FOR INTENSITY tonight’s showdown between Chelsea and Manchester United was arguably the best match of the season – but there is no doubt the final outcome was decided by a woeful display by referee Martin Atkinson. And not for the first time in this fixture!

The only real winners were Arsenal on a night when a bruising display by the Blues was unjustly rewarded.

It is often boring to listen to match officials being slaughtered over controversial decisions. And it is important to move on when bad decisions shape games. But make no mistake this was a raw deal for United.

Outclassed and outplayed in the first half, Chelsea were allowed back in the game when John Terry’s blatant handball in the box went unpunished.

The key decisions also went the home side’s way after the break as the Blues defiantly fought back and were allowed to escape with an unlikely 2-1 win.

David Luiz, already on a yellow, was allowed to stay on the pitch when he made a crude challenge on Wayne Rooney. Then Chris Smalling was harshly  punished for a challenge on Yuri Zhirkov that handed Frank Lampard the late penalty that decided this titanic struggle.

It was Luiz who made it 1-1 when he cancelled out a superb Wayne Rooney opener with a quality finish that breathed new life into his side.

Full credit to Chelsea for coming back from a shocking first half mauling to ride their luck and muscle their way to victory. But do not be fooled into thinking the defending champions have any chance of retaining their title.

Defeat still leaves Sir Alex Ferguson’s men four points clear of Arsenal, who now have a game in hand. And fourth-placed Chelsea are still 12 points behind the leaders and eight behind the Gunners.

The real damage for United was the late red card for Nemanja Vidic who now misses Sunday’s trip to Liverpool, a game the Premiership pacesetters badly now need to win to stay in the driving seat.

01 March 2011:
Chelsea 2-1 Manchester United
Goalscorers: Rooney 29; Luiz 53, Lampard (pen) 79

– BY JOHN GUBBA

CONGRATULATIONS to Ryan Giggs for coming off the bench to make his 863rd appearance, a record-equalling 606th in the League. A milestone that comes just 24 hours before the 20th anniversary of his debut as a 17-year-old against Everton

And  hats off to Reading for pulling off the night’s giant-killing act to knock Everton out of the FA Cup with a 1-0 win which puts the Royals in the quarter-finals. Matthew Mills first half winner at Goodison Park earns a trip to the winners of the Fifth Round tie between Manchester City and Aston Villa.

For Everton defeat brings David Moyes’ men down to earth with a bump after their dramatic penalty shoot out win over Chelsea in the last round. It truly is a funny old game.

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