Phil Jagielka produced his first Premier League goal in 703 days but his timely strike wasn't enough as a gutsy Everton display full of heart and grit was denied by an injury-time penalty at Old Trafford.
The Everton captain’s 22nd-minute improvisation looked to have consigned Manchester United to a rare home defeat, the first since a 2-1 league loss to Manchester City last September, 37 games ago in all competitions.
Yet when Ashley Williams inadvertently handled a goalbound shot two minutes into injury-time - being shown a red card as a result - Zlatan Ibrahimovic stepped up to preserve the Red Devils’ run and deny the Blues in cruel fashion.
For Ronald Koeman, it was a continuation of his hoodoo over Jose Mourinho. He has never lost a game against the Portuguese and was all set to become the first manager in Premier League history to win three consecutive away games at Old Trafford.
Given that the Toffees had scored in just five of their previous 12 visits to Old Trafford in the Premier League, with four of their eight goals in that period coming in the 4-4 thriller in April 2012, this was a night of considerable import, not least as it could have propelled the Blues to fifth place in the Premier League table with seven games remaining. Instead, they remain seventh, level on points with Arsenal above them and three behind this evening’s hosts.
The Everton manager made two changes from the team he had selected at the weekend. Gareth Barry and Kevin Mirallas came in and Matthew Pennington and Dominic Calvert-Lewin dropped to the bench.
“We know Old Trafford and Manchester United can be impressive but it’s still 11 v 11 and you have to show your quality on the pitch. Don’t be afraid, we know they are struggling at home - why can’t we make it difficult for them?”
Mourinho’s team had not lost, however, in their previous 19 Premier League games (W10 D9), the former Chelsea manager’s best run since October 2005. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic in such form, too, it was an assignment for Koeman and his team which was packed with danger.
The main threat, Zlatan, emphasised his potency early, breaking through into the penalty area in the fifth minute and only Ashley Williams, who cleverly stayed on his feet before making a perfectly-timed tackle, denied the United striker a close-range effort on goal.
Williams epitomised the effort of his side. This was a defiant Everton team, making tackles, taking on Mourinho’s men, being brave. Style and verve supported the steel. Barry played in a delightful ball for Mirallas who tested David De Gea after bringing down the ball on his chest and firing in a low right-footed shot to the goalkeeper’s near post which he managed to scramble away for a corner. Jagielka was primed for his big moment.
Leighton Baines took the corner kick, Williams sent a looping header goalwards and Jagielka, from a seemingly impossible angle, stuck out his right foot to squeeze the ball past Marcos Rojo and De Gea and into the net. The Everton supporters celebrated joyously. The team set about its task of digging in for the challenge that lay ahead. Protecting a lead here would be fraught with difficulty. But they were up to the challenge.
From a Daley Blind free kick about 25 yards from goal, Joel Robles produced an outstanding save, managing to scramble the ball away as he fell into the side netting, hurting himself in the process. Ander Herrera followed up sharply and his shot from a tight angle thundered against the crossbar and rebounded to safety. And when Rashford broke through at the end of the half there was Jagielka again with another huge act of resistance, timing his challenge to perfection and denying the Manchester United forward, much to the delight of the travelling support to the left of the Everton goal.
Mourinho’s response was to swap Blind for Paul Pogba at half-time. Mirallas fired a shot from range which De Gea saved, diving to his right. The challenges flew in thick and fast, no quarter given. Mason Holgate and Ashley Young squared up to one another just in front of their respective managers. Rashford was taken down by Barry on the left wing. Young and Barry were booked. Young took the free kick and, from Lukaku’s flicked-on header, Pogba directed a header powerfully but against the crossbar. Twice United had been thwarted by the woodwork.
De Gea saved from Barry’s header and the Everton fans roared on their team to a valiant finish. United thought they had found a way back into the game when Zlatan found the net with a close-range header from Herrera’s cross but the Swede was marginally offside and the assistant linesman put up his flag immediately. Robles came under pressure again from Zlatan and managed only to palm the ball down towards Marouane Fellaini but the former Blue blasted his shot over the crossbar.
United kept probing. Everton remained resistant. Pogba slung in a cross from the right which Rojo headed over. At the other end, Ross Barkley broke into the United penalty area and his low cross just evaded a touch of finality from Idrissa Gana Gueye. When Lukaku thundered down the right flank and outpaced Rojo, it required a last-ditch tackle from Eric Bailly to deny the Belgian.
Barkley made way for Calvert-Lewin as the clock ticked down; Koeman trusting more youth from the bench in such a delicately-poised scenario.
Yet when Luke Shaw’s volley was sailing on target, Williams dived to block the ball but made contact with his arm. A red card shown, a spot-kick awarded. As impressive as Robles had been, Ibrahimovic does not miss many penalties.
And so the points were shared between Manchester and Merseyside – but although Everton didn't come away with a win, they did with plenty of credit for a spirited showing.