Chelsea will stand by their groundsman who fought with Patrice Evra on the Stamford Bridge pitch after the match against Manchester United on Saturday and have said that they have no plans to sack the individual.
Both clubs face a Football Association inquiry into the brawl which was caught on the stadium's CCTV cameras as well as by some press photographers.
United and Chelsea have said that there is no truth in the suggestions that Evra was racially abused before the clash. However, that is all that they agree on. United say that it was Evra who was hit first while Chelsea, who have launched their own investigation, are satisfied that their employee only lashed out after he was struck. Pictures of the incident clearly show the Chelsea groundsman in question, with a tattoo on his left arm, aiming a punch at United's French left-back.
The brawl took place as a group of United players, including Evra, warmed down on an area of the pitch that was being worked on by the Chelsea groundstaff. While sources at Chelsea admitted that the groundsman involved "lost his head" they believe he did so after a blow from Evra. They also believe that much of the incident was caught on the stadium's CCTV after the operator spotted the flashpoint and trained his cameras upon it.
Andrin Cooper, a spokesman for the FA, said: "We will certainly be looking into this incident and will gather all the relevant information, including asking Chelsea to provide us with the CCTV footage." Both clubs are more likely to incur fines for the incident. Evra doubled back towards the Chelsea groundstaff after the group of six United players - including Paul Scholes and Gary Neville - had been asked to use a different part of the pitch for their warmdown.
The member of the Chelsea groundstaff, who can usually be seen on the pitch at Stamford Bridge before games and during half-time, was separated from Evra by Chelsea's matchday stewards. Earlier, in the tunnel, Rio Ferdinand had accidentally kicked a female Chelsea steward when he lashed out in anger after the 2-1 defeat. He claimed it was an accident and apologised to the woman who was not seriously hurt. The defender is not thought to be liable for any further disciplinary measures.
Enjoying a famous victory that gives him greater credibility, Avram Grant, whose club are now second to United on goal difference alone, said that "the pressure is on them now". The Chelsea manager added: "Chelsea have come from nowhere. At the start we were behind them but also behind Liverpool, Arsenal, even Man City. They fought with Arsenal, and when they went top they thought that they would be champions. But now there is pressure, and I hope this pressure will help us."
United have to win their last two games against West Ham (home) and Wigan (away) to be sure of the title; Chelsea face Newcastle away next Monday and Bolton at home on the last day. "They [United] have dropped points against West Ham in the last few years, and Wigan is not an easy place to win at," Grant said. "We are the only one of the big teams to win there [Liverpool won there in January]. I believe it can happen."
On his own position, Grant said that he was overdue the credit for putting Chelsea back into the title reckoning. "When big clubs here employ coaches who were not working before in this country, you sometimes have a question about them," he said. "I think this question here has lasted too long. Sometimes it was not connected to the results."
Ahead of tomorrow's Champions League semi-final second leg, Sir Alex Ferguson will wait on the fitness of Wayne Rooney, who has a hip problem and Nemanja Vidic, who was carried off after 14 minutes after being accidentally kneed in the head by Didier Drogba. The Serbian defender lost a tooth and cut his lip.
Ferguson described the decision to award the penalty against Michael Carrick by linesman Glenn Turner, who controversially flagged Wayne Rooney offside in the draw against Middlesbrough this month, as "absolutely diabolical".
"When Ronaldo came on, he was grappled almost to the floor by [Michael] Ballack and it was a clear penalty kick," Ferguson said. "And when Michael Carrick went down in the same way, the referee was right there but again he didn't give it. The game hinged on major decisions and unfortunately they didn't go our way."