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Ballack blows title race wide open.

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CHELSEA midfielder Michael Ballack breathed new life into the Premier League title race as his late penalty clinched a dramatic win over Manchester United.

Avram Grant's side are now level on points with leaders United with two games to play after Ballack's double settled a thrilling clash at Stamford Bridge. The German opened the scoring in the first half before Wayne Rooney punished a horrendous mistake by Ricardo Carvalho to equalise after the break.

United had one hand on the title but Michael Carrick gifted Chelsea a lifeline when he handled in the penalty area and Ballack took advantage.

Sir Alex Ferguson's side have a vastly superior goal difference with games at home to West Ham and away at Wigan to come.

But Chelsea have ensured the battle will go down to the wire.

And Ballack insists his team-mates can handle the pressure to stay with United, and steal the title.

"There is always pressure and in big games you have to score," said Ballack.

"I enjoy being under pressure - it's good. We have a number of players who can handle this type of situation."

And Chelsea boss Avram Grant attempted to put the pressure on United.

"It is not easy when you are under pressure to win two games. We hope that we are happy at the end of the season," he said.

"We did what we needed to do. We won the game and put them under pressure.

"This team has a lot of character and we played good football today."

The Blues bristled with a muscular aggression, while United seemed content to soak up the pressure.

Chelsea dominated after United were forced to replace Nemanja Vidic early after he took an accidental knee to the head from Didier Drogba.

And the breakthrough they deserved arrived when Drogba sent in a perfectly-weighted cross to the far post, where the unmarked Ballack planted home his header.

United were focused, but it took a gift from Carvalho to draw them level.

The defender panicked after taking a pass from Paulo Ferreira and hit a careless ball back towards his own goal. Rooney seized on the woeful pass and made no mistake with a low shot.

The hosts had to go for broke now and the pressure told in the 86th minute when Carrick inexplicably handled Essien's cross. Referee Alan Wiley's assistant flagged for the offence leaving Fergie livid and United's players berating Wiley in their usual fashion.

But Ballack held his nerve to calmly step up and send Edwin van der Sar the wrong way with his spot-kick.

There was still time for drama as Ashley Cole cleared Ronaldo's shot off the line, then Andriy Shevchenko did the same to deny Darren Fletcher.

CHELSEA: Cech, Ferreira (Anelka 66), Carvalho, Terry, Ashley Cole, Ballack, Obi, Essien, Kalou (Shevchenko 81), Drogba, Joe Cole (Makelele 87).

MAN UTD: Van der Sar, Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic (Hargreaves 14), Silvestre, Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson (O'Shea 65), Nani, Rooney (Ronaldo 63), Giggs.

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Apr 27, 2008
Words:512
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