Roberto Di Matteo's team had fought their way back from 2-0 down and were threatening to complete the comeback until Branislav Ivanovic was sent off in the 63rd minute and Fernando Torres followed him six minutes later.
There could be no dispute about the the validity of the Ivanovic dismissal, clipping Ashley Young's heels as he bore down on Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal. Yet the protests were long and vociferous after the referee, Mark Clattenburg, decided that Torres had been trying to deceive him when he turned past Jonny Evans. The replays showed there had been a slight touch from Evans and Chelsea's sense of grievance was exacerbated six minutes later when the United substitute Javier Hernández turned in the winner from Rafael's misdirected shot. Hernández had been offside when Rafael struck the ball.
Di Matteo's anger could be seen when he clashed with Sir Alex Ferguson on the touchline. The Chelsea manager had seen his team show great strength of mind to recover from the blow of David Luiz's own goal and Robin van Persie's right-foot strike establishing a two-goal lead for the visitors after 12 minutes.
Juan Mata's free-kick two minutes before the interval had begun the recovery and when Ramires headed in Oscar's cross in the 53rd minute Chelsea had hope of ending United's record of having never lost a Premier League match when they had led 2-0.
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