LIVERPOOL, September 11 – Everton staged an extraordinary stoppage time fightback to snatch a 3-3 draw against a Wayne Rooney-less Manchester United at Goodison here Saturday.United seemed to be cruising to victory with only three minutes of injury time remaining but the home side then pulled off a superb transformation with goals from Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta stealing a point.
Everton had gone 1-0 up through Steven Pienaar before United hit back with goals from Darren Fletcher, Nemanja Vidic and Dimitar Berbatov but Sir Alex Ferguson’s men were left stunned by the game’s thrilling conclusion.
Following allegations about his personal life, speculation had been rife as to whether United’s Wayne Rooney would return to play against his former club.
However, United manager Ferguson, celebrating his 700th Premier League game in charge, decided not to pick him for the contest — a decision that appeared to have paid off as his team surged into a 3-1 lead.
Earlier, Pienaar had squandered two openings while a fine Arteta free-kick clipped the top of the crossbar as Everton put United under pressure in the opening exchanges.
United offered very little in response until John O’Shea rattled the edge of the post with a rifled effort after 15 minutes.
Everton still had the majority of the possession but did not do enough with that possession to really hurt the visitors, who were intent on absorbing the pressure and trying to break on the counter attack via Ryan Giggs and Berbatov.
After 32 minutes a last-ditch Vidic block prevented Marouane Fellaini from side-footing home and Leighton Baines then blazed over when perfectly placed as Everton continued to waste chance after chance.
Shortly after that opportunity, Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard was wrong-footed by a deflected Paul Scholes’s shot but still managed to stick a boot out and divert the ball over.
Howard came to the rescue four minutes later when Darren Fletcher beat Johnny Heitinga down the right wing and found Giggs but the winger could not beat Howard who stuck a hand out to superbly deny him.
Everton then went straight up the other end and finally made their possession count as Pienaar gave them the lead.
However, the lead lasted less than five minutes as Nani found space on the right wing and lazy marking from Everton’s defence allowed Fletcher to ghost in to tap past the helpless Howard.
That was the start of United’s comeback as just two minutes after the interval Vidic became a further recipient of woeful Everton defending as he was left unmarked by Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin to nod in Nani’s cross.
With 24 minutes left United looked home and dry as Berbatov capitalised on a Distin error to have a clean run on goal and slot home for 3-1.
That appeared to be game over but there was a nasty sting in the tail for United as firstly Cahill nodded past Edwin van der Sar.
With the Goodison crowd baying for an equaliser, Arteta duly delivered as he thrashed home from 16 yards to even it up.