Draws in the Premier League, according to Mark Hughes's bête noire Arsène Wenger, are like defeats, by which he meant that serious challengers cannot afford to lose two points at a time.
Manchester City, after seven in a row, interrupted only by a Carling Cup victory over Wenger's youngsters on Wednesday, finally added a League victory to make up lost ground thanks to Shay Given's late penalty save from the normally deadly Frank Lampard. They have lost only one game out of 18 all season, and that to a brutally late goal at Old Trafford over two months ago.
For once their success will have been celebrated all over Manchester, enabling United as it did to cut Chelsea's lead at the top of the table from five points to two following their own canter at West Ham. There will be more to this title race than the London side running away with it as has recently been suggested. In terms of chances, with Didier Drogba spurning one even after Lampard's miss, they could easily have left with a point, but instead this goes down as a third defeat on the road to follow those at Wigan and Aston Villa.
By the end there was a touch of desperation about them, with Ricardo Carvalho and a hobbling John Terry both withdrawn after collecting two of the side's six yellow cards. The fact that every defender received one illustrated how much pressure City had been able to exert. Carlos Tevez worked as hard as ever in harrying them and Shaun Wright-Phillips, never quite offered sufficient opportunities at Stamford Bridge, made his point with a vivacious performance down the right. There was vindication too for Emmanuel Adebayor, scorer of an unfortunate own goal to give Chelsea the lead, but then equalising before half-time.
This being the Premier League, controversy abounded as well, with questions asked about all three goals by the team conceding them. "The referee made two mistakes," said Chelsea's manager Carlo Ancelotti, who unlike Wenger nevertheless had a handshake for his victorious opposite number. For Hughes, thrilled by the comeback, it was "all in all a perfect performance".
The drama was played out in stereotypical Manchester weather – driving rain – with much of the football as slick as the way the ball fizzed off the sodden surface. City had to do without the hard graft of both Stephen Ireland and Craig Bellamy, each having suffered a knock in the Arsenal game, and needing extra mileage from other players to make good that double loss, they will have found it dismaying that Wright-Phillips and Adebayor should have been involved in conceding the early goal.
The winger covered for Micah Richards in chasing Ashley Cole down the touchline and should have been given a goal kick. To City's annoyance, Howard Webb's decision was a corner, retrieved by Michael Ballack on the right and crossed beyond the far post to Drogba. His header was met by Branislav Ivanovic, Given blocking that shot and then the follow-up by Nicolas Anelka, only for the ball to rebound off Adebayor, almost on the line, into the net.
It was hard on the home side, above all on their goalkeeper, who had already made a fine save from Drogba, homing in unmarked on Deco's clever flick. His team responded vigorously and made a number of chances before equalising. Micah Richards headed too high when escaping at a corner; Adebayor shot wide; Petr Cech saved from Wright-Phillips and Gareth Barry's drive was deflected away.
Reward came after another Richards header brought a corner, Cech having completely missed a cross and been saved by Carvalho's vigilance. The goalkeeper did not distinguish himself either from the corner kick, pushing out to Wright-Phillips for a shot that Chelsea claimed was helped on by Richards' hand for Adebayor to knock in. This defence takes such things as a personal insult: it was the first League goal they had conceded for almost nine hours. It did look as though Richards had been attempting to withdraw his arm rather than deliberately handling the ball; which did not prevent the referee, as he left at half-time, being harangued by first Terry and then Given, who was still fuming about the corner that should have been a goal kick.
Chelsea might have regained the lead, too, before the interval after Drogba's dipping free-kick, identical to his goal at the Emirates last Sunday, except that it was a whisker wide. But come the second half, a record crowd for this ground did not have long to wait for a third controversial goal. Carvalho was furious at joining Terry in the referee's notebook after catching Tevez in the back with his follow-through and conceding a free-kick 25 yards out. Three City players stood alongside Chelsea's wall, then moved away, inviting Tevez to shoot through the gap, which he did with a low drive, straight and true, as Cech took one fatal step the wrong way.
When Chelsea responded, Cole finally escaped from Wright-Phillips for a cross-shot that caught Richards such a blow on the knee that he had to be replaced by Nedum Onuoha. Onuoha it was who tripped Drogba with nine minutes to play, offering Chelsea the chance of redemption. Given confirmed his status as hero of the day by beating out Lampard's kick and Drogba, odds on to score, pulled an even later chance wide.
Referee: Howard Webb
Man of the match: Given
Match rating: 7/10