Just when you thought Manchester United had run out of ways to draw a game of football!
After four successive home games in which they have played some stylish football, often dominating feckless opponents, only not to deliver in front of goal and end with a string of draws to show for it, the visit to Everton looked set to bring the huge sigh of relief they were due as they led 1-0 in the late stages.
Yet a penalty concession in the final moments by substitute Marouane Fellaini undermined what had been done on a Sunday afternoon which was as niggly and tense as it was ultimately frustrating for the red hordes who had travelled down the East Lancs Road.
While the Toffees were equally belligerent and just as uninspiring, United came so close to securing a vital three points thanks to a bizarre goal from the enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In a performance which had otherwise served up a number of examples for those who choose to doubt the Swede’s immense worth to a team, the big No.9 provided what looked like the telling moment of the game when lobbing a bizarre winner shortly before half-time.
As Maarten Stekelenburg raced out to meet Anthony Martial’s ball forward, Ibrahimovic got there first and lofted over the Dutchman’s head, off the crossbar, then the post and finally the line before it was eventually deemed to have escaped Ramiro Funes Mori’s clearance.
But it would count for only as much as every other United goal in the league of late thanks to the intervention of Fellaini. Brought on for the final five minutes, the Belgian’s first telling contribution was to react slowly to Idrissa Gueye’s turn in the box and pull down the Everton midfielder. It was the second penalty conceded by Fellaini this season – only Phil Jagielka has given away more – and earned him his sixth yellow card. No bad for a man who has appeared in only 11 matches.
Leighton Baines did the rest from the spot, and Mourinho was left wondering what he has to do to lead United to victory. Perhaps throwing on a ticking time-bomb in place of Henrikh Mkhitaryan – probably his most effective player once more – would be a start.
The bad news doesn’t end there, with Ibrahimovic possibly facing retroactive action for his backheel kick to Seamus Coleman’s head after the two came together early in the first half. Marcos Rojo’s earlier two-footed lunge at Gueye should itself have seen a red card and lengthy ban but Michael Oliver’s yellow card saved him from further censure.
Yet despite all that, United were hanging on to a huge three points until Fellaini repaid Mourinho’s faith with a ridiculous foul which left them with the all-too-familiar share of the spoils. How many more ways will United fine to make a mockery of their assault on the top four?