CHELSEA threw away a 3-0 lead against the champions to sum up their season. Rich in promise their play may have been, but it will not be enough to win the title this year.
Andre Villas-Boas' men looked set fair for a famous win, considering they were shorn of several key players because of injury and suspension.
They were a goal up at the break after Daniel's Sturridge's wriggle to the byline around Patrice Evra had ended with Jonny Evans deflecting a stabbed cross into his own net, 36 minutes in.
Then came a blistering start to the second half as Chelsea appeared to grab the game by the scruff of the neck following an even and largely undistinguished ifrst half.
Thirty seconds after the restart, Fernando Torres – still looking more comfortable as a provider than a goalscorer - played in a superb cross from wide out right which was met by a magnificent volley on the six yard line by Juan Mata (pictured).
Five minutes later, and with the Bridge all abuzz after such a wonderful strike, Mata curled in a free-kick that David Luiz twisted to head in via Rio Ferdinand's shoulder.
That caused the game to go up several notches in tempo, with United stung into action and rewarded for their zeal with two penalties awarded by World Cup final ref Howard Webb.
On 58 minutes, Wayne Rooney hammered home a spot-kick after Sturridge was adjudged to have got a piece of Evra before the ball, and the striker repeated the trick on 69 minutes after Branislav Ivanovic's minimal contact on Danny Welbeck on the edge of the area.
Given a succession of dubious decisions Webb inflicted on the Blues, home fans were not surprised that both decisions went against them. It would be generous to say Webb did not have the greatest afternoon, although Sir Alex Ferguson will have appreciated it.
After that, with United pressing relentlessly and with Chelsea dropping deeper and deeper, the visitors claimed their inevitable equaliser six minutes from time when sub Javier Hernandez ghosted in to meet a cross from Ryan Giggs - the Welshman having retrieved a parry from Petr Cech that had denied Rooney a hat-trick.
Chelsea were not totally outplayed in that final quarter and Mata almost beat David de Gea with a free-kick, while Raul Meireles headed a good chance wide late on and Gary Cahill's blistering hit from 25 yards also had to be helped oveer the bar by United's young keeper.
But United's irresistible attacking proved too much in the end.
Villas-Boas had some crumbs of comfort, even though this will ultimately feel like a defeat rather than a draw. Not least, he will see this is as a decent display for most of the match with what was not his strongest team.
He gave a first start to Cahill, having previously resisted including his new signing in the absence of an injured John Terry, but was without Ashley Cole - suspended because of the red card collected at Swansea - and there was no Didier Drogba (abroad), Ramires, John Obi Mikel or Frank Lampard (all injured).
But the Blues did have Michael Essien, finding his way again after a long spell on the sidelines, who dredged up a performance to stand comparison with performances of old, at least until he started to tire. It was a case of so near, yet so far for the Blues, as it has been all season.
Line-up: Cech; Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Bosingwa; Meireles, Essien, Malouda; Sturridge (Romeu 70), Torres, Mata. Subs not used: Turnbull, Ferreira, Lukaku, Hutchinson, Bertrand, Piazon.