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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Apologies, it was such a rush to get this out in time that I forgot to SZ it! See if you can spot the ****-ups....

So near and yet so far. Manchester United came within ten minutes of ending Chelsea's extraordinary 85 game unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge, pegged back by that most unlikely of mortal blows, a Salomon Kalou headed goal. It was a just ending to a game that was much more than just another Premier League blockbuster. This was like watching two heavyweight boxers pound each other senseless through twelve unforgiving rounds. The passing may have been scrappy, the finishing poor, but in terms of desire, neither manager could have asked any more of their players.

It had seemed from the start that this was not to be Chelsea's day. First they lost Deco to an abductor muscle injury in the warm-up and then, just twelve minutes in, they had to replace the velvet glove of Ricardo Carvalho with the steel fist of Alex. When Joe Cole ran through on goal after nine minutes, he was so close to scoring that half of Stamford Bridge was celebrating, and Luiz Felipe Scolari would have been forgiven at this point for believing that he was destined to lose. Deco is vital to the way that this new Chelsea operate. Without his incision, without his guile, they found it too difficult to break through the red shirts.

Manchester United's fitful early season form meant that they had entered this contest as the unlikely underdogs. Unfortunately for their hosts, Sir Alex Ferguson has never had much respect for trivialities like the formbook. United have always played better on the back foot, when everyone believes that they are a soft touch. There was nothing soft about this performance. Wayne Rooney typified their spirit, running himself into the ground, attacking and creating, and even having enough in the tank to drop back into defence in the final, frentic stages.

Cristiano Ronaldo may have received a heroes welcome back to action at Old Trafford, but it wasn't repeated here. The Chelsea fans greeted his appearance by booing and gleefully waving copies of the Sunday tabloid that had splashed details of the young man's private life. If Ronaldo noticed the headlines, he didn't show it. He immediately began a series of cutting runs, but the jeering intensified when he hurled himself needlessly to the ground as Frank Lampard ran past him.

However, even a diving Ronaldo was more popular than referee Mike Riley who officiated so poorly that he was in the rare position of being equally despised by both sets of supporters. Riley has got previous for aiding United in ending unbeaten runs. He was the referee in 2004 when a very dubious penalty decision precipitated the end of Arsenal's 49 game stretch. His presence alone was enough to rattle the Chelsea fans and when he refused to give a penalty as Florent Malouda tumbled over Edwin van der Sar, the conspiracy theorists seemed vindicated. In truth, he was equally appalling to both teams, booking seven United players, breaking up the game with every needless blow of his whistle and then ending it early after a Rio Ferdinand challenge on Didier Drogba offered a grandstand finish to the afternoon. His contribution turned a potentially great match into a just a good one.

Chelsea will retire to lick their wounds, while United will curse the sloppy marking that cost them a historic victory. Neither side should be ashamed though. This was gritty, whole-hearted English football at its best and, on an afternoon that was characterised by poor officiating, a draw was probably the only justice served out all day.

SOLID DEFENCE - From his calm, composed performance, you couldn't tell that this was Johnny Evans' first Premier League appearance for Manchester United. His every touch was warmly applauded by the travelling United fans, and not simply out of kindness. This was a fine performance that justified his manager's confidence in him.

SURPRISE - One member of the Manchester United coaching staff took his life in his own hands when he decided to pop one of the many ballons that had floated onto the pitch. He stamped down hard on the offending party piece and the resulting explosion made Sir Alex Ferguson jump out of his skin. Giving the boss a heart-attack is perhaps not the best way to secure a pay-rise...

MISS OF THE DAY - Remember that wonderful Gianfranco Zola goal? The one when he jumped in the air, span like a dervish and back-heel volleyed a corner into the net? Nicolas Anelka managed to pull off the complete opposite of that, almost costing his team dear. He jumped, he angled, but the ball passed straight through his legs. Abject.

PUNTERS RANT - If anyone was brave enough to bet on a United win at Stamford Bridge, they would have been devastated by this result. A nail-biting finish became infuriating but, if it helps to soothe your pain, Rio Ferdinand felt that he knew where the blame lay. "That f***ing ref! That f****ing ref!" he appeared to bellow as he left the pitch. Anyone who backed United will share his sentiments.

MAN OF THE MATCH - Wayne Rooney exemplified everything that Manchester United are supposed to be about. Hard-work, determination, endeavour and a refusal to buckle even when the team is below par. For all the debates over the rights and wrongs of certain standing ovations, here is the real hero of Old Trafford.



Edwin van der Sar 6 (Tomaz Kuszczak 7), Gary Neville 7, Patrice Evra 7, Rio Ferdinand 7, Johnny Evans 7, Ji-Sung Park 7 (John O'Shea 6), Paul Scholes 6, (Cristiano Ronaldo 7), Darren Fletcher 7, Owen Hargreaves 7, Wayne Rooney 8, Dimitar Berbatov 7


Petr Cech 7, Jose Bosingwa 6, Ashley Cole 7, John Terry 6, Ricardo Carvalho 6 (Alex 7), John Obi-Mikel 6, Frank Lampard 6, Michael Ballack 6 (Salomon Kalou 7), Joe Cole 7, Florent Malouda 6 (Didier Drogba 7), Nicolas Anelka 6

Attendance - 41,716

Bookings - Scholes, Ferdinand, Neville, Berbatov, Rooney, Evra, Ronaldo (Manchester United) Mikel (Chelsea)