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Fergie rues missed opportunity for big United win
by Ian Plenderleith, September 22nd, 2008 7AM
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[ENGLAND] It seems strange that with summer's leaves still on the trees, Manchester United's visit to Chelsea was already being hailed as the title decider. Had Chelsea won, it would have opened up a nine-point lead over the reigning champions. With United hanging on for a 1-1 tie, we were reminded that there are still more than seven months of the season to run. Not to mention the fact that leader Arsenal, third-placed Liverpool, and even Aston Villa and Manchester City were never going to have given up on their own championship aspirations by the first day of fall.

In fact, United almost held out for a win, having taken a first-half lead on a Park Ji-Sung strike after Petr Cech failed to hold a shot from Dimitar Berbatov. Chelsea equalized on a header from substitute Salomon Kalou with 10 minutes to play after pressurizing United for most of the second half. United manager Alex Ferguson regretted missing out on what he called "a good chance" to win the game. He said his team gave the ball away too much after halftime, and that "if we'd just had a bit more energy in terms of the players who'd not had enough football, we'd have been OK."

The game was compelling, frenetic and, as expected, highly competitive, with seven United players ending up in referee Mike Riley's notebook. Chelsea accumulated just one yellow card, and may have felt that another few minutes would have been enough for them to land the winner. Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari called it "one of the best games we've played" this season.

Meanwhile, after beating Manchester United last week, Liverpool maintained its frustrating trend of recent years of failing to beat a lower caliber side at home -- the club dropped to third place behind Chelsea by dropping two points at home to newly promoted Stoke City. Liverpool was unlucky to have a Steven Gerrard free kick ruled out for a dubious offside flag after two minutes, but then spent the next 88 minutes hammering away at a resilient Stoke defense, lacking either the subtlety or the imagination to open them up. Arsenal leapfrogged them into the top spot with a 3-1 win on the road to Bolton Wanderers, while Manchester City served notice that money will perhaps buy them success by hammering FA Cup holders Portsmouth 6-0.

Down at the foot of the table, a Tottenham Hotspur side tipped to challenge for a top four place this season is still propping up the other 19 teams, winless after five games with just two points and four goals. The north London side was held at home to a goalless draw by Wigan Athletic.

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