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Battle lines are drawn

ROLL on April 30. Get ready for a manic Monday in Manchester next week: City versus United, noisy neighbours versus the champions, Carlos Tevez versus Wayne Rooney at an all-ticket, all-chanting Etihad.

It is not over yet. Far from it. This title race is back on, thrillingly so, after an astonishing twist yesterday.

All eyes were first on Old Trafford for the 12.30pm kick-off. The Theatre of Dreams has been the stage for many great comebacks but rarely one that saw the script rewritten as spectacularly and significantly as this. Trailing 4-2 with seven minutes remaining, Everton were inspired by the immense Marouane Fellaini, hair and shoulders above everyone else, to hit back, take a point and shred the nerves of United fans.


The final whistle sounded like a starting gun for the last stretch of the title race. Attention then turned to Molineux for the 4pm kick-off. When Roberto Mancini's side duly defeated Wolves 2-0, United's lead was down to three points. City, boasting a +6 goal difference advantage over their rivals, go top if they win at the Etihad.

Mancini's mind games are paying off. The man from the land of Machiavelli kept saying that the race was run, that United were unmatchable, so cleverly taking the pressure off his own players, who relaxed and refound their early-season brio. You will win nothing with kidology? Mancini aims to prove otherwise.

All of a sky-blue persuasion will be indebted to those in royal blue yesterday. Fellaini particularly deserved huge praise for an unstinting 90-minute shift. By the end, Ferdinand and Evans were drawn inexorably to Fellaini like lovelorn moths to an old flame, suffering real pain.

This was a tale of United defensive weaknesses as well as Everton defiance. A back line containing Ferdinand, Evans and Patrice Evra should not be guilty of naivety but they were, so wasting the superb work of their forwards, Danny Welbeck and Rooney. How they missed Nemanja Vidic.

Some of United's attacking had been sublime, the ball flying between receptive feet as Welbeck struck once and Rooney scored twice, taking his United tally to 180 goals from 362 games and taking him ahead of George Best and Dennis Viollet into fourth in the club's all-time scoring list. Jack Rowley (211), Denis Law (237) and Bobby Charlton (249) lie ahead.

Rooney's former club started stronger. David Moyes's tactics bemused United, the Everton manager fielding Fellaini in a more advanced position just behind Nikica Jelavic. After 33 minutes, Fellaini linked with Steven Pienaar, who found Darron Gibson. On the move went, Gibson working the ball to the excellent Tony Hibbert, whose cross was masterful. Jelavic had lost Ferdinand and Evans, peeling away to the far post, where only little Rafael was in attendance. No contest. Jelavic, jumping confidently, directed a looping header back across David de Gea: 0-1.

The fuse was lit on a firecracker of a match, one of the best of the Premier League season. United were affronted, storming back and equalising. Michael Carrick hooked a loose ball wide to Evra, who invited Nani to cross. Phil Neville failed to track Rooney, who had a split second to reach Nani's excellent delivery and glance a header past Tim Howard: 1-1.


Controversy briefly entered this marvellous match after 57 minutes. When Pienaar fell injured, Mike Jones waved play on and United seized full advantage. Nani set up Welbeck, who curled a shot past the diving Phil Jagielka and Howard: 2-1.

Moyes was furious. Frustration briefly coursed through blue veins. Neville dived in on Welbeck.

The England striker recovered quickly, soon involved in a wonderful flowing move that led to Nani's neat lifted finish on the hour: 3-1.

An enthralling game was now turning into a classic. Hibbert whipped in another cross to Fellaini, whose timing and technique were marvellous, the ball volleyed expertly past De Gea: 3-2. United responded. Rooney's understanding with Welbeck was seen again. A quick one-two and Rooney was through, sidefooting in: 4-2.

All seemed well at Old Trafford but Everton refused to go quietly, inflicting the sort of late punishment on United that the champions have done so often to others. Jelavic pounced for 4-3 before the roller-coaster had one final twist as Pienaar equalised at the near post for 4-4.

Everton then defended like lions. Fellaini headed clear a Nani free-kick.

Jagielka, bristling with determination, was first to a Rooney cross. Then Howard tipped over Ferdinand's volley. Game over.

Title race on.