Fri, Jan 14, 2005 - Page 23 News List

Man U and Chelsea draw in semifinal

LEAGUE CUP ANTICS Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho accused Manchester United's Alex Ferguson of influencing the referee, while a final-minute melee marred the game

AFP , LONDON, LILLE

Manchester United held out under intense second-half pressure from Chelsea to emerge from their League Cup semifinal with the narrowest of advantages after an entertaining first-leg goalless draw at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

It took a late goalline clearance to prevent Chelsea's most recent signing, Jiri Jarosik, from claiming a late winner from the home side but United will claim they deserved the draw after enjoying the better of the first half.

What had been an even-tempered affair was marred in the final minutes when Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo tangled on the touchline, sparking a melee that resulted in both players being booked.

When the two sides had last met, on the opening day of the Premiership season, a solitary goal from Eidur Gudjohnsen was enough to settle a drab affair in Chelsea's favor.

But this 0-0 stalemate will mean United start as favorites for the second leg at Old Trafford on Jan. 26.

"It was a good performance from us, we battled hard and limited them to just a couple of chances," said United defender Phil Neville, who said his team were keen to eradicate the memory of Saturday's dismal 0-0 FA Cup third round draw against Exeter.

"That was a blip and we were keen to bounce back. The manager picked a team to do well and with a bit more quality we could have won it. The draw was a fair result. We are favorites to win now but there isn't much to choose between the teams," he said.

Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho said it was one of the best performances he had seen all season by his team.

"It was a great game and I think we played one of our best matches at home this season," Mourinho said.

United boss Alex Ferguson said he was happy to have striker Louis Saha back in the line-up after a two-month injury lay-off.

Joe Cole set the tone of the match inside the first 10 minutes with an airshot as he attempted to volley Mikael Silvestre's misdirected header towards goal.

The Chelsea midfielder made amends for that fluffed effort with a sublime flick for Damien Duff, who went on to strike a 25m shot that flew narrowly over the angle of post and bar.

French striker Saha had an early penalty appeal waved away as he tried to squeeze between Paulo Ferreira and Tiago in the Chelsea box.

Ronaldo was equally unsuccessful in convincing referee Neale Barry that he had been felled by John Terry but United soon carved out the best chance of the opening period.

Unchallenged as he rose to meet Wayne Rooney's corner inside the 6m box, Saha failed to make a clean contact with his head and the ball bounced wide of the target.

As the half-hour mark approached, Frank Lampard went close with a glancing header that skidded beyond the far post and Eidur Gudjohnsen found the net only to have his close-range effort ruled out for offside.

At the other end, Rooney fired one effort into the side netting and was only fractionally off target with an improvised volley with his back to goal.

For all the chances, it was not until ten minutes before the break that either goalkeeper had a save to make, Carlo Cudicini diving to his left to keep out Rooney's header, cleverly directed towards the near post from Darren Fletcher's cross.

United could claim to have shaded the opening period but they found themselves on the rack immediately after the break, during which Chelsea coach Mourinho took the opportunity to replace Gudjohnsen with Didier Drogba.

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