Manchester United staged a stunning fightback from three goals down as Javier Hernandez’s late equalizer rescued a dramatic 3-3 draw against Chelsea in one of the games of the season at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s team seemed to be heading for a heavy defeat after an own-goal from United defender Jonny Evans gave Chelsea the lead late in the first half, before Juan Mata and David Luiz added further goals for the Blues soon after the interval, but Wayne Rooney finally sparked United into life with two penalties midway through the second half and the champions’ frenzied pressure was rewarded when Mexico striker Hernandez headed home from a Ryan Giggs cross with six minutes left.
The draw leaves second-placed United two points behind leaders Manchester City, but the manner of their remarkable revival should provide a massive confidence boost as they try to overhaul their local rivals.
“It was a terrible start after halftime and it’s not easy to come back from three down. It was a massive effort from our players,” Ferguson said. “Once we got over the goals after halftime, we played really well. I was pleased with the players. We were by far the better team. For the neutral it was a great game, but I thought it was two points dropped because we played so well.”
Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas said: “Of course, it feels like a defeat. It isn’t easy to take. It’s a massive recovery from United.”
“It’s a disappointment for us. We had it in our hands and let it slip,” Villas-Boas said. “There were some strange decisions against us. The second penalty was very unlucky. I don’t know if Howard Webb was trying to compensate for something.”
Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge was the catalyst as his side took the lead in the 36th minute.
His neat piece of skill took him past Patrice Evra on the left side of the United penalty area and he drove in a low cross that clipped David de Gea’s foot, before deflecting off Evans into the unguarded goal.
United, whose last league win at Stamford Bridge came 10 years ago, were further behind just 30 seconds after halftime when Fernando Torres whipped a cross to the far post for Spanish winger Mata to lash a sublime volley past de Gea.
Chelsea struck again five minutes later when Mata’s teasing free-kick was met by Luiz and the Brazilian defender’s header glanced in off Rio Ferdinand’s shoulder.
Rooney gave United a lifeline when he drove home a penalty after Howard Webb ruled that Sturridge’s 58th-minute challenge on Evra was worthy of a spot-kick.
England striker Rooney then struck from the spot again 11 minutes later when Danny Welbeck tumbled over Branislav Ivanovic’s out-stretched leg.
Suddenly United were rampant and Hernandez came off the bench to cap their comeback with a clinical close-range header from Giggs’ cross in the 84th minute.
Earlier on Sunday, Senegal striker Papiss Demba Cisse enjoyed a dream debut for Newcastle United as his second-half strike secured a 2-1 win against Aston Villa at St James’ Park.
Alan Pardew’s side took the lead through Cisse’s compatriot Demba Ba, who marked his return from Africa Cup of Nations duty with his 16th goal of the season in the 30th minute.
Robbie Keane, on loan from Los Angeles Galaxy, equalized for Villa deep into first-half stoppage-time.
Cisse, who was only available because of Senegal’s earlier than expected exit from the Africa Cup of Nations, had come on as a first-half replacement for the injured Leon Best.