Andros Townsend cheekily channelled Cristiano Ronaldo as Everton hit back at an expectant Old Trafford to earn a 1-1 draw with Manchester United and maintain the scrutiny on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Solskjaer's gamble to start Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench appeared vindicated when Anthony Martial netted his first Premier League goal in eight months just before the break (43).
The midweek matchwinner against Villarreal did make his 200th Premier League appearance in the second half but Everton were level eight minutes later (58) as Townsend finished a blistering breakaway from a United corner - and then mimicked Ronaldo's trademark celebration.
This time there were no shirt-peeling late heroics from the milestone man but instead, drama at the other end as Yerry Mina tapped in five minutes from time to seal what looked like a wild away win until a VAR check confirmed him offside.
United fans could fleetingly celebrate the decision but frustration ultimately reigned again, with Ronaldo marching down the tunnel at the whistle, even if Townsend would later declare the game's defining image a nod to his "idol" rather than an act of provocation.
Though the hosts missed to go top of the table for a few hours at least, the wider context was lingering questions, enduring frailties and just two wins in six with a formidable run of fixtures on the horizon.
- Ole defends selection | Analysis: Crunch period ahead
- Match stats | How the teams lined up
- Premier League table | Fixtures | Results
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Man Utd: De Gea (6), Wan Bissaka (7), Varane (6), Lindelof (5), Shaw (6), McTominay (7), Fred (6), Greenwood (6), Fernandes (6), Martial (6), Cavani (5).
Subs: Pogba (6), Ronaldo (6), Sancho (7).
Everton: Pickford (6), Godfrey (7), Mina (6), Keane (7), Digne (6), Townsend (8), Doucoure (8), Allan (7), Gordon (7), Gray (8), Rondon (6).
Subs: Subs: Davies (6), Dobbin (N/A).
Man of the match: Demarai Gray.
How United let lead slip at frustrated Old Trafford
Ronaldo had been named on the bench - for the first time in a Premier League game here since May 2007 - after his A-list intervention in a significant call from Solskjaer, who admitted the Champions League game had constituted a "big physical and emotional output".
Paul Pogba and Jadon Sancho were also given watching briefs but a selection surprise gave way to a brisk home start with Fernandes the familiar conductor.
- Man Utd: made five changes from Villarreal and three from the defeat to Aston Villa, with Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani handed starts and Victor Lindelof replacing Harry Maguire.
- Everton: made just one change as Anthony Gordon came in for the injured Alex Iwobi.
Martial headed an Aaron Wan-Bissaka cross wide, the forward stretching under pressure from Townsend, and Edinson Cavani went closer in the air, flicking Fred's delivery goalwards but not finding the sort of power or placement to really trouble Jordan Pickford.
United were so dominant early on that Salomon Rondon's first touch was a sudden shot at goal, the forward denied by a Victor Lindelof block, but Everton belatedly got a foothold and a series of home blocks and half-clearances left angst in the air, David de Gea called upon to deny the rejuvenated Demarai Gray with a strong hand and Solskjaer's side looking vulnerable again.
A melee sparked by Scott McTominay's meaty challenge on the lively Anthony Gordon only added to the edge but Martial made a timely home breakthrough moments before the break, cutting in from the left and opening up after Greenwood had broken lines and Fernandes crafted a yard with a stellar controlling touch.
It appeared the antidote to Everton sting after the interval, United retaining momentum and soon buoyed by a double change as Sancho was finally unleashed, Ronaldo reached another milestone and Ole, so the Stretford End said, was at the wheel again.
The visitors were retreating as Sancho dizzied with stepovers but from a home corner, they were level just before the hour mark after a stunning break. Gray bullied Fred at the touchline and as Abdoulaye Doucoure broke with Lindelof and Luke Shaw scrambling, Townsend was free to drill low past De Gea and relish the moment.
A nervy-looking Solskjaer turned next to Pogba as Ronaldo sought to provide more inspiration but his one moment came to nothing, a left-footed shot that flashed well wide, and he would soon head swiftly down the tunnel.
Everton looked to have compounded United woe when Mina tapped in a Tom Davies pass as United's defenders followed ball rather than man again but the goal was ruled out in a narrow offside call, Davies picking the wrong option.
Solskjaer's side were scarcely reprieved as they stumble into the international break and Everton, a coherent unit under their wily tactician, were worthy of reward.
