United let City close gap

MANCHESTER UNITED (4) vs EVERTON (4)

Ferguson expects derby to decide title after wobble

MANCHESTER United manager Sir Alex Ferguson admits next week’s derby at Manchester City will be the biggest of his illustrious career after a late collapse against Everton flung the title race wide open.

United were 4-2 up and coasting with less than 10 minutes remaining at Old Trafford yesterday, thanks to two goals from in-form Wayne Rooney and superb finishes by Danny Welbeck and Nani.

But Nikica Jelavic smashed his second of the game and Steven Pienaar netted an 85th-minute equaliser as United let two points slip through their fingers in the latest twist to a tortuous Premier League campaign.

City’s win at Wolves later yesterday means they will reclaim top spot if they beat United on Monday, prompting Ferguson to confess he had never encountered a more pivotal derby.

“Yes, definitely,” he said. “We’ve given them the initiative, there is no doubt about that. It makes the game at the Etihad a really important game – a decider really. There has been an expectancy from City that it could zzbe their decider, but it’s our decider too.”

United have taken just four points from their last three games, compared to City’s nine, and Ferguson did not hide his disgust at the way his team squandered victory.

“Their goals were really soft,” the Scot added. “It was a travesty of a result in some ways, but we made it difficult for ourselves.”

Jelavic silenced Old Trafford by heading Everton into the lead after 33 minutes, but Rooney responded by nodding home Nani’s left-wing cross and three United goals in 12 second-half minutes looked to have settled the contest.

Welbeck curled a fine effort into the top-right corner before playing in Nani to dink over Tim Howard. Marouane Fellaini’s volley cut the deficit but Welbeck cleverly teed up Rooney to slot another instantly.

Seven minutes from time Jelavic reacted first to a loose ball to drive a third for Everton and moments later Pienaar prodded the fourth – and ensured a blockbuster derby.