Rooney and referee give Carlo Blues

CHELSEA (1) vs MANCHESTER UTD (0)

CHELSEA manager Carlo Ancelotti accused the referee of cowardice after being denied a late penalty in a defeat that leaves his side facing an uphill task to keep their Champions League quest alive.

A first half strike from in-form striker Wayne Rooney gave Manchester United the lead but the home side might have equalised in stoppage time when Ramires burst into the penalty area only to brought down by last man Patrice Evra.

It looked a spot kick but ref Alberto Undiano Malleco ignored the appeals, leaving Ancelotti to bemoan an injustice and question the Spaniard’s character after the final whistle blew on the quarter-final first leg.

“It was clear. Everyone knows that was clear,” said the Italian. “The problem is that I understand it’s not easy to give the penalty in the last minute of the game -- you need to have personality and courage. And I don’t think referees in general always have these kind of skills. I’m disappointed but it doesn’t matter. This is the result; it is the past. We didnt deserve to lose but we have to change the result at Old Trafford.”

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who was incensed at referee Martin Atkinson’s performance when his team lost at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League last month, had little sympathy for his opposite number.

“Somebody said it could’ve been a penalty,” said Ferguson. “If it is I think it’s the first decision we’ve had here is seven years, so I don’t feel guilty about that at all. From where I was it looked like a 50-50.”

Defeat leaves Chelsea needing to win at Old Trafford if they are to reach the last four of a competition that remains their most realistic chance of silverware this season, and is so coveted by owner Roman Abramovich.

Rooney, at the centre of negative headlines since his foul-mouthed rant into a TV camera at West Ham on Saturday, was barracked by Blues fans but cracked a rare smile when he slotted the only goal of a scrappy contest midway through the first half.

Out of nowhere Chelsea almost levelled on the stroke of half-time, goal-less £50m striker Fernando Torres hitting the post before Frank Lampard’s point-blank follow-up was somehow kept out while half of the stadium were already celebrating.

A Torres header exercised Edwin van der Sar, but it was not until the dying seconds that a gap appeared, when midfielder Ramires broke free but Evra controversially intervened.

KEY MOMENTS | A BRIDGE TOO FAR

24 mins: A largely uneventful game was illuminated by wonderful goal when Michael Carrick’s long pass was taken down by Ryan Giggs and his cross was converted by Wayne Rooney via the inside of the far post.

45 mins: The post came to United’s rescue on the stroke of half-time when Fernando Torres glanced Didier Drogba’s cross onto the woodwork and Frank Lampard, from six yards, was unable to force the ball beyond Patrice Evra.

90 mins: Chelsea have been on the end of some rough Champions League refereeing decisions in the past and it was the case here again when Alberto Undiano Malleco failed to spot Evra’s obvious trip on Ramires.