Solskjaer defended his decision to leave Ronaldo on the bench, insisting a need to manage workloads.
Asked if he had any regrets about his team selection, he said: "No. You make decisions throughout a long, long season; you have to manage the players' workload and the decision for me was the correct one. Anthony Martial did well, scored a good goal. Edinson needed minutes and could have had a goal. We have to make those decisions at the time."
What else the managers said...
Man Utd boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: "We got hit on one break that cost us and we lacked that cutting edge to get the important second goal. We made a couple of decisions that cost us. We had players behind the ball when the ball was delivered and we should have dealt with it. We need to work on it because we are facing more and more opponents who allow us to have possession.
"It's a big month. We have to be focused and make sure we use the international break well; come back with energy and clear focus. The mindset is good, the players are hungry to improve. We dominated the game but just couldn't get the second goal you need in games like this.
"I'm confident we will get the best out of this squad. A lot has happened this month [player arrivals]. We have loads to work on but I do believe in these players and this coaching staff. I believe we have something going but proof is in the pudding."
Everton boss Rafa Benitez: "I'm really pleased because to come here and perform the way we did, the chances we had, the way we defended against a very good team, we have to be really proud of the players and everyone.
"In the second half the team reacted well and we still had chances to win the game. Townsend is doing well, his commitment and quality is there. But it's not just one player doing well, he was fantastic but the rest of the team worked so hard."
Townsend: Ronaldo celebration a mark of respect!
Andros Townsend to BT Sport:
"This guy is my idol. I grew up watching him, hours on the training pitch trying to execute his techniques, maybe need to spend longer on his celebration! It wasn't great execution!
"But it was respect to Ronaldo, honoured to be on the same field as him."
Opta stats - Bruno creates but Everton dig in
- After also drawing this exact fixture last season 3-3 despite trailing 2-0 at half-time, Everton are the first side to avoid defeat away at Manchester United in back-to-back Premier League seasons despite being behind at half-time both times.
- Manchester United have won just two of their last seven home league games (D2 L3), having won eight of their 10 at Old Trafford prior to this run (D1 L1).
- Everton have 14 points from their seven Premier League games this season (W4 D2 L1); only in 2004-05 (16) have they had more after their opening seven matches in the competition, when they would go on to achieve their best ever position in the table in the division that season (4th).
- Everton have gained seven points from trailing positions in the Premier League this season; no side has picked up more.
- Bruno Fernandes' assist for Manchester United's opener was his 50th goal involvement in 58 Premier League appearances (30 goals, 20 assists); only Andy Cole (43), Alan Shearer (54) and Eric Cantona (54) reached 50 combined goals and assists in fewer games in the competition.
- Andros Townsend has scored five goals in nine games in all competitions for Everton, as many as he scored in his final 79 appearances for Crystal Palace. He has scored in three consecutive appearances for a Premier League club in all competitions for the first time in his career.
Manchester United's next Premier League test is at Leicester on Saturday, October 16 (kick-off 3pm), with a home Champions League date with Atalanta four days later.
Everton return to Goodison Park next, hosting West Ham on Super Sunday (kick-off 2pm).
United's last four home games
It's been a rather unconvincing four home games in 11 days for Manchester United...
September 22: West Ham - Carabao Cup third round - lost 1-0
September 25: Aston Villa - Premier League - lost 1-0
September 29: Villarreal - Champions League group stage - won 2-1
October 2: Everton - Premier League - drew 1-1
It doesn't get much easier; United face a formidable set of fixtures in October and November as they look to keep pace in the Premier League and ensure Champions League qualification, with Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and the Manchester derby looming domestically.
October 16: Leicester (a) - Premier League, kick-off 3pm
October 20: Atalanta (h) - Champions League, kick-off 8pm
October 24: Liverpool (h) - Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports
October 30: Tottenham (a) - Premier League, kick-off 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports
November 2: Atalanta (a) - Champions League, kick-off 8pm
November 6: Man City (h) - Premier League, kick-off 12.30pm, live on Sky Sports
November 20: Watford (a) - Premier League, kick-off 3pm
November 23: Villarreal (a) - Champions League, kick-off 5.45pm
November 28: Chelsea (a) - Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports
November 30: Arsenal (h) - Premier League, kick-off 8pm
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