By Jamie Jackson

Sir Alex Ferguson admitted it was “game on” in the title race after Manchester United twice surrendered a two‑goal lead to draw 4-4 with Everton and hand the Premier League initiative back to Manchester City.

Manchester United handed initiative to City, says Sir Alex Ferguson

Ferguson declared next Monday’s 162nd Manchester derby at Eastlands the biggest of his 26-year career as United manager following results on Sunday which saw City close to three points of United at the top of the table.

“Yes, definitely. Game on. We’ve given them the initiative, there is no doubt about that,” Ferguson said. “It makes the game at the Etihad a really important game. A decider really. We make it hard for ourselves as we normally do but we’ll have to go there knowing we are capable of getting a result. We need to get a result at the Etihad, there is no question about that, we need to perform. There is no reason why we can’t do that.

“There has been an expectancy from City that it could be their decider, but it’s our decider too. There will be a reaction, obviously, there is no question about that. The game on Monday would always be a derby game of highest proportions and this won’t be any different.”

After Nikica Jelavic’s 34th-minute opener, Wayne Rooney equalised ahead of the break before second‑half goals from Danny Welbeck and Nani gave United a 3‑1 lead. Maroune Fellaini’s 67th‑minute strike was answered by Rooney, to take his season’s tally to 33 as United’s two‑goal cushion was restored. But Jelavic’s second and Steven Pienaar’s 85th minute equaliser secured Everton a point.

“It was terrible defending from us. We’ve thrown it away, it’s as simple as that,” Ferguson said. “We just didn’t deal with the balls into Fellaini. [There was a] lack of concentration. Some of the football in the second half was fantastic, the goals were brilliant, and it was a travesty of a result in some ways to play that type of football and concede four goals. To concede four goals at Old Trafford in a home game that is so important to us – you can’t believe it. I think there were defensive lapses, their goals were soft, really soft goals. We have created goals through really good football but I think they got their goals easy. It was a bad performance. Recently we have defended well so it was a real shock for us to defend like that.

“It could be costly, there is no question. We’ve thrown a game away that we should be coasting in and seeing out. But we didn’t so we have given ourselves a difficult task. There were other good performances in that respect but we made it difficult for ourselves and if you look at our history we keep doing that.”

Rooney’s goals took him beyond George Best’s mark of 179 for United and Ferguson said of the forward’s partnership with Welbeck: “Great combination play from the two, they were a real threat to their centre-backs and we couldn’t get the ball up to them quick enough. It was a real threat – understanding where each other was, it was terrific. They should have got more out of the game than they did.