a defender for company, his low shot was easily blocked, but when Osman kept his head and knocked it forward to Pienaar, the Everton no. 20 calmly slotted it under the 'keeper's body to give the home side the lead six minutes before the break.
Clearly, the one focus now was to keep the lead going into half time, but the Blues were ahead for just four minutes. Standing off him a good 10 yards, Baines allowed Nani far too much time and space to whip in a deep cross — the same cross that gifted Wolves their goal here three weeks ago and West Ham their equaliser back in April — that Fletcher turned past Howard from close range. 1-1 and back to square one at the interval, although a sublime volley by Dimitar Berbatov almost sent United in ahead but it flew past the far post.
The second half was barely two minutes old when United were gifted the lead, though. Berbatov took advantage of yet more open space in front of the Everton defence to carry the ball forward and unleash a shot that deflected behind. From the corner, with motionless Blue shirts all around him, not least Fellaini who had taken his eye off proceedings completely, Nemanja Vidic had the simple task of nodding home unmarked.
Clearly Everton have as many defensive problems as they do up front at the moment and when Osman was put in superbly by Pienaar just before the hour mark, he miscontrolled and a gilt-edged chance with just Van der Sar to beat was lost.
2-1 down, not much working going forward and though the likes of Seamus Coleman, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Jermain Beckford had been warming up, Moyes's bench was devoid of activity. Pienaar had a shot saved by Van der Sar and Arteta wasted a free kick when Evans fouled Osman wide on the Everton right but it was United who looked the more likely to score, particularly 20 minutes into the half when Distin committed himself to a challenge with Berbatov and missed, allowing the Bulgarian to once again stride on goal and set up Nani who was foiled by Howard's one-handed save.
Two minutes later, though, it was 3-1 when Distin lost another duel with Berbatov, allowing the striker to race onto a nicely-weighted ball over the defence and beat Howard with aplomb with a low shot off the outside of his boot.
It looked "game over" at that point. Not helped by a near total lack of protection from the referee, Cahill had barely won a thing in the air and it was hard to see where an Everton goal would come from, though Osman did test Van der Sar with a shot from 10 yards that the Dutchman managed to block with his knees and a defender cleared the danger.
Finally, with 21 minutes to go, Moyes made two changes, throwing on Coleman and Yakubu in place of Hibbert and Heitinga and both changes gave United much more to think about than had previously been the case. Indeed, Evra was forced into a strange rugby-style dive to trip Coleman just outside the area, Baines missing from the resulting kick by an inch, before Cahill mistimed his jump and could only send a deep cross by the Irishman looping across goal and wide.
Excellent work by Yakubu shortly afterwards should have brought Everton back into with 12 minutes left, though, but, having impressively held off three defenders and served it on a plate for Osman, the midfielder fluffed his lines from close range and Van der Sar was able to save his lame shot with ease.
Then, with the game just ticking over into injury time, Baines whipped in a cross from the left, Cahill rose with typical timing and height and buried a header into the roof of the United net. It seemed to be merely a consolation but when Baines hoisted in another ball from the same place a couple of minutes later and the ball dropped off either Cahill or O'Shea in front of Arteta, the Spanish midfielder whacked it off Scholes' arm and past the 'keeper to send Goodison into incredulous delirium.
Somehow, Everton had come back from 3-1 down in almost the blink of an eye and Ferguson sat on the visiting bench dumfounded but there was a bit more drama to come in the final minute of added time. Miscommunication between Distin and Howard contrived to gift United a corner but when it was cleared and a clutch of Blue shirts raced out of defence sensing one final opportunity, the referee blew his whistle and ended the contest. Moyes flew off his bench and launched a verbal tirade at Atkinson, but it was obviously to no avail.
Sometimes these last-gasp draws can feel like victories but for some reason, this one feels like a defeat. The fact that we've taken just two points from the first 12 probably and we threw away a lead today have a lot to do with that, as do the concerns over the defensive frailties that makes this Everton side look so different to that which looked so impressive in the second half of last season.
Hopefully, just as Phil Neville's thundering tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo in this fixture a couple of seasons ago is attributed to galvanising the squad into transforming their season, the injury-time heroics at Goodison this afternoon can provide the spark that lights the fuse on this campaign.
It might also require some courage from the manager, though. In the pre-match build-up, Moyes expressed how he wants his team to match the likes of United this season but, despite the scoreline, there was plenty here to suggest that there is still a pretty sizeable gap between the two teams, not least in quality, depth of talent and tactics. Moyes will hopefully have seen how much more effective and threatening his team was when Yakubu and Coleman were on the pitch.
Last year's stirring victory over United was not won with conservatism and yet the inclusion of Hibbert and Osman was predictably safe. In fairness, Hibbert had a typically sound game and didn't really put a foot wrong and it was Osman's speed of thought that served up the first goal for Pienaar but Coleman provided an added dimension down the right and Osman passed up three great chances where a better player would probably have done better.
It's criminal how Everton still don't have a reliable goalscorer or any pace or flair on the right flank but Moyes has to deal with the cards that he has and they're almost the same as those which yielded top-four form after December last term so he knows the ingredients are there...he just has to get them working in harmony again and quickly.
Howard 9, Hibbert 7 (Coleman 7), Baines 8, Jagielka 8, Distin 5, Heitinga 6 (Yakubu 7), Fellaini 6, Arteta 8, Osman 6, Pienaar 9, Cahill 7
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