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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bizarre pitch fracas follows Chelsea match

LONDON, April 26 (Reuters) - Chelsea ground staff and Manchester United players were involved in a bizarre fracas on the pitch in an almost deserted Stamford Bridge stadium after Saturday's Premier League match between the two teams.

None of the United players who played in the match were involved but players Patrice Evra, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Gerard Pique and John O'Shea were all warming down when an argument began with the ground staff tending the pitch.

Stewards quickly moved in to separate those involved but after the situation quietened down the row flared up again, although no punches were thrown.

The incident came a few minutes after Chelsea beat Manchester United 2-1 to pull level with United at the top of the table.

Injured duo OK for Tuesday?

Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney were both in the wars again this weekend, as United lost the battle at Stamford Bridge.

Serbian centre-back Vidic, who missed the midweek match in Barcelona, saw just eight minutes of action against Chelsea. The defender came off worse in a duel with Didier Drogba and was treated by physio Rob Swire before leaving the field on a stretcher.

“He (Vidic) got kneed in the face by Drogba - and no foul was given," grimaced Sir Alex, who had certain other grumbles about the officials.

"He’s got a few stitches under his lip and he’s lost a tooth. He was dazed rather than concussed but if we’d waited for him to come round we would have played 10 or 15 minutes (with ten men) and you can’t afford that in such a big game. So we had to take him off."

United played the remaining 82 minutes with the same back four that started at the Nou Camp, with Owen Hargreaves coming on at right-back and Wes Brown replacing Vidic as Rio Ferdinand's partner in the centre. The reorganised rearguard kept Chelsea at bay for almost 40 minutes before Michael Ballack scored in first-half injury time - and for a similar length of time in the second period until Ballack scored his controversial penalty.

The scorer of United's goal, Wayne Rooney was the next casualty to be withdrawn, moments after scoring United's equaliser.

“Rooney’s got the same knock as he got last week, straight on the hip bone. It takes a while for that to clear because when you get a bang on it, it’s very painful. I’m hopeful he will be alright for Tuesday. Other than that, I think everyone’s okay.

“It reflected in my team selection today because we’re one step away from Moscow. We can’t turn that down and hopefully we can do it.”

Ryan rues Chelsea defeat

Ryan Giggs felt luck deserted United when they needed it most in the disappointing 2-1 defeat to title rivals Chelsea.

Michael Ballack scored the late winner from the spot after Michael Carrick was harshly adjudged to have handled the ball inside the box.

Even then United had chances to equalise, with Chelsea making last-ditch clearances from Cristiano Ronaldo and Darren Fletcher shots at the death.

But it wasn’t to be and Chelsea are now behind United on goal difference only – although the Reds will win the title if they beat West Ham and Wigan in the final two games.

Giggs told MUTV: “When you concede a late goal it’s always hard to take, especially having got ourselves back in the game.

“The luck just didn’t go for us. Sometimes you get the breaks and Chelsea had them today. They cleared two shots off the line, they were given a penalty and Ronaldo got a dubious offside call when through on goal."

Giggs accepted Chelsea were dominant early on but was pleased with the fight United showed after the break, which culminated in Wayne Rooney's equaliser.

“Chelsea were the better team in the first half and we were disappointed because we didn’t keep the ball enough,” the Welshman said.

“But in the second half we played to our tempo and showed great character to get back in the game, so to lose the game to a penalty is disappointing.”

Giggs knows the Reds must put the defeat behind them and focus on the remaining games, starting with Tuesday’s titanic Champions League semi-final second leg against Barcelona.

“We’ve got to pick ourselves up,” the winger added. “There’s no bigger game than Barcelona. We want to win the league and we want to reach the Champions League final, and it’s still in our hands.

“We showed our battling qualities in the second half today, and we’ll need them in the next two games.”

Boss troubled by major decisions

Sir Alex Ferguson added three more refereeing decisions to a growing list of gripes in the aftermath of United's 2-1 defeat at Chelsea.

The manager criticised the call to punish Michael Carrick for handball in the 85th minute, given that the midfielder couldn't move out of the way and that Michael Essien's cross was destined to be cleared.

"It’s a major decision that’s cost us the game," Sir Alex rued on MUTV.

"To give a penalty kick for that in a game of such importance, on the linesman’s say-so, is absolutely diabolical.

"Granted the ball hit his (Michael Carrick's) hand but he couldn’t get out of the road. He didn’t lift his hands above his shoulders or above his head, and the ball was going straight to Rio Ferdinand anyway. The referee should have seen that.

"It was a major decision and if the title is going to come down to decisions like that, we’re in trouble. If we’re not getting the decisions we deserve, we’re going to have to perform really well.

"In the last few weeks we’ve been knocked out of the FA Cup after not getting a penalty kick. There should have been a clear penalty kick at Middlesbrough from Mike Riley when the Boro player dived and saved the ball. And the same linesman we had today, Glenn Turner, disallowed Wayne Rooney when he was clean through and he was five yards onside. Then last week at Blackburn, Rob Styles, who’s turned down five penalty kicks for us this season, doesn’t give one out of three.

