John Terry celebrates his precious winner late in the game at Stamford Bridge
By Sam Lyon
John Terry grabbed the only goal of the game to extend Chelsea's Premier League lead to five points and deal a big blow to Manchester United's title chances.
The Blues skipper met Frank Lampard's free-kick late on to earn his side a 10th straight home win.
But a makeshift United side will feel aggrieved after a fine display, with Darren Fletcher in impressive form.
Wayne Rooney twice went close from range, but a lack of cutting edge cost the reigning champions dear in the end.
And with Sir Alex Ferguson's side now five points behind their London rivals, United must hope Chelsea's current form falls away if they are to win a fourth successive title.
They can at least be comforted by a brave performance, though, especially considering the absence of centre-half pairing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, as well as striker Dimitar Berbatov.
That meant Jonny Evans and Wes Brown were again paired in defence - and up against the in-form frontline of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, many expected them to have their work cut out at the Bridge.
The pair held up well, though, aided enormously by the return to league action of Fletcher following a recent ankle problem. The Scot, so often a pivotal player for them in the big games in the past, typified the visitors' relentless and disciplined approach.
Matching up against Chelsea's diamond formation, with Rooney floating and Antonio Valencia pushed up against left back Ashley Cole, United stifled their opponents' rhythm and just had the better of a keenly fought first half.
Twice Chelsea got the better of close early refereeing decisions, firstly when Anderson set Rooney through on goal only for the striker to be harshly ruled offside and then when Terry escaped punishment for an apparent tug on Valencia's shirt in the box.
Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick also had efforts from range to keep home keeper Petr Cech interested.
However, a lack of a real killer pass or shot in the final third often had lone striker Rooney cutting a forlorn figure and it was Chelsea who forged the more clear-cut chances, particularly through Anelka.
The Frenchman had an early sighter with a near post shot that Edwin van der Sar held comfortably, and he forced a far more impressive save from the Dutchman just after the half hour with a left-foot curler that the keeper had to beat away on the stretch.
In a half of few chances, it was by far the closest either side had come to a breakthrough, and the pattern of play was almost identical in the second.
The irrepressible Fletcher forged the first opening of the half when his fierce drive was well blocked by Carvalho, while at the other end Van der Sar comfortably saved from Lampard's low left-footed drive.
While it remained 0-0, Ferguson - mindful of his side's failure to get anything out of four of their last five away matches against a 'big four' team - was by far the more comfortable manager and it was Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti who blinked first from the sidelines, bringing on Joe Cole for the ineffective Deco.
But it was Rooney at the other end who twice came closest to breaking the deadlock, his first effort a drive inches wide from the edge of the area and the second a curler that had to be tipped round the post by Cech.
However, Chelsea under Ancelotti have been imperious at home and all United's play counted for nothing when Terry rose highest to meet Lampard's pinpoint free-kick and put the Londoners into a precious lead.
To compound the visitors' deflation, United had argued that Fletcher, in conceding the crucial free-kick, had won the ball from Ashley Cole and that Drogba was in an offside position as the ball flew in - but their protests fell on deaf ears.
All of a sudden United were the side displaying an air of desperation, and even as Valencia drove wide and substitute Gabriel Obertan forced a good block late in the game, there was a lack of belief among the visitors' late rally.
As it was, Chelsea's record of not having conceded a home goal in the league since the opening day of the season rarely looked in trouble late on and the final whistle prompted scenes of jubilation among a home faithful with a firm eye on regaining a Premier League title they have not won since 2006.
90:00+5:05 The game is over, as the referee blows his whistle.
90:00+4:10 Darren Fletcher concedes a free kick for a foul on Frank Lampard. Frank Lampard takes the direct free kick.
90:00+2:45 Gabriel Obertan takes a inswinging corner from the left by-line to the near post, Michael Carrick produces a right-footed
shot from deep inside the penalty box which goes wide of the left-hand post.
