A great sign of a great team is that it can win when playing ugly and when under the cosh. Manchester United may not have played outstanding Spurs but they pounced when the opportunity presented itself to keep right on the coattails of Manchester City.
Harry Redknapp may well have been without Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Scott Parker, three of his team’s best players, but Spurs for the first 50 minutes yesterday of outplayed United, in a performance showing no fear at all.
The only problem was that Spurs for all their dominance could not get that all-important opening goal that would have eased their fears of a United comeback, enabling Redknapp’s Champions League-hunters to grab full control of the game.
Aside from Danny Welbeck having an early wayward attempt on goal, Spurs were fully on the front-foot and with Sandro and Jake Livermore impressing in the middle of midfield were looking good early on as the hosts kept the ball well.
Emmanuel Adebayor and former United forward Louis Saha were as expected starting up front for Spurs. The later had an early effort easily saved by David De Gea before the later blazed a shot from around 20 yards high and handsomely over the bar.
De Gea was widely criticised early on in the season for his mistakes, but now he looks a completely different goalkeeper and he made up for a poor clearance by smartly tipping an Adebayor effort wide, getting down low to the ball.
Despite being on the back-foot United were working hard and defending in numbers with even Wayne Rooney and Welbeck getting back to try and hold the ball up and gain some forward-momentum and time in Spurs’ half of the field.
Eight minutes before the break, Aaron Lennon burst past Phil Jones cutting a ball into the area. De Gea pushed the ball away from goal straight into the path of Saha who’s shot towards goal hit Adebayor, who with the aid of both hands forced the ball in.
Straight away referee Martin Atkinson (so often an official criticised for making bad decisions) stopped the home side’s celebrations brining the ball back for a handball. It was a brave decision to make, but ultimately the correct one.
It was a key moment in the match, which in truth Spurs never recovered from and barring that in mind, it wasn’t really that much of a surprise when in injury-time before the break United, as they so often have done down the years took the lead.
Ashley Young brilliantly delivered a corner from the left. The ball narrowly avoided the run of Jonny Evans but met Rooney perfectly who held of Kyle Walker’s block to head home for his 18th league goal of an inconsistent season.
Spurs left the pitch at White Hart Lane frustrated at how they had somehow gone into half-time a goal down. It was a lead that to be honest United didn’t deserve although perhaps given their defensive performance, they too didn’t deserve to be behind.
De Gea produced a stunning save shortly after the restart somehow keeping out a Livermore drive from the edge of the box that took a nasty deflection off Saha with Evans doing well to hack the ball away to safety before Saha could react to the loose ball.
Shortly after that Benoit Asou-Ekotto, arguably one of the most improved players in the country over the last 18 months then curled a free-kick against the top of De Gea’s up-right with the ball kissing the woodwork before going over.
Just on the hour United doubled the lead. Jones’ quick throw-in caught Luka Modric napping allowing Nani to nip in. The Portuguese’s cross into Rooney’s path was cut out by Walker only for Young to volley the ball into the far corner.
It was a great goal by Young who has tellingly come into form in the absence of Antonio Valencia. If his first finish was good, his second nine minutes later was even better and wrapped up the three points.
Picking up the ball from Evra down in the left of midfield, Young ran towards goal before opening his body up to curl an unstoppable shot from 25 yards past Brad Friedel and into the top left-hand corner of the American stopper’s net.
Spurs had only pride to play for in the final 20 minutes of the game. A slack pass by Ryan Giggs on from the bench gifted Jermain Defoe the ball 35 yards out and the striker blasted a shot past an unguided De Gea for a consolation from outside the box.
It was too little too late for Spurs and United held onto remain two points behind Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City. The run-in is now in full swing and the pressure is now cranking up on both teams to secure victory after victory.
United: De Gea, Evra, Ferdinand, Evans, Jones, Nani (Park), Carrick, Scholes (Giggs), Young, Rooney, Welbeck
Who else but Young? After a steady first-half in which his corner set up Rooney for United’s first seconds before the break, he was outstanding in the second-half. Whilst his first goal was somewhat opportunistic, it was still a great finish and his second to wrap up the match was a trademark finish for the former Aston Villa winger.
By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87