LONDON // Salomon Kalou preserved Chelsea's remarkable four-year, 85-game unbeaten home record as he scored a dramatic equaliser against Manchester United just when Sir Alex Ferguson's side through they had re-ignited their season with a victory at Stamford Bridge yesterday.
The substitute Kalou had only been on the pitch for five minutes when he rose to head home an 80th-minute free-kick from John Obi-Mikel and earn Chelsea a draw against the champions and maintain a six-point advantage over their rivals. United, who have won only once in their last six games, must have thought they were about to become the first team since Arsenal in Feb 2004 to take three league points at Stamford Bridge following a dominant first-half display and a 17th minute goal from Park-Ji Sung .
But not even the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo as a second-half substitute could make that happen as Chelsea battled to save their unbeaten record in a match that was high on drama as referee Mike Riley booked seven United players. Sir Alex Ferguson claimed in the pre-match build-up that battles against Arsenal remain more important for him despite the recent rivalry between the two clubs which included last season's Champions League final. You can't, he implied, just buy the kind of history that makes a fixture special.
Even so there was a lot riding on the result and Chelsea and United seem to have packed an awful lot of history into a short space of time. United's victory in the Champions League final after John Terry missed what would have been the winning penalty was at the forefront of everybody's mind at Stamford Bridge, and not least the visiting fans who greeted him with ironic cheers. The anthem "Viva John Terry, he could have won the Cup but he messed it up", or at least a hardcore version of it, rung out around the ground - the same venue where United players scuffled with Chelsea groundstaff following a 2-1 defeat last year.
Given Chelsea's flying start to the season under Scolari, there was a real chance for the home side to go nine points clear of their rivals and steal a march in the title race. Ferguson, however, is far too experienced to listen to critics and he won the tactical battle in the first half as his United side went 1-0 up and left Chelsea badly rattled. Scolari's wing-back system was ripped to shreds as United thundered forward from the start, with Fletcher going close after five minutes and Ferdinand denied spectacularly by Petr Cech following a sweeping move.
Chelsea, who had been stunned an injury to key midfielder Deco in the pre-match warm-up, suffered another blow when Ricardo Carvalho limped off after only 12 minutes to be replaced by Alex. United went ahead after 18 minutes with a wonderful fast-paced move as Rooney swept a pass through to Evra who shook off Bosingwa's ineffective challenge to find Berbatov. The Bulgarian's shot was saved but fell straight to Park to side-foot home.
Chelsea appealed for a penalty when Malouda collided with van der Sar, a challenge which left the United goalkeeper too badly injured to carry on and required Tomasz Kusczcak to replace him. The home side, who brought on Drogba after the break, had more of the ball in the second half as the tension rose but it was battling qualities rather than quality that got them back in contention. Cole missed another chance when he shot straight at Kusczcak after 66 minutes but Kalou eventually saved the day 10 minutes from time. Another chapter in the history of Chelsea and Man United has been written but it will be many months yet before we know the final ending.