Three goals down after 50 minutes at Chelsea, Manchester United produced a trademark comeback to draw 3-3 on Sunday and stay within reach of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.
But even though a point had appeared an unlikely prospect early in the second half, manager Alex Ferguson was still aggrieved.
“It’s two dropped points because we played so well,” Ferguson said. “Apart from a period of 10 minutes after halftime when we got off to a terrible start and lost two goals, I thought we were the far better team.
“It’s not easy coming back from 3-0 and it was a massive effort from our players.”
United had inadvertently given Chelsea the lead when Jonny Evans turned the ball into his own net in the first half, and Juan Mata and David Luiz found the net at the start of the second half.
Chelsea collapsed from the 58th minute, conceding two penalties that Wayne Rooney converted before Javier Hernandez leveled for United in the 84th minute.
The point left United two points behind leader City, which beat Fulham on Saturday. Fourth-place Chelsea is only a point ahead of Newcastle, which beat Aston Villa 2-1 on Sunday after a debut goal from Papiss Demba Cisse.
Third-place Tottenham is in action on Monday night at Liverpool, with Luis Suarez due to return for the hosts after serving an eight-match ban for racially abusing United defender Patrice Evra.
The specter of racism loomed large at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Some Chelsea fans jeered every touch of the ball by United defender Rio Ferdinand, whose brother was allegedly racially abused by Chelsea captain John Terry in October.
Terry, who was sidelined through injury on Sunday, is set to face trial for allegedly racially abusing Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand.
“You don’t expect opposing fans to cheer your players,” Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas said. “This is a normal situation in the Premiership.”
Ferdinand responded later on Twitter to the booing, saying it inspired him and was “like fuel to me.”
Initially, though, United appeared to be headed to defeat in west London.
Daniel Sturridge’s chipped cross from a tight angle hit a boot of United goalkeeper David de Gea and rebounded off Evans’ chest into his own goal in the 36th minute.
And 25 seconds into the second half, Mata powered a first-time volley into the net after meeting Fernando Torres’ pinpoint cross.
Chelsea raced further in front five minutes later when Mata’s free kick skimmed off Luiz’s head and hit Ferdinand’s shoulder before landing in the net.
Chelsea’s fortunes turned, though, in the 58th when Rooney scored from the penalty spot after Sturridge was ruled to have fouled Evra.
Rooney was on target again from the spot 11 minutes later after referee Howard Webb ruled that Branislav Ivanovic had tripped Danny Welbeck.
“Wayne has been doing a lot of practice since he missed his last penalty kick (against Bolton), and I think it’s paid off,” Ferguson said. “Our two penalties in the second half were justified and we could have had four penalties in the game.”
The comeback was completed when goalkeeper Petr Cech parried Rooney’s shot and Ryan Giggs sent the ball back into the penalty area for the unmarked Hernandez to head home.
“It’s a massive recovery for United — we had it in our hands and let it slip,” Villas-Boas said. “There were some strange decisions today, though. These things just keep happening. The first one is a penalty and I agree with it. The second is very unlucky. I’m not sure if Howard is trying to compensate for something.”
At St. James’ Park, Cisse scored his first goal since joining Newcastle for about 10 million pounds ($16 million) last month.
Jonas Gutierrez’s left-wing cross was too high for Demba Ba, but it fell for Cisse to control with his chest before dispatching a left-foot volley high to goalkeeper Shay Given’s right in the 71st.
Ba, Cisse’s Senegal teammate, had put Newcastle in front on the half-hour. But Robbie Keane leveled for Villa at the end of the first half — the Ireland striker’s third goal of his loan spell from the Los Angeles Galaxy.