Manchester United fans mocked Chelsea's predicament with banners about the Mark Clattenburg row on an evening of more humour than rancour
With Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand omitted from Wednesday night's team sheets, at least there was no tiresome scrutiny devoted to the otiose pre-match handshake ritual as Chelsea and Manchester United met for the second time in four days, and that small mercy was followed by a larger one.
After so much controversy arising from the first encounter, this was an evening devoted almost entirely to football, with Chelsea reversing Sunday's result to ensure their passage into the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup and gain a little consolation for that first home league defeat at United's hands in 10 years.
Echoes of the previous match were inevitable, and they began with United's fans in the top tier of the old Shed End displaying a large red and white banner that would have brought a rare smile to the face of the man who is currently England's most controversial football official: "CLATTENBURG: REFEREE, LEADER, LEGEND."
Diagonally opposite it on the north‑west corner of the Matthew Harding Stand, the blue and white original version retained its traditional position: "JT CAPTAIN, LEADER, LEGEND." Absent from this fixture, John Terry was nevertheless present in the minds of the visiting supporters, with biting chants about the centre-half after the announcement of the lineups, and again at half-time as they celebrated snatching a 2-1 lead.
Nor did their display of invention end there. Seven minutes into the match Victor Moses directed a raking cross from the right into the path of Daniel Sturridge, who found space behind United's two novice centre-backs but with his first touch, 15 yards from goal, tripped over the ball. The interrogation arrived in an instant: "Are you Torres in disguise?"
After the rancorous atmosphere that overtook Sunday's match, it was good to hear some humour at the Bridge, even if it was all one way until the 94th minute, when Eden Hazard's penalty sent the tie into extra time. Until that moment Chelsea were still smarting from the failure of Mark Clattenburg and his officials to chalk off Javier Hernández's winning goal on Sunday.
They were even less inclined to smile when Ryan Giggs opened the scoring after a hideous misunderstanding between Petr Cech and Oriol Romeu. When both their defensive midfielders, Romeu and Mikel John Obi, were shown early yellow cards, they might even have harboured the suspicion that Lee Mason, Wednesday night's referee, had not taken kindly to the club's complaint against his colleague 72 hours earlier.
Before the match Chelsea had confirmed the lodging of an official complaint against Clattenburg for allegedly directing a racist insult at Mikel on Sunday, having decided not to go ahead with a similar charge for a remark supposedly aimed at Juan Mata. Even by the debased standards of behaviour on display in the Premier League, this is a very nasty business and one can only hope that, whatever the outcome of the Football Association's inquiry, Chelsea will be seen to have based their case on a decent evidential foundation.
On the pitch, the foundation of their defence will give them cause for concern. David Luiz, having equalised from the penalty spot, allowed United to regain the lead when he lost possession during a characteristic ramble upfield and could only watch as Hernández took advantage.
In terms of quality, this game was some way below the standard set by the first hour on Sunday, which was about as exhilarating and absorbing as 60 minutes of English football gets. The goals rather than the general play gave the match its dynamic, and for those fed up with refereeing controversies it was a relief when one of the officials spotted that Rafael da Silva had been two feet behind the goal line when he cleared the header with which Gary Cahill made the score 2-2.
United regained the lead with a lovely Nani chip, and their fans were virtually monopolising the fun at this Hallowe'en party all the way to the fourth minute of normal time. They were also seeing Sir Alex Ferguson field no fewer than five young players from the north-west: the centre-back pairing of Scott Wootton, a 21-year-old from Birkenhead, and Michael Keane, a 19-year-old from Stockport; the 18-year-old forward Nick Powell, from Crewe; the 19-year-old midfielder Ryan Tunnicliffe, from Bury; plus the better-known Danny Welbeck, 21, from Longsight, already a full international.
Keane and Powell showed distinct promise, but it was poor Wootton who barged Ramires to concede the penalty that ensured extra-time before misdirecting an attempted clearance into the path of Daniel Sturridge for the goal that gave the home side the lead for the first time in the tie.
"We want Clattenburg," the United fans sang as their side tried to hang on to another 3-2 scoreline, but in the end they were forced to give best to opponents whose manager exploited the depth of talent on his bench to swing the match with further glimpses of the kind of football the new-look Chelsea can produce.
Off the pitch, however, this remains a club seemingly unable to play its way out of controversy.