What a game, what a cup tie. Laced with skill, enterprise and excellence, if not quite offering the mayhem of Tuesday’s madcap at the Madejski Stadium, this was as vibrant a match as you could wish to see.
Report by Telegraph
And as potent an antidote to the poison which has enveloped Stamford Bridge in the rancorous aftermath of Sunday’s encounter between these two sides.
For Chelsea, epitomised by the magnificent Daniel Sturridge, this represented instant redemption, immediate payback for Sunday’s defeat, a victory made all the sweeter by the manner in which it was retrieved from the very point of defeat right at the last in normal time.
And for Manchester United, even as they sunk by a playground score of 5-4, there was still consolation to be drawn. After all, it was just the Capital One Cup. The fourth most important competition in their sights, maybe.
But nevertheless 6 000 of their supporters had made their way to the Bridge, seemingly anxious to ensure that events over the weekend were not quickly forgotten. High in the Shed End, they unfurled a banner which, alluding to the home fans’ favourite eulogy to their captain John Terry, read: “Clattenburg, referee, leader, legend.”
It was but three days previously that the Teesside official had found himself at the centre of a row here so festering, its after-effects so toxic, it could only be described as a Clattenstorm. Now, thanks to the quirk of the knockout draw, with barely time to draw breath, there was an immediate rematch.
However, with more important contests ahead, most of the normal cast had been rested. Which meant, despite being staged on Halloween, there were very few of the usual bogeymen on display. There was no Rio Ferdinand to boo. No Ashley Cole to abuse. There was no Terry to mock. Compared to those old favourites, Scott Wootton, Lucas Piazon and César Azpilicueta just did not present the same target.
There was, though, a referee. When asked what advice he might proffer Lee Mason ahead of officiating in this game, Sir Alex Ferguson had merely said: “Good luck”. It seemed, as his name was booed vociferously the very first time it was mentioned, that he would need it. Round these parts they are convinced that the entire officiating profession is engaged in a conspiracy to do their team down.
In the early skirmishes, every whistle blow against the home side was greeted with spume-flecked fury from the stands. But, as the ding-dong action progressed, it soon became clear that Mason was having an exemplary game. He may have awarded more penalties than some clubs see all season, but his every decision was subsequently proven to be entirely accurate. There could be no dispute about his display.
Nor could there about that of the players under his control.