Rafael Benitez approached Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea at the end, and congratulated him on the save of the match. A sporting gesture? A show of national solidarity? He probably just needs the friends.
Mocked by the home supporters, vilified by the travellers, Old Trafford must have felt a very lonely place for Benitez on Sunday. A goal behind after five minutes and two down six minutes later, his substitutions attracted only derision, particularly the replacement of this season’s cause celebre Frank Lampard.
That these introductions ended up changing the game, and should have led to a Chelsea victory, will give Benitez quiet satisfaction. It hardly matters now.
Top work: Rafa Benitez congratulates his men after a stunning comeback against the champions elect
Cool head: Ramires swept the ball in to the far corner to pull his side level
MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea, Da Silva, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra, Carrick, Cleveley, Nani (Valencia 45), Kagawa (Welbeck 75), Rooney, Hernandez (Van Persie 61). Subs not used: Amos, Anderson, Vidic, Young.
Goals: Hernandez 5, Rooney 11
CHELSEA: Cech, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Cole, Ramires, Lampard (Hazard 51), Moses (Mikel 51), Mata, Oscar, Ba (Torres 77). Subs not used: Turnbull, Ivanovic,Terry, Bertrand.
Goals: Hazard 59, Ramires 68
Booked: Azpilicueta, Luiz, Hazard.
Referee: Howard Web
He is gone at the end of this campaign, even if Chelsea win the FA Cup, the Europa League and qualify for next season’s Champions League
Benitez could end up very successful and still be looking for work by mid-May.
He would never admit this, but what happens from here is as much a personal quest as any shared mission.
The counter-argument is that Benitez should have started with Eden Hazard, the inspiration for the comeback, and that John Terry’s presence at the heart of defence might have prevented at least one, if not both, Manchester United goals. We will never know.
What is plain is that Chelsea were the better team from the 52nd-minute substitutions onwards and created more in the second half than United did before half-time.
Head boy: Javier Hernandez nods home United's first goal
On its way: Everyone is fooled as Rooney's free kick finds its way in
Answering his critics: It didn't take Wayne Rooney long to find the net
De Gea’s save from Juan Mata on 90 minutes ensured a replay and prevented that rarest of beasts, an away win for a team which trailed at Old Trafford at half-time.
May 7, 1984 was the last time United lost a league match here having led at the interval, yet a three-goal Chelsea revival would not have been undeserved.
Once Benitez replaced the misfiring Victor Moses with Hazard, and brought in Mikel for Lampard, releasing Ramires, the balance of power altered.
Chelsea were rejuvenated and United seemingly on their last legs. Nothing Sir Alex Ferguson did made a difference. Robin van Persie came off the bench and was anonymous, so too Danny Welbeck.
Dejected: John Terry was forced to watch his team-mates from the bench
A Chelsea defence that had looked so vulnerable early on grew in assurance, particularly David Luiz.
Meanwhile, Hazard and Mata were linking superbly to wreak havoc on the counter-attack.
Rafael and Patrice Evra were sluggish under threat, Jonny Evans uncertain. Only Rio Ferdinand kept his composure amid Chelsea’s pressure, although he later lost it with Fernando Torres and was lucky to escape the attention of referee Howard Webb.
A game that had seemed moribund was suddenly bursting with life. It was as if a switch had been flicked. Before Hazard arrived, this was almost a training exercise for United.
They were 2-0 up, coasting, and clearly thought Chelsea offered no threat. Perhaps this was why the second-half surge hit them so hard. Until that point there had only been one team in it.
Heads we win: Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa (right) beats Cesar Azpilicueta in the air
No way through: Tom Cleverley (right) closes down Chelsea's Demba Ba
You can’t give United a two-goal lead and get away with it, is the pervading logic, although Chelsea did. The first attack of significance, a raking long ball from Michael Carrick, picked out Javier Hernandez, who had been given too much space by Gary Cahill.
This error would have been without cost, however, had Petr Cech not come bounding from his goal in a forlorn attempt to sweep up. Hernandez, judging the situation perfectly, lobbed a header into the far corner of the net.
It is often forgotten that the player who is most commonly hard done by at United is the Mexican striker, who would be a favourite son at most clubs in the Premier League — certainly Chelsea, given the problems they have had up front since Didier Drogba left.
High life: Rooney is mobbed after scoring United's second goal (above), as United striker Robin van Persie (below) watches from the bench
It soon got worse for the visitors. Moses fouled Nani wide and Wayne Rooney stood over the free-kick. After the week he has had, one almost knew the script and he did not disappoint.
He whipped the ball in, Luiz, Demba Ba and Evans missed it, and the ball flew directly into the net past a startled Cech. Chelsea looked done and United should have pressed home their advantage.
Hernandez came close at the near post from a cross by Nani, while Rooney had a shot well saved from a low ball in from Evra, which Luiz then inexplicably headed towards his goal while attempting to clear. Cech was equal to it yet again.
All square: Ramires curls home to make it 2-2
Fightback complete: Ramires celebrates with Oscar (left) after scoring the equaliser
To encapsulate Chelsea’s ineffectuality, a nice one-two between Moses and Mata ended with the Nigeria forward hitting a shot so wild it nearly found the corner flag. They looked a side low on confidence, class and the wit required to mount a revival against opposition of this quality.
What changed? Hazard changed. He came on and refused to sink into the torpor that had previously affected his team-mates. He arrived and set about a United team that may still be feeling the hangover of Champions League defeat. He took the initiative and went straight to the heart of United’s weakness this season: the defence.
Within seven minutes, Chelsea were back in the game. Mata laid the ball out to Hazard on the left, who capitalised on naivety from Rafael to cut inside and curl an exquisite shot past De Gea.
Banishing the blues: Ramires (left), Azpilicueta and Mata (right) salute the travelling army of Chelsea fans
Nine minutes later, Chelsea were level and in the ascendancy. The goal came from a counter-attack inspired by Luiz. Deployed in central defence, he grew into a good game, yet his best moments invariably put one more in mind of a defensive midfield player.
He brought the ball out from the back with urgency, finding Ba, who moved it on quickly to Oscar and then Ramires on the overlap. His shot took a little kick off the pitch, sending it beyond the reach of De Gea, who got his fingertips to the ball, but without enough firmness to keep it out.
From there, Chelsea were always likelier to score again.
Better the devil you know: Sir Alex Ferguson walks with mascot Fred the Red
They had shots from range, kept out by De Gea with varying degrees of conviction, but his stop that saved the day was outstanding.
Luiz crossed for Mata, who brought the ball down, beat Evans and then fired a low shot which De Gea just succeeding in diverting for a corner. The keeper competently gathered another late, late effort from Mata, but it his 90th-minute intervention that stood out.
Benitez did not find time for niceties with Ferguson but, with his players offering collective thanks to the travelling support, he made a point of singling out De Gea for a handshake.
He really had nowhere else to go.
He's 'armless: Javier Hernandez his held back by Chelsea's Gary Cahill