John Carew kept Aston Villa in the hunt for a UEFA Cup spot with a late header in a dramatic 2-2 draw against Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday.
Norwegian striker Carew secured a hard-earned point with his 86th minute goal after Joseph Yobo looked to have won the game for Everton just a minute earlier.
Victory for fifth-placed Everton would have all but guaranteed a UEFA Cup spot, but both teams now go into the final two games of the season harbouring ambitions of a top five finish.
“It's disappointing but you are always at your most vulnerable when you score, so they say, and that was the case here,” Everton manager David Moyes said.
“We are still three points ahead with two games to go. If we could have got the three points we could have secured fifth place. We've not done it so it's going all the way to the wire.”
Villa boss Martin O'Neill added: “We fought our way back into the game twice and I thought we showed fantastic spirit. We have the ability and the spirit was there in bundles.”
Portsmouth's defeat at home to Blackburn earlier in the day had provided a boost to both Everton and Villa's hopes of securing a European place, with the home side knowing that victory here would guarantee them a place in the InterToto Cup at the very least.
Moyes's team have shown signs of fatigue in recent weeks, however, collecting just five points from their last six Premier League games.
In contrast, Villa arrived at Goodison Park having scored 15 goals in their three games ahead of this clash, so the Birmingham club had momentum behind them as they attempted to move level on points with the Merseysiders.
But on a rain-soaked pitch, both sides struggled to gain the upper hand in a dismal first-half that generated more yellow cards — three — than goalscoring opportunities.
Everton's Nigerian forward Ayegbeni Yakubu showed a glimpse of his 11 million pounds transfer value on 19 minutes, though, when he escaped Villa midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker before unleashing a powerful strike at goal.
Villa keeper Scott Carson could only palm the shot away, but Portuguese midfielder Manuel Fernandes scuffed his shot from the rebound.
Villa could hardly be described as wilting under the pressure and O'Neill's men were comfortably containing Everton when they were given their first sight on goal on the half hour after referee Phil Dowd had awarded a free-kick following Phil Jagielka's foul on Olof Mellberg.
Just 20 yards from goal, both Gareth Barry and Ashley Young lurked with intent at the set-piece and England winger Young rattled the crossbar with his powerfully struck effort.
Villa looked the stronger, fresher team, but Everton found an extra level in the second-half as they chased the victory that would all but secure a UEFA Cup spot.
And the breakthrough came on 55 minutes when Phil Neville put Everton ahead with a deflected strike following good work by Yakubu down the left flank.
The former Middlesbrough man broke free after latching onto Leon Osman's pass and his pull-back picked out Neville on the far edge of the penalty area. Neville was left with a difficult chance, but his powerful right foot shot beat Carson via a deflection off the chest of defender Martin Laursen.
With his team facing a six-point deficit on Everton with just two games to play, O'Neill went for broke by replacing defenders Wilfred Bouma and Zat Knight with forwards Marlon Harewood and Patrik Berger and the gamble paid off on 80 minutes when Gabriel Agbonlahor snatched an equaliser with a close range strike from Barry's corner.
Everton regained the lead four minutes later, though, when the Villa defence lost concentration at the far post to allow Yobo to volley Lee Carsley's cross into the roof of the net.
Goodison erupted, but the home fans were still celebrating when Carew netted Villa's second equaliser less then sixty seconds later with a pinpoint header from Barry's cross.
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