Chelsea 2 Manchester United 1: Frank Lampard's on the spot as Blues complete comeback

02 March 2011 12:24

Amid the chaos of what remained a classic encounter, Sir Alex Ferguson might have thought twice before complaining bitterly of an injustice.

After all, he had admitted shortly before kick-off that Wayne Rooney was 'lucky' to even be playing. Just as Mike Phelan, his assistant, responded to those first questions about Rooney's controversial elbow on Saturday at Wigan by stating that it would be wrong to question a referee's decision.

But the delicious irony of the situation clearly did not register with the irascible Manchester United manager and he unleashed verbal hell on Martin Atkinson in response to events in the closing stages of this Barclays Premier League contest at Stamford Bridge.

To be Frank: Lampard celebrates after scoring a late penalty to complete a remarkable turnaround at the Bridge

Ferguson was right. Right to question the validity of the 80th-minute penalty that Frank Lampard converted to reignite the title race. Just as he was right in stating that the otherwise outstanding David Luiz - scorer of a marvellous 54th-minute equaliser - should have been dismissed for a foul on, yep, you guessed it, the player who should not have been on the pitch in the first place. It was a naughty challenge on Rooney, leaving Ferguson incandescent with rage on the touchline.

He was probably wrong, though, to be quite so venomous towards Atkinson and where Rooney escaped the Football Association's clutches, Ferguson might not. To compound his misery, Atkinson then dismissed his best centre-half for a second yellow card. Nemanja Vidic was dismissed for his foul on Ramires and misses what could prove a hugely significant game at Liverpool on Sunday.

On the spot: Van der Sar watches helplessly as Lampard's penalty sails over his head

But it was the manner of Chelsea's win that angered Ferguson most, as well as the fact that Atkinson is making something of a habit of making bad calls. He had awarded more penalties and red cards than any other top-flight official this season and took his tally to 11 and 10 respectively.

The penalty was soft, to say the least, Yury Zhirkov knocking the ball through the legs of the excellent Chris Smalling and collapsing under a non-existent challenge. It looked suspiciously like a dive, but Atkinson thought otherwise and Lampard did the rest.

Roo beauty: The Manchester United striker opened the scoring in the first half

If Ferguson was against re-refereeing that meeting with Wigan after seeing Rooney escape punishment for smashing James McCarthy in the face, he would have wanted someone other than Atkinson to take charge of any rematch this time.

It was galling for United because they played so well. Ahead thanks to a super 29th-minute goal from Rooney, they looked every inch the League leaders with the fluency of their football and had it not been for the class, courage and composure of Luiz might well have increased their advantage.

In the thick of it: Chelsea defender Luiz (centre) is mobbed by his team-mates after his equaliser

Rooney was central to everything, delivering an impressive response to those who continue to question whether his best days are behind him. In the space of a few first-half minutes there was an opportunity for the two villains of the week to exchange blows of a more sporting nature.

Rooney had his chance to strike from just outside the penalty area; as did Ashley Cole with a free-kick. But as Rooney demonstrated, he is much the better shot. Cole, encouraged to 'shoooot!' at every opportunity by United's fans, was as inaccurate with his effort as he probably wishes he was with that air rifle and it added to the difficulties Chelsea experienced in a frenetic first half.

Take a bow: Rooney celebrates in front of the Chelsea supporters after scoring the game's first goal

While Florent Malouda might have struck in the opening few minutes, only to meet a fine ball from Nicolas Anelka with an effort that was far too easy for Edwin van der Sar to gather, they struggled to maintain pressure and then paid for a moment's lapse in concentration at the opposite end.

While Rooney will be proud of the low 25-yard drive he squeezed between a diving Petr Cech and his right-hand post, he owed much to Branislav Ivanovic's decision to go walkabout.

Flare-up: United winger Nani squares up to Ivanovic in the first half

Still in shock, Chelsea almost conceded a second to Rooney minutes later. Nani floated in the free-kick and Rooney flicked on a header that dropped just wide.

At that point, Carlo Ancelotti cut a forlorn figure on the touchline; seemingly crushed by yet another setback. Crushed, too, by the sight of his side somehow failing to score when Ivanovic saw Van der Sar deny him from close range.

What then happened after the break was not in the script. A first Chelsea goal not for the ?50million Fernando Torres but for the significantly cheaper Luiz.

'He's got class,' declared Cesc Fabregas on his Twitter page, and the Brazilian certainly showed that to be true. As well as being outstanding at the back, he has real ability on the ball and his determination to get forward was rewarded when he seized on United's failure to clear a cross from Michael Essien beyond Ivanovic. Displaying tremendous poise and skill, Luiz beat Van der Sar with a superb half-volley.

There were times during this contest when United made Chelsea appear sluggish and the sight of Didier Drogba seemingly refusing to warm up with the other subs pointed to yet more possible problems in the dressing room.

Had Luiz been booked a second time for a cynical off-the-ball challenge on Rooney, the crisis could have deepened further for Ancelotti. As it was, Atkinson failed to see that and then failed to see it was not a penalty. Ferguson was not amused.

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 Explore more:People: Wayne Rooney, Alex Ferguson, Nemanja Vidic, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Nani, Edwin Van Der Sar, Mike Phelan, James McCarthy, Carlo Ancelotti, Cesc Fabregas Places: Liverpool Organisations: Football Association

Source: Daily_Mail