Manchester United restored some of their battered pride as they held rampant English Premier League leaders Chelsea to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
United manager Alex Ferguson issued a rare apology on Saturday after he sent out a second string side that was held to an embarrassing 0-0 draw by minor league Exeter City in the FA Cup third round at Old Trafford.
But there was little chance of a repeat of that insipid performance as Ferguson recalled Wayne Rooney and fit-again Louis Saha up front and restored Cristiano Ronaldo to the right flank along with several other first-choice players.
Rooney twice went close to giving United the lead in a pulsating first half but it was Chelsea, missing suspended Dutch winger Arjen Robben, who carved out the best chances with dangerous forward Damien Duff and midfielder Joe Cole in form.
Duff fired one early dipping shot narrowly over while Frank Lampard, back after serving a one-match suspension, went the wrong side of the post with a glancing header midway through the opening period.
Duff was involved again minutes later when his volley was turned into the net by Eidur Gudjohnsen only for the Icelandic forward's effort to be ruled out for offside.
Mourinho threw on Didier Drogba for Gudjohnsen at halftime and the Ivory Coast striker almost broke the deadlock with a deflected shot that keeper Tim Howard struggled to keep out.
Lampard then looked to have broken through but his low shot was cleared off the line by United's Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze.
Mourinho added more firepower in the 67th minute when Mateja Kezman replaced limping midfielder Tiago but United, who have not lost at the semi-final stage of a domestic cup competition for 30 years, refused to buckle.
Substitute Jiri Jarosik almost won it for the hosts with seven minutes remaining but this time United skipper Phil Neville was on hand to deflect his shot over.
The final few minutes were punctuated by an ugly melee near the touchline but Ferguson's men will be the happier and will be slight favourites to go through in the second leg on January 26.
In the other semi-final first leg, played on Tuesday, Liverpool beat second division Watford 1-0 at Anfield. The final will be at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on February 27.