They celebrated as if this was the turning point. Last minute Manchester United, twice in a week, back to their best.
They got away with it. A scramble from a questionable free-kick in the fourth minute of injury time, lashed in by Robin van Persie. A red card for Branislav Ivanovic that most certainly wasn’t, and a rejected Chelsea penalty claim that gets more plausible with each viewing.
Robin van Persie smashes home United's equaliser from six yards in the final seconds of a pulsating clash at Old Trafford
The United striker, who had earlier missed his side's two best chances, was clearly delighted with his late goal which rescued a point
In the lead-up to Van Persie's strike Branislav Ivanovic had been shown a red card, for two bookings, by referee Phil Dowd
Didier Drogba puts Chelsea ahead as he takes advantage of an aerial mismatch with Rafael to head past David de Gea in the United goal
The Ivorian striker celebrates giving his side the lead, scoring for the first time in the Premier League since returning this summer
This wasn’t United at their best, but perhaps their most fortunate. Jose Mourinho had too much respect for his mentor, Louis van Gaal, to make his displeasure public when they came together on the sidelines.
His face as the goal went in said it all, though. He screwed up his features as if encountering a bad smell. It was the expression of a man who thought he was robbed. Probably, he was.
Not hugely. This wasn’t grand larceny. Chelsea were not many goals better than United, they did not thrash them, or put them away. But a 1-0 win would have been about fair.
Chelsea were better organised, stronger defensively, executed their game plan, and shaded the action.
To United’s credit, however, they did not give up, displaying the spirit that saw them through at West Bromwich Albion on Monday, and they deserve praise for that.
It says much about their development, though, that this point at home was celebrated like a far greater affair, the United players forming a pyramid of jubilation on Van Persie as Chelsea despaired.
Ivanovic, by now down the tunnel, will have known what had happened by the cacophony. The sense of injustice would have been quite raw.
Would Chelsea have hung on with 11? We can never know. The fact is, it never helps to defend with ten, and Ivanovic is a significant presence during set pieces at either end. Perhaps Chelsea lost a little concentration, too, when Dowd issued his seventh yellow card to a blue shirt. It did not seem a particularly dirty game, either.
The two managers, Jose Mourinho (left) and Louis van Gaal (right) shared a hug before kick-off, but both were quickly back to business
Marouane Fellaini, rewarded for his impact against West Brom with a starting berth, plays the ball past Chelsea's Didier Drogba
Eden Hazard was a constant threat for Chelsea, running at the Manchester United defence and causing Rafael in particular problems
Rafael was shown a twelfth minute yellow card after pulling back Hazard, the Belgian having beaten him and made his way towards goal
Robin van Persie had the best of the early chances, but saw his low shot saved when one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois
To make one thing clear: Angel di Maria did not dive to win the foul. Ivanovic clipped his heel on the run, and he tripped. He did not cheat. It did not look intentional, but there was contact and that makes it a free-kick.
Intent does not come into this. Even if Ivanovic merely mis-stepped the onus is on him not to be clumsy. So United’s drink in the last chance saloon was at least deserved.
The booking, less so. There are too many dirty, dangerous challenges going unpunished in the English game for this to be yellow card material. So Chelsea should have had the full complement on the pitch when Di Maria’s free-kick came in. Whether that would have made the difference, who knows?
As it was, United’s best player on the day, Marouane Fellaini, won the header, Thibaut Courtois made the save, and the ball fell to Van Persie, who buried ferociously it on instinct alone.
There was no time for any more drama and a result that would have pleased both sides before the game, had the feeling of a United victory, and a Chelsea defeat. Yet is that the positive it sounds?
There was a time when Old Trafford would have been disappointed at two home points dropped in this fixture. Now it provokes a fiesta.
Didier Drogba's goal was simplicity itself coming from Cesc Fabregas' pin-point delivery. See more in our brilliant Match Zone
Rafael looked exposed against the Chelsea winger, but offered a little more going forward than he did in defence during the first half
Chris Smalling holds up Drogba, who was asked to lead the line for Chelsea in the absence of the injured Diego Costa and Loic Remy
Juan Mata, playing against his former club, had a point to prove to Mourinho, who had frozen the Spaniard out at Chelsea
The turning points of the match? Chelsea will cite Ivanovic’s first booking and the spurned penalty appeal, although neither come with a guarantee. For the first, Ivanovic certainly seemed to hand off Di Maria, but the United man was trying to do the same to him.
It is hardly Ivanovic’s fault that he won this particular trial of strength and, even if Dowd considered it worthy of a foul, it surely wasn’t a booking. Maybe, though, Ivanovic talked his way into trouble with his protests. If so, he was foolish.
As for the penalty that wasn’t, Dowd merits a small degree of sympathy. Closer inspection suggest Marcos Rojo had John Terry by the neck, and Chris Smalling was doing a similar job on Ivanovic as Cesc Fabregas’s first-half corner came in, but there is so much grappling in the box these days that the referee possibly viewed it as a fair fight, with the entire quartet offending.
When Gary Neville says that United got away with one, however, it is worth considering that Chelsea had a case.
