Manchester United’s top-four hopes skidded after an underwhelming 1-1 draw with Everton on Tuesday, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 94th minute penalty salvaging a point for the Red Devils in their English Premier League fixture at Old Trafford.
Prior to the game, Jose Mourinho had gone on the record to stat if results against Everton and Sunderland (up next) didn't go in his favour, he would start to focus on the UEFA Europa League.
And after Tuesday, the Portuguese will be even more inclined towards the continental competition, with his side showing plenty of desire but not enough craft to nab the much-needed three points.
Zlatan returned from a three-game suspension to start at centre forward and had Jesse LIngard and Marcus Rashford in support on the wings. Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera also returned from his suspension to start alongside Michael Carrick and Maruoane Felllaini as United looked to cut the gap between themselves and fourth-placed Manchester City to two points.
Paul Pogba was deemed fit enough to make the bench, but it was Luke Shaw’s presence in the dugout which brought a sigh of relief for the United faithful. The left back had been under severe public criticism by Mourinho and after some clear-the-air talks with his manager, seems to have won a way back into the side.
Everton, having suffered a catastrophic Merseyside Derby defeat on the weekend, brought in Kevin Mirallas and Gareth Barry as manager Ronald Koeman switched back to a familiar 4-3-3 formation.
United dominated the early exchanges and should have gone ahead but Ibrahimovic delayed his shot and allowed the backtracking Ashley Williams to make a superb block. Lingard was next to squander an opportunity, shooting well wide from distance after being afforded time and space to pull the trigger.
The Toffees made the Red Devils pay for their profligacy, with Phil Jagielka scoring a goal most strikers would have been proud of in the 22nd minute. Ashley Williams’ flick on from a corner had found him near the back post with Marcos Rojo for company and with his back to the goal, his options seemed limited. The veteran defender then surprised everyone with a deft back-volley which went between David de Gea’s legs before the Spaniard could even react.
Stung by the goal, United looked to equalise immediately and went close on two occasions before the interval. First, Daley Blind sent in a brilliant free kick which looked destined for the top corner but a sprawling Joel Robles managed to make the save and Herrera could only manage to graze the bar on the rebound from a narrow angle. The Spaniard then went close for the second time when he let loose a venomous left-footed shot from distance but Robles was equal to the task and parried the shot away for a corner.
Mourinho sent on Pogba in the second half as United were desperate to find an equaliser and the Frenchman came close, his header crashing off the bar in the 55th minute with Robles well beaten for once.
Overall, United looked laborious in attack and needed a bit of luck to get the equaliser deep into injury-time. Luke Shaw, on for Ashley Young, didn't get the cleanest of connections on his volley from the edge of the box but it seemed to be going in before Ashley Williams struck a hand out. Referee Neil Swarbrick promptly sent off the defender and awarded United a penalty which was cooly converted by Ibrahimovic, to give United their 12th draw of the season.
United remain in 5th place, four points behind Manchester City but are now in danger of going sixth should Arsenal beat West Ham on Wednesday. Everton can now finally lay their top-four ambitions to rest as they are in seventh place, level on points with Arsenal but have played three games more than the Gunners.