Fletcher Hands United Hope (Sky Sports)
Manchester United 1 Chelsea 0
Manchester United reinvigorated their title challenge, and answered their critics, by bringing Chelsea's 40 game unbeaten streak to an end with a nerve-jangling1-0 victory.
Sir Alex Ferguson was enduring one of the most difficult weeks of his managerial career but fittingly it was one of Roy Keane's targets for abuse, Darren Fletcher, who helped The Red Devils alleviate some of the gloom around Old Trafford.
Chelsea had lost their last Premiership game in Manchester to City over a year ago, and continued their recent lacklustre run of form despite an enthusiastic, and increasingly desperate, second half performance.
United started like they had a point to prove and had the first shot at goal as the lively Cristiano Ronaldo showed good close control to evade Paulo Ferreira and Claude Makelele as he skewed a high-velocity shot high and wide.
Chelsea were struggling to dominate in the manner in which they have been accustomed to in recent times, but Didier Drogba demonstrated their constant threat as he collected magnificently from a long ball ahead of Rio Ferdinand, and saw his attempted lob held by Edwin van der Sar.
Spanish full-back Asier Del Horno also went close as he lost Fletcher at the back post to nearly test van der Sar from a Damien Duff set-piece, whilst Michael Essien's finishing was wayward as he headed well wide from another dangerous ball from the Irishman.
At the other end Wayne Rooney attempted an ambitious long range effort after teeing up Paul Scholes for a trademark first time blast from the edge of the box that whistled just wide of Petr Cech's left-hand post.
United then alleviated some building pressure from The Blues as Fletcher responded to Keane's criticisms in the most effective fashion by heading his side into the lead on 31 minutes.
Rooney found Ronaldo wide on the left, and, after ducking inside, the Portuguese winger delivered a high cross to the far post which Fletcher stretched every sinew to meet as he looped a high header back over Petr Cech to the delight of the vociferous Old Trafford crowd.
Mourinho's men responded and upped their efforts, although William Gallas saw his shot blocked before John Terry's header across the face of goal proved too high for Drogba.
The Ivorian was unable to add to his six Premiership goals in the first half as he took one touch too many before blasting Joe Cole's incisive through ball into the side netting on 41 minutes, while the impressive Alan Smith saw a dangerous looking volley blocked by Makelele at the other end.
With just minutes to go of the first period, Frank Lampard passed up the chance to test van der Sar with a dangerously placed free-kick as he drove wide after a muddled set piece routine.
A high tempo start to the second half saw both sides denied penalty shouts for hand-ball, and Chelsea begun to exert more pressure on their under-fire opponents as the ever-dangerous Lampard had one shot blocked and another volley from the edge of the box deflected wide.
As the game begun to open up both sides spurned fantastic opportunities in front of goal, with Ruud van Nistelrooy first guilty of poor finishing as he fired over on the turn from six yards out when collecting Fletcher's square pass.
The Blues then saw their best opportunity of the game squandered as substitute Eidur Gudjohnsen's cross was inexplicably missed by Duff as he kicked at thin air. Drogba was also unable to find the target as he followed up and hooked wide after being brought to the ground by John O'Shea.
Mourinho's side had not gone 40 games unbeaten before this crunch clash for nothing, and they looked the most threatening side as a succession of chances from Drogba, Cole and Del Horno went awry.
A spate of four yellow cards in as many minutes threatened to spoil the tempo of the game, but Chelsea's determination to draw level ensured their opponents suffered an onslaught.
Lampard was denied by a fantastic close range block from van der Sar after collecting the ball from Drogba, and, just two minutes later, an arriving Del Horno volleyed over after being found in acres of space by a high Duff cross.
Cole then attempted to employ his mercurial talents with an acrobatic twist and volley, before Smith showed great awareness to steal in and deny Drogba after Lampard's cut-back in the penalty area.
English youngsters Shaun Wright-Phillips and Carlton Cole were thrown into the fray as Mourinho upped the attacking ante, and the former threatened the United goal with a swerving long range drive that van der Sar smothered at his near post.
However, Ferguson's side nearly wrapped things up in the 84th minute when substitute Park Ji-sung challenged Terry in the air. As the loose ball fell to Rooney the young superstar saw his first time effort deflected wide by Ferreira with the goal at his mercy, and the England man later earned Makelele a booking when brought down by the Frenchman.
Chelsea grew increasingly desperate and Lampard could only offer a weak free-kick before Ferdinand cleared from a Gudjohnsen cross, and United held on to record a victory that will brighten their spirits and those of the rest of The Premiership as Jose Mourinho's juggernaught was finally brought to a halt.
|Manchester United||Team Statistics||Chelsea|
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|1||Shots on Target||3|
|5||Shots off Target||12|
Van der Sar, Brown,
Ferdinand, OShea, Silvestre, Fletcher, Ronaldo, Scholes, Rooney, Smith, van
Nistelrooy (Park 82)
Subs Not Used Howard, Bardsley, Richardson, Rossi
Booked Smith, Ronaldo, Fletcher
Goals Fletcher 31
Cech, Del Horno (C. Cole 78), Gallas, Ferreira,
Terry, J. Cole (Wright-Phillips 74), Duff, Essien (Gudjohnsen 55), Lampard,
Subs Not Used Cudicini, Carvalho
Booked Drogba, Ferreira, Gallas, Makelele