"As for today, when Ronaldo came on he was grappled almost to the floor by Ballack (at a United corner) and it was a clear penalty kick. Then Michael Carrick went down in the same way, the referee (Alan Wiley) was right there and again he didn't give it. The game hinged on major decisions and unfortunately they didn’t go our way."

Chelsea Vs. Manchester United Result Report

United slipped to a late defeat against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge to leave the title race very much in the balance.

Michael Ballack scored the dramatic winner from the penalty spot with five minutes left after Michael Carrick had handled in the box.

Chelsea dominated the first half and Ballack gave them into a deserved half-time lead when he headed home Didier Drogba’s cross.

But United improved greatly after the break and Wayne Rooney looked set to have earned a crucial point when he took advantage of a Ricardo Carvalho mistake to fire home.

Goal difference is now all that separates the sides at the top of the table, but United know that wins over West Ham and Wigan in the final two games will guarantee them the title.

The Reds suffered a further blow when Nemanja Vidic, named in the starting line-up after recovering from a stomach virus which kept him out of the draw in Barcelona on Wednesday, was forced off with a nasty-looking facial injury in the first 10 minutes.

With the second leg of the Champions League semi-final coming up on Tuesday, it was no surprise to see changes to Sir Alex Ferguson’s starting line-up.

Darren Fletcher made a surprise return from a month-long injury absence and Mikael Silvestre replaced Patrice Evra at left-back. Nani, Anderson and Ryan Giggs all started, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez named on the bench.

Chelsea, defending an unbeaten home record in the Premier League stretching back to February 2004, were nearly gifted a goal in the opening 30 seconds.

Wes Brown’s poor header back to Edwin van der Sar forced the goalkeeper to scramble clear and the ball fell to Michael Essien, who volleyed just over.

Van der Sar saved low to his left from Salomon Kalou a minute later as Chelsea began purposefully.

Vidic, who has often put his body on the line this season, then took a stray knee to the face from Drogba and was stretchered off looking bloodied and groggy.

Owen Hargreaves replaced him and took his place at right-back, with Brown shuffling into the middle alongside Rio Ferdinand.

Chelsea continued to threaten and Kalou galloped into the box but was crowded out by United’s defence as he was about to pull the trigger.

United had an escape in the 21st minute when Joe Cole sprinted into the box and, after initially losing the ball, he regained it and smacked the bar with van der Sar beaten.

Essien was controlling the midfield for Chelsea in the absence of Frank Lampard, who missed the game following the death of his mother on Thursday.

Avram Grant’s side were playing a one-touch, high-tempo game and, although United conceded several free-kicks, that at least disrupted Chelsea’s rhythm.

United looked to have stemmed the Chelsea tide and were set to go in level at the break when Ballack broke the deadlock in first-half stoppage time.

Drogba held off the attentions of three Reds defenders on the right before clipping a cross over to Ballack, who arrowed a header past van der Sar.

The Germany international was booked for removing his shirt in the ensuing celebrations, while the Chelsea players raised another shirt aloft in tribute to Lampard’s mother.

Ferguson made no changes at the break but the Reds’ attacking intent at the start of the second half was much more apparent as they forced Chelsea onto the backfoot.

Brown was booked for impeding Essien but soon after the Reds were level through Rooney’s first career goal against Chelsea.

Carvalho played a lazy backpass to Petr Cech which Rooney pounced on gleefully, before cutting across John Terry and firing past Cech. Cue rapturous celebrations.

Unsurprisingly, the goal put an extra spring in United’s step and they began to find more space in Report: Chelsea 2 United 1

the final third, with Giggs forcing Cech into a smart save from the edge of the box.

Rooney, who appeared to injure himself while celebrating his goal, was forced to leave the field in the 64th minute, but the sight of Ronaldo replacing him won’t have pleased Chelsea’s increasingly forlorn supporters.

John O’Shea came on for the tireless Anderson shortly afterwards and, after a poor first half, suddenly everything looked rosy for the Reds.

But just as they looked set to hold out for a vital point, they were hit by a killer blow.

Referee Alan Wiley waved away Chelsea’s appeals for a penalty with nine minutes left when Brown appeared to handle the ball in the box, but two minutes later his assistant awarded a spot-kick against Carrick for the same infringement.

In Lampard’s absence, Ballack stepped up to send van der Sar the wrong way and keep Chelsea in the title race.

In a frantic finale, Ashley Cole and substitute Andriy Shevchenko blocked shots from Ronaldo and Fletcher on the goalline, but Chelsea held on – and the title race is going to the wire.

Chelsea Vs. Manchester United Highlights Video Clip

Chelsea [1 - 1] Manchester United
45' [1 - 0] M. Ballack
56' [1 - 1] W. Rooney
86' [2 - 1] M. Ballack (pen.)