A pulsating 4-4 draw between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford allowed Manchester City to close the gap at the top of the Premier League table to three points following a 2-0 win at Molineux as Wolves were relegated. Intriguingly, City can now go ahead of United on goal difference if they win next Monday’s Manchester derby at Eastlands.

The game at Old Trafford was a fascinating encounter in which a combination of spectacular goals and poor defending contributed to what will be remembered as a Premier League classic. Everton dismissed any fears of their season fading away following their demoralising defeat to Liverpool in last week’s F.A. Cup semi final as David Moyes’ side started the game strongly. The Blues’ superiority paid off when Tony Hibbert launched a ball deep into the United box to find Nikica Jelavic unmarked at the back post for the Croatian to instinctively guide ball past David De Gea from the tightest of angles. The goal finally sparked the hosts into life and just as they did last week, Everton looked nervous in defending their lead. The inevitable equaliser came when Nani’s cross was met by Wayne Rooney in the 6-yard box, who nodded home after Phil Neville had miss-timed his jump to leave Tim Howard stranded.

Jelavic opened the scoring with a fantastic headed effort

United began to dominate the game early in the 2nd half whilst playing some scintillating football in the process as Everton struggled to deal with the mounting pressure on their goal. United’s second came in fortuitous circumstances though as Phil Neville and Darron Gibson failed to effectively clear a loose ball on the edge of the box, the ball found Danny Welbeck who curled a shot brilliantly into the top corner. Everton were aggrieved that the referee had not stopped play in the build up to the goal however, as Stephen Pienaar lay inactive and in need of treatment after a collision with Antonio Valencia. Referee Mike Jones ignored Pienaar’s injury to let play go on, a decision that infuriated David Moyes as a Jonny Evans injury had seen Jones blow his whistle in the first half with Everton in a good attacking position.

To add to Everton’s sense of injustice United were able to exploit Sylvain Distin’s deployment at left-back as a result of Leighton Baines’ absence through injury. Welbeck was awarded the freedom of Old Trafford to set up Nani who rampaged through Everton’s left before exquisitely chipping the ball past Tim Howard to double United’s advantage. Everton refused to feel sorry for themselves and continued to push for a goal, their hard work was rewarded when Hibbert sent another excellent cross into the United box to find Marouane Fellaini, who smacked the ball past De Gea to reduce the deficit.

Everton’s revival was to be short-lived though as Rooney combined well with Welbeck before restoring United’s two-goal margin. The hosts sensed blood and continued to come forward in numbers, Evra’s diving header hit the post as Everton scrapped to prevent a United fifth. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were to pay for their over-exuberance though as Everton revelled in attacking the empty space left by United’s search for the decisive goal. Jelavic gave Everton hope as he capitalised on a mix-up between Evans and Rio Ferdinand to dispatch the ball into the bottom corner before Stephen Pienaar completed a miraculous comeback with a cool finish following Fellaini’s pass deep in the United box. The openness of the game at 4-2 will undoubtedly enrage Sir Alex Ferguson as Everton thrived on United’s needless insistence on emphasising the result, a foolish game to play at this crucial stage of the season.

The stage was then set for Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City to put their fate back into their own hands with a win at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wolves shown plenty of effort throughout the game but their ultimate lack of Premier League quality meant that City were able to coast to a 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri. Aguero had his reflexes to thank for City’s first, brilliantly sweeping home whilst off-balance following an excellent ball from Gael Clichy. Nasri’s cool finish with 15 minutes left on the clock all but condemned Wolves to relegation as City put themselves right back in contention for a first league title since 1968.

Wolves face tough times ahead as their demise cruelly coincides with an expensive redevelopment of their Molineux stadium, a process that would have been undertaken with Premier League survival considered as a necessity. It is this type of short-sightedness from the Wolves board that has cost them a realistic chance of staying up and the decision to sack and subsequently fail to replace Mick McCarthy correlates with Wolves’ failure to win a Premier League game since early February. City meanwhile will be relishing the opportunity to put themselves back on top of the table after their recent resurgence as next week’s game at Eastlands looks set to be possibly the most important Manchester derby for over forty years.

Mark Bradford

[image credit: telegraph.co.uk]