(CNN) -- Chelsea struck a major blow in the English Premier League title race with a controversial 2-1 victory over champions Manchester United on Saturday that put the London club two points clear at the top of the table with five matches to play.
Carlo Ancelotti's team traveled to Old Trafford to face a side reeling from the loss of injured England star Wayne Rooney following the midweek European Champions League defeat by Bayern Munich.
The Italian coach opted to leave his own key forward Didier Drogba on the substitutes' bench, but the Ivory Coast international scored a decisive goal with 11 minutes to play despite being clearly offside.
United boss Alex Ferguson was left fuming at the decision.
"What I can't understand is the linesman's directly in front of it. He has no-one near him and he gets it wrong," the Scot told Sky Sports. "A game of that magnitude, you really need quality officials and we didn't get them today. It was a poor, poor performance.
"Five games left, they're two points ahead and four goals better than us -- they're in the driving seat. Chelsea are favorites now, there's no question. I'm certain we'll respond but we could win the next five games and not win it."
United hit back with a late bundled goal from young substitute Federico Macheda, which television replays showed came off the Italian's arm, but Bulgaria striker Dimitar Berbatov could not convert a chance to equalize in time added on.
Chelsea, who had scored 12 goals in the two previous matches and did not have to play in midweek following last month's Champions League exit against Inter Milan, started the game in dominant form.
Man of the match Florent Malouda set up the opening goal in the 20th minute, with the France winger surging past Darren Fletcher into the penalty area and providing a low cross that England midfielder Joe Cole cheekily backheeled past goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar.
Both teams had penalty claims turned down before halftime, and Berbatov missed United's first real chance with a header after an hour.
Drogba replaced Nicolas Anelka in the 69th minute, and 10 minutes later he had the ball in the net after collecting a pass from fellow substitute Salomon Kalou despite being further forward than United's last two defenders.
United pulled a goal back with nine minutes to play as substitute Nani broke down the left and his cross rebounded off goalkeeper Petr Cech, onto Macheda and into the Chelsea net, with visiting captain John Terry appealing in vain for handball.
Berbatov, who started on his own up front in place of Rooney, then tamely volleyed Gary Neville's cross into the arms of Cech as Chelsea held on for a deserved victory.
Third-placed Arsenal kept their title hopes alive with a last-gasp 1-0 victory at 10-man Wolverhampton which left Arsene Wenger's team three points behind London rivals Chelsea.
Wolves had captain Karl Henry sent off for a foul on Tomas Rosicky in the 66th minute, but Arsenal could not take advantage until deep into injury-time when substitute striker Nicklas Bendtner headed in Bacary Sagna's cross.
Manchester City moved up to fourth place above Tottenham with a 6-1 thrashing of Burnley in Saturday's late match that left their near neighbors deep in relegation trouble.
Roberto Mancini's team were 4-0 up after 20 minutes, and led 6-0 before an hour had been played as Emmanuel Adebayor scored twice along with goals from fellow strikers Craig Bellamy and Carlos Tevez.
Patrick Vieira and Vincent Kompany were also on target before Steven Fletcher's 71st-minute consolation for the home side.
Tottenham's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League took a big blow with a 3-1 defeat at Sunderland, for whom the London club's former striker Darren Bent scored twice -- the first after only 36 seconds and the second from the penalty spot.
England World Cup hopeful Bent also had two spot-kicks saved by Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes as he took his tally to 23 for the season.
Sunderland also had a goal disallowed as Steve Bruce's team consolidated 13th place, a comfortable 11 points clear of the bottom three.
Aston Villa bounced back from the 7-1 thrashing at Chelsea with a 1-0 win at Bolton to join sixth-placed Liverpool -- who travel to Birmingham on Sunday -- on 54 points.
England international Ashley Young fired an 11th-minute winner to leave Bolton five points above the relegation zone.
Stoke moved up to 10th with a 2-0 victory that left Hull in the bottom three, equal on points with West Ham, who travel to Everton on Sunday.
Jamaica forward Ricardo Fuller gave Stoke a sixth-minute lead, and Hull were reduced to 10 minutes after Dutch midfielder George Boateng was carried off after being kicked in the head before Liam Lawrence scored a late second.
Bottom club Portsmouth delayed their inevitable relegation with a 0-0 draw at home to Blackburn despite having defender Anthony Van den Borre sent off with half an hour to play.
Avram Grant's team would have gone down if they had lost and Hull had won.