Flair of the Drog downs United

Ferguson fumes at 'poor-quality' officials as supersub's controversial winner means it's advantage Chelsea in title race
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Manchester United were forced to agree with the bookmakers that Chelsea are now favourites to take the Premier League title back after three seasons following Didier Drogba's controversial winning goal at Old Trafford yesterday. Drogba, replacing Nicolas Anelka with 20 minutes to play, was clearly offside as he took Salomon Kalou's pass to put his team 2-0 in front. Federico Macheda quickly halved the lead but United, possibly feeling the effects of a Champions' League game when Chelsea had a free week, had left it too late before raising their game.

"We took too long to get going," their manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitted. "In the first half Chelsea were the far better team but we were unlucky not to get something." Ferguson was predictably upset by the winner and said he had been worried when he saw that Mike Dean was the referee. Dean turned down convincing penalty appeals from both teams but it was his assistant Simon Beck who failed to spot that Drogba was beyond the last defender. "What I can't understand is that the linesman was directly in front of it," Ferguson said. "For a game of that magnitude you really need top-quality officials. It was a poor, poor performance. If you can't get that right, why are the officials involved in a game like today?"

United complained about the goal scored by John Terry when Chelsea beat them at Stamford Bridge in November. Those six points may decide the destination of the title, the Londoners having recovered from a slip at Blackburn to lead by two points with five games left. They could still suffer in away games at Tottenham and/or Liverpool, but would appear to have less of a distraction in Saturday's FA Cup semi-final than their rivals do in the Champions' League.

"Chelsea are favourites," Ferguson said. His opposite number, Carlo Ancelotti, was taking nothing for granted. "Nothing is decided. There are five more matches and we have to stay focused. But these players are strong and have had a very good reaction after the defeat against Inter." Florent Malouda, one of Ancelotti's most improved players, said Chelsea had succeeded in catching their opponents out by starting with such intensity. "If we play the way we did today, we have a great chance," he added.

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