A victory for football but not for the Football Association's Respect campaign as Chelsea and Manchester United fought out a tumultuous, incident-strewn and entertaining 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Seven United players were cautioned – three for dissent – with one of those, Rio Ferdinand, raging as he left the pitch at the perceived diving antics of Chelsea's Didier Drogba while United's captain, Gary Neville, angrily berated the referee, Mike Riley. It didn't need a lip-reader to work out Ferdinand's expletive-punctuated assessment of Drogba. There was further controversy with claims that the coach carrying the United squad from Stamford Bridge yesterday afternoon had a brick thrown at it, damaging one of the windows.
The FA will have to act now with United receiving a letter, and a fine of £25,000, for failing to control their players. That sanction is automatically triggered if a team gains six yellow cards.
Still the game was tetchy enough, which is hardly surprising given the stakes, with Chelsea attempting to pull nine points clear of United in the race for the league title while the Champions were desperate to narrow the gap. In the end, Salomon Kalou's goal meant it was a point each which, both managers agreed, was a fair result and also preserved Chelsea's unbeaten home league records which stretches to 85 games.
Park Ji-sung, United's scorer, appeared to suggest a certain bias – "Chelsea players made the same tackle they didn't get a yellow card," he said, although his moderate grasp of English may have been responsible for that basic verdict. However, his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was more bemused than angry. "The game is being screened worldwide," he said. "Everyone is watching it and something like that goes on. It was a competitive game but I did not think there was one bad tackle in it." Apart from Ferdinand and Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Dimitar Berbatov, Gary Neville, Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra were cautioned. "People are saying, 'What is going on here?' But it is difficult to say anything about the referee," added Ferguson. "I do not want to get involved."
Chelsea's manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari, was, however, more direct. "I'm not surprised about the yellow cards," he said. "The referee is there for this. If the players do not respect the referee, then it is yellow and red. Same for Manchester, Chelsea and Liverpool."
The Brazillian revealed that, with his resources stretched due to Michael Essien being out for six months, he is to sign fellow countryman Mineiro, a 33-year-old midfielder who is out of contract at Hertha Berlin. "Mineiro will sign because he is a player I need after losing Essien for six months. I have only Mikel in that position," he said.
Scolari will have been frustrated by misses from Joe Cole – twice – and Nicolas Anelka which could have won the game for Chelsea, although Ferguson also had grounds for complaint. "All things being equal, I felt we deserved a point," he said. "We played with great tempo in the first 20 minutes. The real shame was that we didn't go for the jugular at 1-0 up. We had control of the match at that point but we eased off and allowed them to get to half-time.
"Didier Drogba came on and gave us a different kind of threat. He is big and aggressive and made it more difficult for us physically."