Chelsea 2-1 Manchester United: Lampard penalty clinches cracking comeback
Published 21:46 01/03/11 By Martin Lipton
You can criticise and condemn this referee as much as you like, Sir Alex.
But it's not going to change anything, not going to look any better in the cold light of day.
Three more points thrown away on their travels, a staggering 22 dropped out of 42 by a side that has been just one draw away from perfection at Old Trafford.
And should United's quest for that elusive, record-breaking 19th title founder over the next three months, the source of the failure will be easy to spot.
Last night, for all that Fergie's rage at Martin Atkinson reached apoplectic heights of fury as David Luiz stayed on the pitch where Nemanja Vidic did not and Chris Smalling's one slight indiscretion saw Frank Lampard exact the ultimate price from 12 yards, United were the agents of their own destruction.
This was a game they could have, should have won, especially when they led at the break, inevitably, through the man who would have been banned had another referee done his job properly.
Yet Wayne Rooney's first half strike and United's seeming dominance counted for nothing as Fergie's men were unable to withstand Chelsea's second half resurgence, a victory for sheer commitment just as their domestic season appeared to be apart.
Too late, surely, for Chelsea to get themselves back into the race for the crown. Even with this win, they remain 12 points adrift of Fergie's men, although back above Spurs into fourth.
But United now head to the even more ferocious bear-pit of Anfield without Vidic or Rio Ferdinand, probably the hobbling Patrice Evra too, and with the likelihood that their lead will have been cut to a single point over Arsenal.
That knowledge, as much as the frustration of defeat, fuelled Ferguson's verbal attack on Atkinson, even if the critical decision - as Smalling made a marginal movement towards Yuri Zhirkov to bring the Russian replacement down - was probably the right one.
When Edwin Van Der Sar pulled off a remarkable reaction save to foil Branislav Ivanovic's rebound effort on the stroke of half-time, to preserve the advantage Rooney's moment of clear-headed vision had given his team, the United boss was surely pondering a very different looking table.
United had been on the back foot initially, with Florent Malouda squandering the best chance and Fernando Torres' bright opening soon quelled.
But once Paul Scholes started to get a midfield grip, with Nani making Ivanovic appear the centre-half press-ganged into right back duties he was, and Darren Fletcher forcing Ashley "Shoot!" Cole back on the other flank, United were the only side in it.
Chelsea looked a mess, toothless in attack, horribly narrow in the middle, under pressure at the back where Luiz was constantly bailing out his colleagues and Rooney's goal was overdue.
Evra, crocked in the build-up to the equaliser, had earlier tried to find the striker when he should have gone for goal, while Rooney wasted a great chance after Nani bamboozled Ivanovic, the ball bouncing off his shoulder rather than his head.
But when Nani slipped him the ball on 29 minutes, Rooney ran a literal ring around Ivanovic before lining himself up as Lampard closed in too late, with 22-yarder skidding between Petr Cech and his right-hand upright.
Van Der Sar's save soon afterwards emphasised Cech's error but nine minutes after the break, Ivanovic nodded down Michael Essien's cross and Luiz angled his body to crash home.
Not bad for a man whose own £21m signing was so overshadowed by Torres' capture, although the Chelsea fans know the Ancelotti has finally replaced Ricardo Carvalho with a similar exponent of the Dark Arts.
Any doubts over that were soon ended as the bone-jarring challenges continued. Javier Hernandez was body-checked by the Brazilian, who was belatedly booked for a lunge into Rooney.
Rooney did miss United's two chances, sliding across the face of goal and then spinning off his marker to shoot at Cech but while Ferguson was still screaming blue murder over an unpunished cynical trip by Luiz on the England man, Zhirkov induced Smalling twitch as he darted forward.
Lampard thumped into the roof of the net, the Bridge erupted and while Vidic unwittingly deflected a Zhirkov strike onto the post, his injury-time foul on Ramires brought a second yellow from Atkinson.
No response this time. More away-day failings. And a big thank you from Arsene Wenger to Ancelotti. Game on.