Everton fightback blows title race open
Everton twice battled back from two goals down to snatch a remarkable 4-4 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford that boosts Manchester City's hopes of clinching the Premier League crown. United are now only three points ahead of City, who have a superior goal difference of +6 over their rivals.
A Manchester United team that featured no Ashley Young, who has been at the centre of a diving row in recent weeks, were punished for a laboured start when Nikica Jelavic broke the deadlock. The Croat, a huge success since joining from Rangers in January, conjured a fine, looping header over David de Gea after beating Rafael to Tony Hibbert's back-post cross.
But the Toffees led for just over five minutes before Wayne Rooney, formerly of Everton, nodded in a terrific left-wing cross from Nani at close range. United made a similarly sluggish opening to the second period, yet a moment of magic from Danny Welbeck just before the hour edged them ahead.
Welbeck, 18 yards out and in the centre of goal, curled the ball into the top corner after Antonio Valencia's cross was not properly cleared by the Everton rearguard. And the England international had a say in United's third, flicking the ball into the path of Nani, who clipped over Tim Howard following an incisive passing move.
That strike had seemingly sapped the fight from Everton, but they pulled one back when Marouane Fellaini, surprisingly untroubled by United defenders, volleyed in from ten yards. United had been carving through the visitors' backline before that, however, and again they repeated the trick to restore a two-goal cushion: Welbeck passing through Phil Jagielka's legs for Rooney to produce the easiest of finishes.
Jelavic kept Everton alive, volleying in a flick-on from Fellaini, then the Belgian again turned provider to tee up Steven Pienaar who, ghosting into the area, slotted past De Gea. United pushed hard for a winner, with Rio Ferdinand drawing a fine save from Howard, but it was not to be.
Manchester City then had to complete their job by beating Wolves to ensure they can move back to the top of the Premier League if they beat United in eight days' time. They did just that, and improved their goal difference column, with a 2-0 triumph at Molineux that sent Wolves down.
Roberto Mancini had been maintaining that his side were not in the title race, despite starting the day only five points adrift of the leaders, but he will have to change his view after goals from Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri.
The Italian's refusal to acknowledge his side's chances of a first top-flight crown since 1968 almost certainly was borne out of the fact that his City side appeared to choke when they last had control of the title race. And, having been given a lifeline by Everton, they endured some nervy moments early on at Molineux - with Sebastien Bassong and David Davis going close for the home side.
In a surprisingly open first half Carlos Tevez and Nasri both had chances for City, but it was the effervescent Aguero who kept getting into goalscoring areas, scoring with his third effort at goal. Gael Clichy was the provider was a fabulous pass that arced beyond the final defender, allowing Aguero to latch onto the ball and slot past Dorus De Vries.
Wolves have, at times, collapsed after conceding this season, but they remained a genuine threat in the contest, forcing Joe Hart into another full-stretch save from Steven Fletcher in the second period. It took until the 74th minute for City to wrap up the points, Nasri converting after Tevez's slide-rule pass.
Liverpool could also have benefited from Everton's result, but they did not capitalise on the Toffees' failure to pick up three points as they were beaten 1-0 by West Brom. Baggies boss Hodgson returned to Anfield for the first time since he was axed by the Reds following a poor spell at the club, and he was afforded a warm reception by the Kop.
Kenny Dalglish did not include Steven Gerrard in his matchday squad, with Jamie Carragher and Stewart Downing both on the bench, but there was a return from suspension for Pepe Reina.
The Reds enjoyed the majority of the possession and looked the more likely to score throughout, but they had to wait until the 50th minute to truly threaten Ben Foster in the West Brom goal. Glen Johnson did all the hard work down the right, and when the ball fell to Jordan Henderson 20 yards out he crashed the ball off the underside of the bar.
Liverpool's misfortune with the woodwork has been well-documented this season, and they hit it again in the second half, this time Dirk Kuyt the unfortunate man. The red tide kept coming as Jay Spearing saw a shot cleared off the line, and the sucker punch inevitably came when Peter Odemwingie capitalised on Johnson's mistake to beat Reina.