Blues Draw Ensures Second Spot (Sky Sports)
Manchester United 1 Chelsea 1
Despite a late onslaught following Ruud van Nistelrooy's equaliser Chelsea earned the point they needed from their trip to Old Trafford to ensure runners-up spot in The Premiership.
The Blues had looked good value to banish Wednesday's UEFA Champions League exit from the memory with a win following Jesper Gronkjaer's first league goal of the campaign, but were ambushed following the dismissal of Robert Huth.
United were ultimately worthy of a point and Ruud van Nistelrooy put recent off-field speculation behind him with a welcome strike, but it was not enough to deny Claudio Ranieri's troops.
The hosts fashioned the first opportunity of the afternoon when Cristiano Ronaldo released Gary Neville who burst into the box before squaring for Ryan Giggs, but the Welshman failed to connect with a bouncing cross.
Chelsea responded, after a swift counter-attack Joe Cole played into the path of Frank Lampard who arrived late but could get no real purchase on his shot which ended up cannoning to safety off Eidur Gudjohnsen.
The Iceland international then had a goal ruled out for a marginal offside decision after more good work from Lampard.
Chelsea got the goal their impressive start merited when Jesper Gronkjaer netted his second spectacular goal of the week. Lurking on the edge of the box Cole nodded a long right-flank corner into the Dane's path, and Gronkjaer cut inside a lacklustre challenge from Paul Scholes before arrowing a thunderous angled drive into the top corner.
United were almost back on terms when clever work from Ronaldo and van Nistelrooy teed up Giggs whose low shot was well saved at full stretch by Cudicini - as the rebound bounced up invitingly Paul Scholes was booked after falling theatrically under challenge from Claude Makelele.
The England midfielder was lucky not to have been given his marching orders minutes later when referee Steve Bennett chose not to caution him for a reckless sliding tackle on Lampard.
However, Sir Alex Ferguson took the hint and decided to remove Scholes from the action on 36 minutes to ensure he did not pick up the second caution that would have ruled him out of the FA Cup final against Millwall.
The midfielder's replacement Louis Saha was in the thick of the action almost instantly when five minutes before the break he won the hosts a penalty. The former Fulham star just beat Robert Huth to a bouncing ball in the penalty area and the German's mistimed arrival left Bennett with no option.
Van Nistelrooy stepped up to restore parity but saw his low spot-kick to the left brilliantly pushed around the post by Cudicini to compound the striker's miserable recent run.
Just as in the first half, Chelsea began the second the stronger although they could fashion no clear-cut chances to restore their advantage.
The ever-impressive Gudjohnsen forced a sharp save from Howard with a clever turn and shot on 65 minutes, and five minutes later The Iceman caused real concern in the United box.
After sweetly controlling a Gronkjaer cross, the ex-Bolton star cut inside Wes Brown to earn a clear sight of goal but Howard dived bravely at his feet to smother his attempted shot and clear the danger.
Moments later Chelsea found themselves reduced to ten men after Huth was dismissed for tripping van Nistelrooy as the Dutchman attempted to latch on to John O'Shea's threaded through-ball.
The dismissal, unsurprisingly, gave United the momentum going into the final stages and they were level 13 minutes from time with a goal the excellent Cudicini will not want to see again.
There seemed little danger when Mikael Silvestre hung up a hopeful cross from the left, but the Italian custodian fumbled a regulation catch gifting van Nistelrooy the chance to poke into the unguarded and atone for his miss from the spot.
United poured forward in search of the goal that would have kept alive their hopes of second spot but, despite being camped in The Blues' half, did not genuinely threaten to break through, and had to content themselves with a point which means they will have to go through the qualifying rounds of next season's UEFA Champions League.
United Howard, Brown, Neville G., Neville P. (Kleberson 78), OShea,
Silvestre, Fletcher, Giggs, Ronaldo (Solskjaer 87), Scholes (Saha 36), van
Subs Not Used Carroll, Butt
Booked Scholes, Neville P., Kleberson
Goals van Nistelrooy 77
Huth, Melchiot (Johnson 74), Terry, Cole (Parker 78), Geremi, Gronkjaer (Babayaro
83), Lampard, Makelele, Gudjohnsen
Subs Not Used Ambrosio, Stanic
Booked Huth, Terry
Sent Off Huth
Goals Gronkjaer 19