Match Report: Mark Clattenburg provides a cruel twist to pulsating encounter between Chelsea and Manchester United

Chelsea 2 Manchester United 3: Dismissal of Fernando Torres allows United to steal a march in title race before post-match abuse row leaves a stain

Stamford Bridge

As the extra stewards were deployed around the mouth of the tunnel and the home crowd focused their outrage exclusively on the man in black, Mark Clattenburg will have had that growing sense of dread that in modern football's high court of HD super slo-mo replays, he had been found guilty of error.

By the end of the night, Clattenburg was facing the kind of scandal that could potentially end his career. The question of what he may or may not have said to John Obi Mikel yesterday promises to be the next major storm of English football, just days after the game thought it had put the last one to bed at last.

In the meantime, two definitive decisions are already in on Clattenburg’s performance yesterday: wrong to send off Fernando Torres and wrong to allow Javier Hernandez’s offside winner to stand. It was Mr Muddle day for some of the country’s leading referees at Goodison Park as well as Stamford Bridge, although it should be said this is a bloody hard job they do.

But great games – and yesterday's at Stamford Bridge was a great game – deserve exacting officials, and all the drama and controversy cannot compensate for teams suffering from bad decisions. Chelsea were down to 10 men already, with the dismissal of Branislav Ivanovic, when Torres was sent off for a ludicrous second yellow card. They may well have conceded a third goal anyway, but they deserved to do so with 10 men on the pitch, not nine.

The beauty of this game before the second red card for Chelsea was that it was so finely balanced. To start: a frantic break-out by Manchester United down Chelsea's vulnerable left flank and two goals within 12 minutes. To follow: an accomplished fightback led, in the main, by the triumvirate of Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard, who have transformed the way Chelsea chase games.

As Roberto Di Matteo patched up and reorganised his team after first Ivanovic and then Torres's red cards, all three of those aforementioned Chelsea attackers were substituted. A team that had gone through United with a needle precision either side of half-time were forced, in their last desperate moments, to push David Luiz into attack and hit a long hopeful free-kick to the edge of United's area.

A pity. A pity that we could not see them fight it out to the very end without such a significant discrepancy in numbers. Ivanovic deserved to go for a denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by clipping Ashley Young on 63 minutes. But Torres (right) was wrongly dismissed for a second yellow card for what Clattenburg decided was a dive even though Torres's challenger, Jonny Evans, clearly made contact.

The Chelsea striker had been booked for a high boot on Tom Cleverley just before half-time and he was about to be substituted by Di Matteo when he ran on goal with 68 minutes played. The Chelsea striker had been comprehensively outshone by his opposite number Robin van Persie but he did not deserve this degree of misfortune.


Get Adobe Flash player


As for United, they got the rub of the green but they were particularly good in the first half. First Wayne Rooney and Young opened up Chelsea's left flank – where the hell was Ashley Cole? – to cross to Van Persie, whose shot hit the post and cannoned in off Luiz. Then Antonio Valencia broke again down the same wing, picking out Van Persie to score with Gary Cahill dithering.

At that point it seemed like Ferguson's team had reasserted their authority over the league leaders, but United could not handle Chelsea's resurgence. In that period before half-time, the intricacy of Mata, Hazard and Oscar prevailed and David De Gea kept his side in it with a save from Torres's header at the back post. The Chelsea goal, when it arrived on 43 minutes, was well overdue. Rooney was drawn into a needless foul on Hazard around the edge of the area and Mata scored his seventh goal of the season from the resultant free-kick with the confidence of a man who is one of the league's in-form players.

The equaliser came on 53 minutes, improvised beautifully by Mata and Oscar. First Mata managed to coax a long ball from Oscar out of the air and when the Brazilian retrieved Mata's cross, Ramires headed in the second ball delivered into the box. Providing a wobbly defence could keep Van Persie quiet, the game was there for Chelsea to win.

Van Persie and Luiz are both masterful exponents of the accidental elbow and sought one another out on the quiet without ever having the kind of silly nose-to-nose that draws the referee's attention. Neither was even booked.

The game ran away from Chelsea with Ivanovic's sending off and then Torres's dismissal, until they were left with none of the shape or the poise that they had in their best periods. On 73 minutes, Van Persie's shot was pushed on to the post by Petr Cech and the goalkeeper then scrambled back to scoop it out. Rafael returned the ball into the area where Hernandez finished beautifully.

He was offside, though. In fact, Hernandez was even ahead of Cech. His celebrations in front of the Matthew Harding stand provoked a barrage of coins and goodness-knows what else to be thrown on to the pitch and a steward went down. Chelsea later claimed that he had slipped over and hurt his knee.

United won it and they have closed the gap to Chelsea to a single point at the top of the Premier League yet they could hardly say they quelled the new team emerging at Stamford Bridge without some good fortune. United return on Wednesday for the League Cup but come 4 May when they reconvene in the league at Old Trafford, one would expect Chelsea still to be very much in it.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected