Robin van Persie’s injury-time equaliser rescued a point for Manchester United after Chelsea had been reduced to 10 men late on in a gripping encounter at Old Trafford.
The captain smashed the ball home in the 94th minute, just after Branislav Ivanovic had given away a free kick and been sent off for his second bookable offence. Angel Di Maria’s set-piece allowed Marouane Fellaini a shot which Thibaut Courtois saved, only for van Persie to drill the rebound emphatically home.
Van Persie had seen three earlier chances saved by Chelsea’s goalkeeper, and his heroics snatched a deserved point following Didier Drogba’s headed goal early in the second half.
Stirred by a raucous atmosphere, both sides had played at a high tempo for the opening minutes with a breakaway from Di Maria upping the ante after an early pair of Chelsea corners. The mercurial Argentine’s shooting was not as good as his on-the-ball skills, with two attempts flying high and wide before 10 minutes had gone by.
The visitors asserted themselves and forced a succession of corners, but David De Gea and his defence coped to quell the threat of Drogba in particular. But despite Chelsea’s pressure, it was van Persie who came closest to breaking the deadlock around the 20-minute mark. Breaching the Chelsea back four, the Dutchman saw an angled low effort blocked by Courtois’ right leg, and seconds later his clever back-header was clutched from under the bar by the highly-rated Belgian goalkeeper.
Ivanovic’s claims for a penalty at the Stretford End, for what he felt was a shove, were ignored by referee Phil Dowd, and as tempers began to fray, Di Maria then stung Courtois’ palms with a curling free kick from the right.
United’s defence was bailed out twice in quick succession, firstly when the recalled Chris Smalling raced across to tackle Willian after Rojo had been caught in possession. De Gea then spared the Reds when Drogba was gifted a shooting chance, but the keeper’s legs deflected his effort away.
Both sides exchanged chances early in the second half, Marouane Fellaini firing just wide and De Gea saving brilliantly to deny Eden Hazard. But slack defending at the resulting corner undid the Spaniard’s good work, with an unmarked Drogba rising to nod Chelsea ahead.
James Wilson replaced Juan Mata as United sought a more direct approach with two up front, but it was Ivanovic who went close to grabbing another, rolling a shot across goal from an acute angle. United eventually forced Courtois into action when Shaw wriggled through to feed van Persie. But once again the Reds’ skipper saw an attempt on goal blocked by the Chelsea stopper’s legs, but at least the chance spurred his side on, with Wilson looping a header just over the bar within a minute.
And just as it looked like United would be frustrated, Ivanovic went in crudely on Di Maria near the byline and was shown his second yellow card. The Argentine chipped the free kick into the area, Fellaini’s shot was blocked, but van Persie pounced and Old Trafford erupted.