United come back from the dead
Manchester United produced a quite incredible comeback from three goals down to draw 3-3 at Chelsea on Sunday.
United arrived at Stamford Bridge attempting to close the gap once more to neighbouring rivals and league leaders Manchester City, but they were ambushed by a three-goal Chelsea salvo in a 14-minute period either side of half-time. A Jonny Evans own goal was compounded by a Juan Mata cracker and a David Luiz header, at which point the Red Devils looked completely buried.
However, two penalty awards from referee Howard Webb allowed Wayne Rooney to reduce the deficit to 3-2 with 20 minutes still to play, and then substitute Javier Hernandez rescued a point with a header six minutes from time.
Chelsea had thrown January signing Gary Cahill in at the deep end on his Blues debut, deputising for John Terry at the heart of the defence, and he was handed the job of silencing Rooney - back for United. The visitors made six changes in total, with Ashley Young also returning from injury while the much maligned David De Gea started in goal.
The first half was a curious contest: Chelsea had the majority of the ball but United looked the greater attacking threat. Danny Welbeck felt sure he should have had a penalty after a foul by Cahill, but referee Webb clearly felt the Chelsea man had got a hint of the ball as he waved United's protests away. Welbeck's case could not have been helped by Young, who had gone down easily moments earlier.
Chelsea went ahead nine minutes before half-time, Daniel Sturridge tricking his way past Patrice Evra to hit the byline, where his cutback ricocheted into the United net off Evans. It was hardly a lead Chelsea deserved but they threatened to double it when Sturridge stung the palms of De Gea moments later.
Sir Alex Ferguson sent his team out early for the second half, clearly intent on making an instant recovery, but within five minutes they found themselves 3-0 down.
Mata was first to strike, 26 seconds into the second period, sending a glorious volley beyond De Gea from Fernando Torres' deep cross. Then, with United still reeling, Mata delivered a free-kick that was headed goalwards by Luiz - finding the top corner after a significant deflection from Rio Ferdinand.
United were never out of it, though, and they grabbed themselves a lifeline in the 57th minute, Evra bundled over by Sturridge, stepping across the forward's path to allow Rooney to cut the deficit from 12 yards. Annother penalty was awarded ten minutes later, this time when Welbeck appeared to leave his foot in on an Ivanovic challenge, which allowed Rooney to drag his side within one goal at 3-2.
Torres, who missed an open goal at Old Trafford earlier in the season, then wasted a glorious chance to kill the game off for Chelsea when he delayed his shot when one-on-one with De Gea, and the home side paid the price when Hernandez nodded home dramatically in the dying minutes.
Still Chelsea could have won it, when Mata sent a free-kick bending towards the top corner, but De Gea produced a quite outstanding full-stretch save to earn United a point.
Earlier, Papiss Demba Cisse announced his arrival in English football with a stunning debut goal as Newcastle United secured a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa to keep their challenge for a surprise top-four finish in the on track.
Senegal striker Cisse thumped a 71st-minute volley past former Magpies keeper Shay Given to win a pulsating Premier League encounter in which the visitors enjoyed the better of the first half, but could not make the most of their chances.
Cisse, who was introduced as an early replacement for the injured Leon Best, saw international team-mate Demba Ba fire the home side into a 30th-minute lead but, after Darren Bent had twice been denied by keeper Tim Krul, Robbie Keane levelled deep into first-half stoppage time.
However, Alan Pardew's men improved after the break and, to the delight of a crowd of 48,569, managed to see out time to bank another three points.
The result leaves Newcastle within a point of the top four following Chelsea's draw later in the day.