MAN UNITED 2
HERNANDEZ (0), VIDIC (23)
|1||Van der Sar|
Early goals from Javier Hernandez, inside the first minute, and Nemanja Vidic set Sir Alex Ferguson’s side on their way to a famous win and, despite Frank Lampard’s second-half effort, the leaders thoroughly deserved the success that leaves the club only a point away from more glory.
The Reds took only 36 seconds to lift the roof off Old Trafford with incisive passes by Ryan Giggs and Ji-sung Park seeing Hernandez through on goal as a stretching David Luiz failed to intercept. Chicharito nervelessly slipped his finish wide of Petr Cech to hand United the perfect start.
In a whirlwind opening spell, Wayne Rooney let fly from another Park pass to bring the best out of the diving Cech and Hernandez was unable to reach a teasing Park centre that evaded the shaky Luiz.
Another fine move at blistering speed saw Rooney collect a return ball from Antonio Valencia, only to pull his finish just wide.
Chelsea finally mustered a couple of chances of their own with Edwin van der Sar worked by Florent Malouda after fisting away from a Salomon Kalou cross and Kalou then hit a tame effort straight at the Dutch keeper.
But United doubled their lead in the 23rd minute when Park’s wicked drive from an angle forced a corner from Cech’s save. From the flag-kick, Giggs teased Kalou and centred invitingly for an outnumbered Vidic to plunder a downward header.
Chelsea’s response was instant with Van der Sar palming away a Kalou header and Branislav Ivanovic only finding the side-netting from the rebound. Van der Sar became more prominent as Luiz moved forward with menace to test the veteran, who then dived to his left to frustrate Didier Drogba from a free-kick.
Another cheaply-awarded set-piece allowed Drogba a second attempt, that he fizzed wide, but there was controversy when Ivanovic escaped a second booking for a blatant foul on Rooney.
Undeterred, United finished the half the stronger with John Obi Mikel prodding behind following a Valencia one-two with Rooney and the Ecuadorian winger smashed over the top following neat play by Giggs and Fabio.
Malouda had the first real effort of the second period but Van der Sar watched it go wide before another big decision went against United. Lampard clearly handled Valencia’s cross inside the area but Howard Webb waved play on as everybody anticipated the official pointing to the spot.
Carlo Ancelotti introduced Fernando Torres to his attack just past the hour mark as the Blues searched for a route back into the game – and the title race.
Valencia had another penalty shout rejected after tussling with John Terry inside the box following another rapid break but, this time, it was probably the correct decision from referee Webb.
Van der Sar had to be alert to field a long-range drive by substitute Alex and Drogba was penalised for handball when delivering a shot wide of the far post.
However, United did concede when Ivanovic climbed to head a Ramires cross goalwards and Lampard stabbed home from close range with just over 20 minutes left.
Rooney almost swiftly restored the two-goal lead but was off balance when trying to steer in a Hernandez cut-back and Alex cleared superbly off the line to avoid a sense of deja vu for the visitors after the Champions League tie at Old Trafford.
United had to put their bodies on the line in a bid to preserve the now slender advantage with Fabio, Rio Ferdinand and substitute Jonny Evans all requiring treatment in the aftermath of one attack.
It was tight and tense but Rooney could have scored three times in the space of a minute, only to fail to find the finishing touch that would have relaxed the home fans. Then Hernandez headed over from close range from Valencia’s driven centre with four minutes left as the Reds refused to do things the easy way.
Hearts were in mouths when Torres lined up a shot inside the box with time running out but the £50million man could only drag it off target, much to palpable relief as United stand on the brink of yet another title.