90:00+2:45 Substitution Nicolas Anelka goes off and Alex comes on.
90:00+1:12 Corner taken right-footed by Antonio Valencia from the right by-line to the near post, Jonathan Evans produces a header from
inside the area that goes over the crossbar.
90:00+0:39 Corner taken by Gabriel Obertan, clearance made by Nicolas Anelka.
90:00+0:08 Effort on goal by Patrice Evra from 25 yards. Branislav Ivanovic gets a block in.
89:39 The assistant referee flags for offside against Frank Lampard. Edwin Van der Sar takes the free kick.
88:02 Petr Cech restarts play with the free kick.
88:02 Booking Antonio Valencia receives a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.
87:58 Unfair challenge on Frank Lampard by Antonio Valencia results in a free kick.
87:13 Unfair challenge on Joe Cole by Darren Fletcher results in a free kick. Michael Ballack takes the direct free kick.
86:29 Gabriel Obertan takes a shot. Blocked by Frank Lampard.
85:56 Wayne Rooney takes the inswinging corner, Frank Lampard makes a clearance.
85:13 Ricardo Carvalho challenges Wayne Rooney unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick crossed by Wayne Rooney.
83:19 Substitution Michael Owen on for Oliveira Anderson.
83:19 Substitution Gabriel Obertan joins the action as a substitute, replacing Ryan Giggs.
83:19 Corner taken by Ryan Giggs from the left by-line, Effort from deep inside the area by Antonio Valencia misses to the left
of the target.
81:51 Direct free kick taken by Jonathan Evans.
81:51 Substitution Didier Drogba leaves the field to be replaced by Salomon Kalou.
81:51 Booking The referee shows Jonathan Evans a yellow card.
81:34 Booking Booking for Ricardo Carvalho for unsporting behaviour.
80:17 Wayne Rooney fouled by Ricardo Carvalho, the ref awards a free kick.
79:32 A cross is delivered by Nicolas Anelka, save by Edwin Van der Sar.
77:53 Foul by Michael Ballack on Oliveira Anderson, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Michael Carrick.
77:18 Michael Carrick concedes a free kick for a foul on Michael Essien. Michael Ballack takes the direct free kick.
76:07 Booking Wayne Rooney is shown a yellow card.
75:46 Assist by Frank Lampard.
75:46 GOAL - John Terry:Chelsea 1 - 0 Man Utd John Terry grabs a headed goal from inside the box. Chelsea 1-0 Man Utd.
75:13 Darren Fletcher concedes a free kick for a foul on Ashley Cole. The ball is crossed by Frank Lampard,
73:36 Booking Didier Drogba goes into the book.
71:38 Didier Drogba concedes a free kick for a foul on Jonathan Evans. Free kick taken by Edwin Van der Sar.
70:02 Wayne Rooney fouled by John Terry, the ref awards a free kick. Wayne Rooney restarts play with the free kick. Antonio Valencia
takes a shot from 25 yards.
69:15 Centre by Oliveira Anderson.
68:55 Wayne Rooney has an effort at goal. Blocked by Ricardo Carvalho.
67:49 Curled right-footed shot by Wayne Rooney. Save made by Petr Cech. Corner taken left-footed by Ryan Giggs from the right by-line,
clearance made by Didier Drogba.
66:11 Wayne Rooney has an effort at goal from outside the box missing to the wide left of the goal.
66:00 Unfair challenge on Oliveira Anderson by Michael Essien results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Oliveira Anderson.
64:50 Shot from 30 yards by Frank Lampard. Darren Fletcher gets a block in.
62:44 Substitution Joe Cole replaces Deco.
61:53 Headed effort on goal by Ryan Giggs from just inside the box goes harmlessly over the goal.
60:25 Effort on goal by Frank Lampard from 25 yards. Save by Edwin Van der Sar.
59:16 Didier Drogba takes a shot. Save made by Edwin Van der Sar.
58:41 Antonio Valencia gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Ashley Cole. Free kick taken by Michael Ballack.
