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Sunday, November 06, 2005 

United end Chelsea run (1-0)

Darren Fletcher scored the only goal as Man United ended Chelsea's 40-game unbeaten Premiership run with a 1-0 triumph on Sunday. United withstood a second-half barrage from the league leaders, with keeper Edwin van der Sar sublime, to end a torrid week on a high.

It was just the sort of performance watching United captain Roy Keane will have been hoping to provoke with his inflammatory interview with the club's own TV channel.

Several of the players targetted for Keane's criticism looked determined to prove him wrong, Fletcher scored while Rio Ferdinand and John O'Shea kept Didier Drogba and Damian Duff quiet.

But it was another man in the firing line, Alan Smith who drove United to the win with a lung-bursting display of controlled aggression and determination that Keane - the man he is tipped to replace - would have been proud of.

And rather than feeling bitter towards his captain, Smith paid a tribute to the Irishman, who had been left fuming after last weekend's 4-1 humiliation at Middlesbrough.

"Sometimes you need a kick up the backside to remind you you're at a big club," said Smith. "We accept criticism when it comes. Everyone knows where that came from. A club like Manchester United should not be getting beat like that."

In truth, there was very little in the game, an assessment echoed by Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho himself, with both sides creating and then spurning chances.

Fletcher was caught sleeping just a quarter of an hour in as Asier del Horno raced in behind him to connect with a lunging volley which flew just wide, before Paul Scholes' crisp first-time drive flew inches wide of the target just two minutes later.

But United were determined to scale the heights that saw them end Arsenal's record Premiership run last season with Fletcher proving to be an unlikely match-winner.

Cristiano Ronaldo - who gave his international team-mate Paolo Ferreira a nightmare of an evening - twisted his way past the Chelsea right-back to lift a ball to the far post where Fletcher connected with a looping header that even the leaping John Terry could not keep out.

Chelsea appeared on the Old Trafford pitch a couple of minutes ahead of their opponents with a determined air that was transposed into a smothering second-half performance encamped in the United half.

But chances still came United's way, with Ruud van Nistelrooy wastefully shooting over from inside the box, before Chelsea carved out their first clear-cut opportunity only for Damian Duff to comically miss his kick completely.

Inevitably as Chelsea pressed, United retreated, and almost succumbed twenty minutes from time as Duff's ball picked out Drogba in the box - his shot had the sting taken out of it by Ferdinand, but ran into the path of the late-arriving Frank Lampard, who saw his close-range effort brilliantly parried by Van der Sar.

Del Horno again found United wanting as his burst into the box went unchecked only for the left-back to betray his defensive preferences by volleying over the bar from inside the six-yard box.

But the wind seemed to be sucked from Chelsea's sails as - despite the introduction of Eidur Gudjohnsen, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Carlton Cole - they failed to make the breakthrough which at one time had seemed inevitable.

And Wayne Rooney could have added a second as Terry and William Gallas both went for the same high ball presenting Rooney with the chance to pick his spot only for the England youngster to strike Terry with his measured effort.

"When you play the champions, it's always a big game," said United boss Sir Alex Ferguson. "It was a fantastic spectacle. For an hour we were fantastic, then up until the last five minutes, we were under the cosh, as they went for everything. That's what champions do."

After tasting only his second defeat while in charge of Chelsea, José Mourinho was in philosophical mood.

"We are disappointed, but losing after playing badly is one thing, losing after playing well is another," he said. "In the second half no-one could believe this was Old Trafford. The way Chelsea pressed them."

"Balls disappeared, players were diving to waste a few seconds. They did everything to win the game, so I give them credit."

And the outspoken Portuguese refused to draw parallels with his side and the way Arsenal crumbled after the 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford which ended their record-breaking unbeaten run last season.

"When Arsenal lost here, the other teams were quite close. At this moment in time, we are still in a comfortable position with no pressure on us," he said.

"This is the kind of match that everyone should realise we can lose. You come to a big club, with good players and they score before you. We could have scored. This is the sort of game where you are disappointed but proud."

Source: eurosport.com.

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