Angel di Maria, who fired a volley over the bar when well placed early on, runs at Chelsea's Willian during the first half at Old Trafford
Di Maria has been the best thing about United's play so far this season, but struggled to impose himself against Chelsea's midfield early
Courtois saves after van Persie had tried an ambitious volley, but it didn't really trouble the big Belgian in the Chelsea goal
Branislav Ivanovic was wrestled to the ground by Chris Smalling from a set piece, but referee Phil Dowd turned down his penalty appeal
Despite Smalling throwing him to the ground in a headlock, Ivanovic still came close to reaching the ball into the box
The real victim here, though: Chelsea’s third-choice striker. Without Manchester United’s equaliser and Ivanovic’s red, the headlines would have belonged to Didier Drogba, as Chelsea’s match-winner. Life in the old Drog yet. Who would have thought it?
Rejoining in the summer, Drogba was considered to be on very much a sentimental journey under Mourinho. We should have known Chelsea’s manager does not do sentiment, even in mellowed middle age.
Shorn of Diego Costa with a virus and his understudy Loic Remy, injured against Maribor, Mourinho sent Drogba into the fray, kept him there for 90 minutes, and watched in quiet vindication as he all but won the match.
One mighty leap in the 52nd minute took him above Manchester United’s puny defence and should have given Chelsea a six-point lead over their rivals. What he has got to offer?
A muscular presence and eye for the main chance that may never be dulled by the years. Drogba is 36. He could be 86, and you would still fancy him to outjump Rafael from a Cesc Fabregas corner, which is what happened.
The United defender clearly brought down his Chelsea counterpart as the ball flashed across goal, with his arms around the Serb's neck
A disbelieving Ivanovic appeals to Dowd, while Smalling seems to realise he has got away with a silly mistake inside the six-yard box
Robin van Persie continued on his own up front in the absence of the suspended Wayne Rooney and injured Radamel Falcao
Di Maria was closely watched by Nemanja Matic, who has been such a crucial part of Chelsea's success sitting in front of the back four
Quite why Van Gaal chose his right-back to go against Drogba from a dead ball who can say? It was a mis-match of fantastic proportions. David versus Goliath, except some prankster has taken David’s sling shots and replaced them with marshmallows.
Seconds earlier, Drogba had signalled the spark that remains, playing a delightful one-two to send Eden Hazard sprinting beyond United’s defence, only for a fabulous David De Gea save to keep him out.
It was from this corner that Chelsea scored. De Gea deserved more; United didn’t.
Thibaut Courtois rises highest to collect the ball, as both goalkeepers stood strong in a goalless first half at Old Trafford
Adnan Januzaj skips past Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas, who can find no way to stop him except by pulling the young winger down
Hazard glides between Di Maria and Mata as the two United midfielders do their best to stop him without committing a foul
The Belgian star sees his shot brilliantly saved by De Gea after slicing through the United defence, but Chelsea would score moments later
Rafael can get nowhere near Drogba as the Chelsea striker gets up highest to head home, moments after De Gea had denied Hazard
Having missed Chelsea's best chance of the first half, Drogba silenced the Old Trafford crowd with his precision header
Fabregas whipped it, Drogba got the glancing header, Van Persie could not do enough to stop its progress to goal. Mourinho 1 Van Gaal 0. No, of course he doesn’t do sentiment.
Leading his mentor by a single goal, Mourinho then tried to shut up shop, introducing an increasing number of defence-minded players as the minutes leaked away.
Fools will say Chelsea paid the price for being negative. Only an numbskull goes gung-ho leading by a goal at Old Trafford with 15 minutes remaining, though.
United's players cannot believe it after falling behind to Jose Mourinho's table-topping side, against whom chances were scarce
Oscar looks to find a way past Rafael but the United full back gets a foot in to stop his fellow Brazilian, who was soon replaced
Van Persie sees another good chance go begging as he is once again denied by Thibaut Courtois when through on goal
Jose Mourinho spits water onto the Old Trafford pitch as his Chelsea side battle to preserve their lead in the final few minutes
Can United build on this? Van Gaal will hope so. He will be buoyed, too, by the first-half performance of Adnan Januzaj, who was at the centre of most of United’s best work.
In the 23rd minute, he threaded a lovely pass through to Van Persie, whose shot was smothered by Courtois, one on one.
At the other end, Drogba forced an equally fine save from De Gea, with his legs. Honours even? Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, you know. Either way, it’s a start.
It was not only in scoring goals that Drogba excelled as the 36-year-old striker worked hard without the ball after putting his side ahead
Fellaini does his best to stop Filipe Luis making progress down the Chelsea left as the visitors looked to close out the win at Old Trafford
Louis van Gaal looks on, unable to call on Falcao or Rooney to offer support to Van Persie, and instead turned to teenager James Wilson
Mourinho reacts furiously as he sees his side concede a late goal to deny them all three points, after Ivanovic had been sent off
Ivanovic cannot believe it as he is shown his second yellow card for a foul on Angel di Maria in the last minute of stoppage time
As the ball breaks to him from the resulting free kick, Van Persie smashes the ball past Courtois to rescue a point for United
Despite the attention of several Chelsea defenders, in particular Kurt Zouma sliding in to try and deny him, van Persie found the target
The Dutch striker falls to the floor as Marcos Rojo, Smalling and Fellaini begin to celebrate their somewhat fortunate escape
The United players descend on Van Persie as Chelsea's defenders look around in despair, with two points having been snatched away
Van Persie celebrates after his dramatic equaliser rescued a point for Manchester United against league leaders Chelsea