58:13 Darren Fletcher has an effort at goal from 20 yards. John Terry gets a block in.
57:30 Direct free kick taken by Patrice Evra.
57:30 Booking The referee cautions Branislav Ivanovic for unsporting behaviour.
57:23 Branislav Ivanovic gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Ryan Giggs.
55:50 Free kick awarded for a foul by Michael Ballack on Oliveira Anderson. Michael Carrick takes the direct free kick.
55:21 Shot by Patrice Evra. Save by Petr Cech.
53:12 Ryan Giggs gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Branislav Ivanovic. Shot on goal comes in from Didier Drogba
from the free kick.
52:19 Ricardo Carvalho challenges Oliveira Anderson unfairly and gives away a free kick. Edwin Van der Sar restarts play with the
51:40 Darren Fletcher challenges Deco unfairly and gives away a free kick. Deco crosses the ball in from the free kick, clearance
by Jonathan Evans.
50:15 Didier Drogba has a shot on goal from outside the box which misses right.
49:00 Foul by Oliveira Anderson on Michael Essien, free kick awarded. Ricardo Carvalho takes the free kick.
47:19 Centre by Ryan Giggs.
46:23 Darren Fletcher takes a shot from inside the box clearing the bar.
45:01 The referee gets the second half started.
45:00+1:05 The ref blows to signal half-time.
44:47 Effort from deep inside the area by Didier Drogba clears the bar.
42:14 Effort from just outside the area by Michael Carrick goes over the target.
37:46 Didier Drogba concedes a free kick for a foul on Wes Brown. John O'Shea restarts play with the free kick.
37:03 Michael Ballack challenges Darren Fletcher unfairly and gives away a free kick. Edwin Van der Sar restarts play with the free
36:06 Michael Carrick produces a right-footed shot from long distance which goes wide right of the goal.
35:36 Wayne Rooney takes a shot. Ricardo Carvalho gets a block in.
31:35 Nicolas Anelka takes a shot. Save made by Edwin Van der Sar.
30:56 Michael Carrick takes a shot. Save by Petr Cech.
30:16 The referee blows for offside against Antonio Valencia. Indirect free kick taken by Petr Cech.
28:10 Ryan Giggs takes a shot from just inside the penalty box which clears the bar.
27:27 Effort on goal by Nicolas Anelka from 25 yards. Edwin Van der Sar makes a save.
26:19 Wes Brown concedes a free kick for a foul on Didier Drogba. Direct strike on goal from the free kick comes in from Frank Lampard.
24:38 Unfair challenge on Wes Brown by Didier Drogba results in a free kick. Edwin Van der Sar takes the free kick.
22:41 John O'Shea gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Nicolas Anelka. Free kick crossed right-footed by Frank Lampard.
19:07 Antonio Valencia takes a long range shot clearing the crossbar.
17:36 Michael Ballack crosses the ball, Headed effort on goal by Didier Drogba from inside the penalty box misses to the right of
16:40 Oliveira Anderson gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Michael Essien. Ricardo Carvalho restarts play with the
11:46 Didier Drogba fouled by Jonathan Evans, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Ricardo Carvalho.
10:12 Wayne Rooney takes a shot. Blocked by Ricardo Carvalho. Ryan Giggs takes the outswinging corner, Header by Darren Fletcher
from deep inside the penalty area misses to the left of the goal.
7:16 The referee blows for offside. Ricardo Carvalho takes the indirect free kick.
5:16 Patrice Evra concedes a free kick for a foul on Branislav Ivanovic. Petr Cech takes the free kick.
3:55 Branislav Ivanovic takes a shot. Save by Edwin Van der Sar.
3:04 Didier Drogba gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Jonathan Evans. Jonathan Evans takes the direct free kick.
2:10 Unfair challenge on Frank Lampard by Wayne Rooney results in a free kick. Free kick taken by John Terry.
0:00 The referee gets the game started.
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