An astonishing second half at Stamford Bridge saw five goals as Manchester United came from 3-0 down to snatch a draw at Chelsea.
The Blues had taken the lead through two own goals and a Juan Mata volley, before a brace of penalties from Wayne Rooney was followed by Javier Hernandez’s close range header.
It was a hectic encounter at Stamford Bridge and Sir Alex Ferguson will have mixed feelings after seeing his side pull off an incredible comeback but still lose ground to Manchester City in the Premier League title race.
Andre Villas-Boas will be rueing his side’s profligacy and defensive stability, as another draw gave hope to the teams chasing them for the precious fourth Champions League qualification spot.
A slow start to the game saw both sides wary of coming out too much but Ferguson was fuming on ten minutes as Chelsea debutant Gary Cahill appeared to bring down Danny Welbeck, with the England man bearing down on Petr Cech.
Referee Howard Webb waved away fervent United protests from Welbeck and Wayne Rooney, claiming he believed Cahill had got the ball in the challenge.
It was a single moment of action in a dour first half hour, but the subdued Stamford Bridge crowd was brought to its feet just ten minutes before half-time.
The Blues own young Englishman Daniel Sturridge advanced into the right of United’s box before leaving Patrice Evra for dead and his pull-back bounced in off of Jonny Evans.
It was harsh on Ferguson’s side, who had been the more threatening of the two sides going forward throughout the half.
If the first period was quiet then the second period went some way towards blowing away any cobwebs almost immediately.
Fernando Torres appeared on Chelsea’s right flank and curled a delightful cross to the back post, where compatriot Juan Mata was waiting to smash home an unstoppable volley.
United had been caught cold from the game’s resumption and it got worse just five minutes later when David Luiz’s header was deflected home off of the shoulder of Rio Ferdinand.
Red Devils fans could be excused for thinking the game was up but, as is ever the case with Alex Ferguson sides, you just cannot write them off.
Their way back into the game came in the 57th minute when Howard Webb finally agreeing with one of United’s penalty appeals – he pointed to the spot after Evra used all his experience to draw a clumsy challenge from Daniel Sturridge.
Wayne Rooney smashed home the penalty and, with a sniff of a comeback in their nostrils, United started to look increasingly dangerous while Chelsea were looking jittery at the back as the Blues midfield could do little to stem the waves of attacks.
Danny Welbeck’s fortunes changed from the first half and Webb pointed to the spot once more ten minutes later after the striker fell over the leg of Branislav Ivanovic.
The Serbia international was unlucky as his initial challenge was nowhere near Welbeck, but it was probably the correct decision and Rooney was about to dwell on it and sent Cech the wrong way to take the deficit to one.
Andre Villas-Boas’ side were obviously shell-shocked but that was no excuse for the chance Torres wasted to put Chelsea 4-2 up with little over ten minutes left. A header on by Mata found the Spain striker in space running into the box and after he had cut inside Evans he passed up a clear opportunity to shoot from just seven yards out and was crowded out by United defenders.
The miss would prove costly for Villas-Boas’ side as United completed an astonishing comeback in the 84th minute.
Antonio Valencia surged down the right and found Rooney with a delightful cross, but the England striker’s tough inside and fierce drive was saved impressively by Cech – not the first time he had done so.
However, the danger was not over for Chelsea as the ball fell to Ryan Giggs in the left of the box and the Welshman proceded to drop a cross onto the head of Javier Hernandez just a few yards out.
It was the culmination of some irresistible pressure put on by Ferguson’s side after they went three goals down.
Juan Mata came close to winning it at the beginning of injury time when his free-kick looked to be heading straight into the top corner.
Chelsea cheers were cut short as David de Gea flung himself across his goal and somehow managed to get a hand to the ball, turning it past the post for a corner. It was an amazing save and Stamford Bridge is unlikely to have witnessed a better one for some time.
Even though coming back from three goals behind to snatch a point away at Chelsea is something to be praised for, the reality is that United have lost ground on Manchester City and next week’s clash with Liverpool becomes even more crucial.
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