Premier League: Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea
United stand tantalisingly close to a record 19th title after a magnificent 2-1 victory over closest rivals Chelsea at a jubilant Old Trafford.
Early goals from Javier Hernandez (inside the first minute) and Nemanja Vidic set Sir Alex Ferguson's side on the way to a famous win. Despite Frank Lampard's second-half effort, the Reds thoroughly deserved the three points that leaves the club only one point away from further glory.
The Reds took just 37 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 the Korean's through-ball. 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 a Didider Drogba header before Salomon Kalou hit a tame effort straight at the Dutch keeper.
But Sir Alex's men 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 into the net. Cue incredible celebrations.
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 foul allowed Drogba a second set-piece attempt before there was controversy when Ivanovic escaped a second booking for a blatant foul on Rooney.
Undeterred, United finished the half strongest. John Obi Mikel prodded 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 sail 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 as some pressure started to build on the home goal.
United did concede when Ivanovic climbed to head a Ramires cross goalwards and Lampard stabbed home from close range with just over 20 minutes remaining. It set up a nervous finale.
Rooney almost restored the two-goal lead immediately 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 defenders 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. United stand on the brink of yet another title.
Edwin van der Sar
Made a brilliant reaction save to palm out Kalou’s header from under his crossbar and dived with typical agility to save a Drogba free-kick. Had little chance with Lampard’s close-range prod.
A massive game for the youngster but he never looked fazed. Coped with Malouda’s attacking threat and passed well out of defence.
Steady alongside Vidic throughout the 90 minutes. Momentarily dazed by a firm clearing header but recovered to see out the game.
Doubled United’s lead with a poacher’s header from six yards, his fifth league goal of the season. Impressive at the back, too. Kept Drogba and Torres on a short leash.
Made a great block to deny Drogba as Chelsea threatened a goal just before the break, but didn’t re-emerge for the second half.
The Ecuadorian gave Ashley Cole one of his toughest tests since Ronaldo departed. Unlucky not to win a penalty early in the second half when Lampard handled his cross.
Tackled, blocked and intercepted well, particularly in the first half. A calming presence and a strong shield just in front of the back four.
The Korean made up for lost time in his first league game at OT since Boxing Day. He set up United’s lightning-quick first goal for Hernandez and forced the corner from which Vidic made it 2-0 with a decent shot saved by Cech. Tackled superbly.
Delivered a peach of a cross for Vidic’s goal and harried and harassed in midfield. Didn’t give Chelsea’s players a moment’s peace and used possession smartly.
The Mexican gave United the perfect start after just 37 seconds, by scoring his 20th goal of the season. He could have made it 2-0 in the 10th minute but failed to connect with Park’s cross. Missed two late chances that might have given him a hat-trick.
Stung Cech’s palms with a piledriver early on and bent a shot just wide of the left-hand post. Almost scored United’s third goal, only denied by Alex’s excellent block.
Jonny Evans (for O’Shea, 45 mins)
The Northern Ireland defender got stuck into Drogba and Chelsea sub Ramires straight after coming on at left-back. A superb 45-minute cameo.
Chris Smalling (for Fabio, 88)
Came on in an unfamiliar position but didn’t put a foot wrong. Carried the ball half the length of the field at one point to relieve pressure on a defence under siege.