CHELSEA 3, MAN UNITED 3
Sir Alex Ferguson praised the battling qualities of his players as Manchester United overturned a three-goal deficit to snatch an improbable Barclays Premier League draw at Chelsea.
The Reds’ manager was impressed how his side fought back from the dead at Stamford Bridge to collect what could prove a precious point in their bid to successfully defend their championship crown.
Ferguson said: “To win the League, you need to show character and all the players deserve praise for the character they showed in fighting back.
“When we were 3-0 down we didn’t see that and you think let’s get out of here without a disaster.
“We were unlucky as Chelsea’s first was an own goal and the third took a big deflection.”
After a non-descript opening period, the game ignited after the restart and provided compelling viewing.
“That game epitomised English football. It was 100-per-cent and you couldn’t take your eyes off it,” he said.
United made six changes from the side which played Stoke in midweek as Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young returned after injury while Ryan Giggs and David de Gea also won recalls.
Chelsea were without injured captain John Terry and the suspended Ashley Cole. They had new signing Gary Cahill making his debut while the fit-again Michael Essien played his first game of the season.
United had two early penalty appeals rejected after Ashley Young went down and Danny Welbeck then tumbled after a challenge from Cahill.
The game exploded to life in the 43rd minute when Chelsea stole ahead when Daniel Sturridge weaved along the by-line and fired over a low cross which struck Jonny Evans before flying past de Gea.
The Spanish keeper then pulled off a decent save to stop Sturridge while Young and Welbeck both forced great saves from Chelsea keeper Petr Cech.
Chelsea doubled their lead 25 seconds after the restart when Fernando Torres crossed from the right and Juan Mata found the net with an unstoppable volley into the roof of the net.
And it soon got worse for United when Chelsea added a third goal when Mata’s free kick was met at the near post by David Luiz whose header deflected off Rio Ferdinand’s shoulder into the top corner of the net.
The fightback began just short of the hour when Patrice Evra burst into the Chelsea penalty area only to be shoved off the ball by Sturridge as Rooney shot high into the roof of the net from 12 yards.
United were awarded a second penalty when Welbeck was fouled by Branislav Ivanovic, though replays suggested it was by no means as clear cut as it initially looked. Rooney made no mistake with another emphatic kick.
The goal set up a remarkable finish as Essien had a fierce shot fisted out by de Gea while Cech saved superbly to deny Rooney a hat trick.
United equalised in the 84th minute when Rooney was again denied by Cech. The rebound was sprayed to Giggs on the left and his cross was headed home by Javier Hernandez as the Mexican had a free header from six yards.
That was by no means the end of the drama as Chelsea had two great chances to snatch all three points in stoppage time.
Mata’s free kick was arrowing towards the top corner before de Gea produced an unbelievable save high to his left to claw out the shot.
The keeper then had to athletically turn over a drive from Cahill as Chelsea finished the game in the ascendancy in a game nobody wanted to end.