BLACKBURN, April 11 – Manchester United's crumbling season took another turn for the worse at Blackburn on Sunday as the champions were held to a 0-0 draw which left Chelsea in pole position to take the title.Just four days after crashing out of the Champions League against Bayern Munich, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side gave a toothless display which left them one point behind leaders Chelsea, who have a game in hand against Bolton on Tuesday.
Just two weeks ago United looked strong contenders to win a treble, but now they may have to settle for just the League Cup they lifted in February.
Without the injured Wayne Rooney, United never looked likely to break down a rock-solid Blackburn defence as Dimitar Berbatov and Federico Macheda laboured to fill the void left by the England striker’s absence with an ankle problem.
United’s best chance fell to Antonio Valencia moments before the interval but with just Paul Robinson to beat he saw his shot well saved by the England international.
The inclusion of Macheda was one of six changes made by Ferguson, who recalled the experienced trio of Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes, while John O’Shea made his first start for five months.
This promised to be a stern test for United, however, considering Rovers had lost just two league fixtures at Ewood Park this season and held Chelsea to a draw recently.
Rovers boss Sam Allardyce might be close friends with Ferguson, to such an extent that the pair spent a day’s racing at Aintree last week when the latter’s horse won, but he was in no mood to do United and their manager any favours here.
United were lacklustre from the start. Berbatov offered little movement in attack while Macheda struggled to get into the game.
Nani appeared to have the beating of the ageing Michel Salgado on the left flank yet United were struggling to get the ball to him.
Berbatov’s body language somehow personified United’s woes. The Bulgarian forward was a picture of frustration, with himself, his colleagues, the game and even the referee.
It was Blackburn who threatened first when Australia’s Vince Grella curled a delightful cross to Christopher Samba, but his downward header was well saved by Edwin Van der Sar at his right hand post.
It took United until the 24th minute to muster a strike on goal and provide Robinson with something to do.
Valencia burst into space on the right but his angled drive was well blocked by the legs of the England international.
Moments later Nani tried his luck from long range but was hopelessly off-target as the visitors’ lethargy continued.
When Berbatov decided to exert himself he created a wonderful chance for Valencia in the 43rd minute but the Ecuador international shot too close to Robinson and wasted a glorious opportunity to hand United a priceless lead.
Whatever Ferguson said at half time seemed to fall on deaf ears. United continued to struggle to find a way through Blackburn’s stubborn and well organised defence and when a slight opening did present itself Ferguson’s men wasted it.
Nani failed to find the unmarked Macheda with no-one between him and Robinson’s goal and the Portugal winger then blazed a free kick off target on the hour mark.
When Berbatov slipped and then lost his boot with just four minutes remaining he looked a beaten man and summed up United’s end to the season.