Manchester United 1 Chelsea 1

Saturday 8th May 2004
Old Trafford, Manchester

Manchester United had their thirds-place finish confirmed as they could only match Chelsea and not beat them. Even a win may not have been enough the Reds would have needed to win whilst Chelsea lost or drew to already-relegated Leeds at home.

United put a strong team out, with van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo returning from injury, although Keane still needs a week or two. Ronaldo and Giggs switched wings throughout the game, whilst Scholes played the role of second striker, with Fergie aiming to pack the midfield rather than have two proper strikers.

The game began with the tempo that would be expected in a game between the two biggest clubs in English football. Chelsea, who recovered well from their devastating defeat in the Champions' League Semi-Final, had the first of the real chances with Gudjohnsen finding space in the box to take the ball round Gary Neville firing at Howards legs. It was a lucky escape.

The game changed on 18 minutes because of a refereeing error (how many times have we said that this season?). Short-sighted Bennett decided that the ball had crossed the line and gave a Chelsea corner despite the fact that the ball didn't cross the line and Howard had skilfully kept it in. From the resulting corner Chelsea made the breakthrough. The corner was poor but was met by a head at the edge of the box, which flicked the ball into Gronkjaer's path. The Danish international was allowed three touches before firing the ball home, well out of the reach of T-Ho.

United rallied and became aggressive. Paul Scholes went down in the box and was awarded a yellow card for his attempt at winning an unfair penalty. Two minutes later the aggression could have spilled over with Scholes' challenge deserving of a second yellow. Luckily Bennett bottled the decision despite his first instincts to grab his book out of his pocket.

Scholes was not on the pitch for much longer however, with Fergie substituting him before he landed himself a needless suspension.

It was substitute Saha who won the United penalty, with his legs being swiped away from him by Huth, who should have similarly gone having been carded earlier in the game. The resulting penalty was saved well by Cudicini, although the usual qualities of a van Nistelrooy penalty were missing.

The second half started without the same urgency from Chelsea, allowing United to dominate possession. This led to a number of chances being crafted by the enigmatic Ronaldo, and ultimately a sending off.

The ball was played through the Chelsea defence to Vinny. He ran on to the ball but was cruelly taken down by Huth, who deserved a straight red rather than the ensuing yellow that saw him leave the pitch anyway.

A Cudicini fumble allowed Ruud to equalise with ten minutes to go, but despite the constant pressure they couldn't carve out a win.

The result means United will have to qualify for the Champions League by playing against a bum-team over two legs.

Man Utd: Howard, Gary Neville, Brown, Silvestre, O'Shea, Fletcher, Scholes (Saha 36), Phil Neville (Kleberson 78), Ronaldo (Solskjaer 87), Giggs, van Nistelrooy.

Subs Not Used: Carroll, Butt.

Booked: Scholes, Phil Neville, Kleberson.

Chelsea: Cudicini, Melchiot (Johnson 74), Huth, Terry, Bridge, Gronkjaer (Babayaro 83), Lampard, Makelele, Geremi, Cole (Parker 78), Gudjohnsen.

Subs Not Used: Ambrosio, Stanic.

Sent Off: Huth (73).

Booked: Huth, Terry.

Attendance: 67,609.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).