MANCHESTER: Manchester United’s struggle to achieve a top-four finish continued on Tuesday as Zlatan Ibrahimovic came to their rescue with an added time penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw against Everton in their Premier League clash at Old Trafford.
Manager Jose Mourinho had to preside over another disjointed United display which ended with Ibrahimovic netting his 16th league goal of the season on his return from suspension to take their unbeaten run to 20 league matches.
At the other end of the table, Sunderland moved closer to what seems almost inevitable relegation, beaten 2-0 at Leicester City whose new manager Craig Shakespeare could celebrate a fifth successive league win since taking over from Claudio Ranieri.
Mourinho was left bemoaning the loss of more valuable points after a ninth league draw at Old Trafford this term bore all the now familiar hallmarks of blunt finishing mixed with misfortune.
The result left United in fifth place on 54 points, four points behind rivals Manchester City, who currently occupy the fourth and final Champions League qualifying spot. Mourinho felt United had suffered more bad luck as Ibrahimovic also had a 71st minute headed effort ruled out for the most fractional of offside decisions.
“For me it wasn’t an offside,” the Portuguese told BT Sport. “Some guys are suffering (from lack of confidence) a bit,” he also conceded, while praising his side’s effort.
In a dramatic finish, a goal-bound shot from Luke Shaw-a welcome response from the England defender to Mourinho’s recent criticism of him-was handled on the line by Ashley Williams, who was shown a straight red card before Ibrahimovic tucked away the 94th minute spot kick.
Before then, though, it had looked as if seventh-placed Everton were about to leapfrog United in the table on goal difference when a rare and deft Phil Jagielka goal gave the visitors a first-half lead.
England centre back Jagielka showed the predatory instincts of a goal poacher, latching on to Williams’ header from a 22nd-minute corner and, with back to goal, holding off Marcos Rojo to conjure a shot that trickled between keeper David de Gea’s legs.
Jagielka’s first goal this term prompted an urgent response from United, with Ander Herrera’s effort striking the bar, but even with Ibrahimovic back in the team, United were blunt, with Paul Pogba also heading against the bar after the break.
“Did we have chances? Yes. Did we hit the post as always? Yes. Did the keeper play well against us as always? Yes. Did a decision go against us? Yes,” Mourinho said.
Leicester’s sixth straight win in all competitions under Shakespeare with second-half goals from Islam Slimani and Jamie Vardy completed a miserable day for Sunderland boss David Moyes.
Earlier on Tuesday, Sunderland had offered support to Moyes while also saying comments that he made to a female BBC reporter after his team’s defeat at the weekend, suggesting she “might get a slap”, had been “wholly inappropriate.”
Moyes has since apologised for the comments. The defeat left Sunderland three points adrift at the foot of the table, still eight points from the safety zone. Watford won a second match in succession by beating West Bromwich Albion 2-0, with Troy Deeney becoming the first player to score in four straight Premier League games at Vicarage Road.
Burnley also eased the pressure on themselves, ending a seven-match streak without a victory as George Boyd got the winner just before the hour in a 1-0 triumph over Stoke City. – Reuters