Fergie rages as Chelsea come back to beat United
United throw away lead as Lampard penalty opens up the title race and leaves Alex Ferguson livid
Chelsea 2 Manchester United 1. Wayne Rooney might have escaped punishment from the Football Association for an alleged elbow on Wigan's James McCarthy but his manager might not be so fortunate for his indiscretion.
In the wake of Manchester United's 2-1 defeat to Chelsea Alex Ferguson launched a furious attack at referee Martin Atkinson, questioning his impartiality and his competence. "It was a major game, you want a fair referee - or a strong referee, anyway - and we didn't get that," raged Ferguson, after seeing his side throwaway a 1-0 lead at Stamford Bridge. "I don't know why he got the game. I feared the worst when I saw who was refereeing. It's three years in a row now where the referee's decisions have changed the game down here. And that's hard to take."
In a season when United have come from behind on several occasions to steal late wins, it was their turn on Tuesday night to experience the agony of letting slip three precious points that might yet have a significant bearing on the outcome on the title race. Though United remain four points clear at the top of the Premier League, Arsenal have a game in hand and will be hoping Liverpool follow Chelsea's example when they host the leaders on Sunday.
United were on cruise control in the first half, fielding their first unchanged line-up in 165 games as they looked to follow Saturday's 4-0 thumping of Wigan with victory over a fragile Chelsea side. The Blues for their part were playing with Nicolas Anelka and Fernando Torres up front but neither made an impression in a first half dominated by the visitors. The goal came on 29 minutes when Rooney – booed by Chelsea fans with his every touch – rifled a 20-yard shot past Petr Cech.
Chelsea nearly levelled six minutes before the break when Edwin van der Sar parried Frank Lampard's stinging free kick and then gathered the rebound from the toes of Branislav Ivanovic. Ten minutes into the second half, however, the United keeper was powerless to prevent David Luiz volleying home Michael Essien's cross from 10 yards.
Changes up front were made as both sides searched for the winner, Dimitar Berbatov replacing Javier Hernandez for United and Anelka making way for Drogba, but it was Lampard who struck the decisive goal ten minutes from time after Chris Smalling was adjudged to have brought down Yuri Zhirkov in the box. The England midfielder stroked the penalty past Van der Sar, and Ferguson's sense of injustice deepened when Nemanja Vidic was sent off in stoppage time for a second bookable offence.
That was the punishment Fergie thought Luiz deserved when he brought down Rooney having already received a yellow. "I don't know how Luiz stayed on the pitch," fumed Ferguson, who also had something to say about the spot kick decision. "The penalty was very soft. In actual fact, Chris has taken the ball and the player's left his leg in. Very soft. Amazing."
The comeback propelled Chelsea into fourth place though boss Carlo Ancelotti believes the 12-gap between his side and United is insurmountable: "It's too far, too far," he said. "Also because they're a very good and strong team, and it'll be hard for them to lose points in the next few games."
But Fergie begged to differ, claiming Chelsea could still be in with a shout of retaining the title: "If they keep getting decisions like tonight, it could change everything. They got a lot of decisions in a major game and that surprised me."