MAN UNITED 2, TOTTENHAM 3
Tottenham’s Old Trafford wilderness years ended in, what is sure to be, one of the classic games of the season.
It was a Gary Lineker goal which gave Spurs their last league win at Old Trafford in 1989 – one and a half seasons before the inception of the Premiership.
But the Londoners had to survive a second-half onslaught of astronomical proportions to secure a very, very hard-earned victory.
Manchester United had been as bad in the first half as Spurs were good.Outfought, outthought, outpaced and outscored, the Reds looked a team showing their collective age, but those vast years of experience eventually led them to a revival which almost earned them a point.
The Tottenham team of the first half had the look of title contenders. The pace and composure of Gareth Bale, Jan Vertonghen, Aaron Lennon, Mousa Dembele and Sandro cast United as a leaden-footed outfit.
Spurs had the perfect start with a goal inside two minutes.
Vertonghen’s one-two with Bale on the left left the Belgian sauntering into the United box where he scored with a shot from 12 yards which took a vicious deflection off Jonny Evans.
United’s abysmal defending was highlighted again seven minutes later when Lennon was allowed to run unchallenged from just inside the United half and into the penalty area before Rio Ferdinand’s intervention saved the day as the England winger was about to pull the trigger.
There was no such repeat for Ferdinand after 32 minutes. Bale exploited United’s lack of pace and woeful defending when he raced clear after collecting Dembele’s pass. The Welshman brushed past Ferdinand as if he wasn’t there before scoring with a right-foot shot from 12 yards.
Wayne Rooney replaced the ineffective Ryan Giggs at the start of the second half and his arrival lit the red touchpaper to explode United into life.
In the 51st minute, Robin van Persie found Rooney on the right edge of the Tottenham box and his perfect cross was stabbed home by Luis Nani at the near post.
Within a minute, Spurs had restored their two-goal advantage. Dembele’s flicked pass released Bale on the left and, although his low shot from 20 yards was parried by goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, no United defender was anywhere near Clint Dempsey as he tucked in the rebound from 10 yards.
United hit back a minute later when van Persie’s pinpoint pass to Shinji Kagawa on the left edge of the Tottenham box was engineered in off the far post by the Japanese midfield man.
The Reds laid siege to the Spurs goal in a bid to find an equaliser and then a winner. Lesser teams would have cracked under the relentless pressure, but the white defensive wall held firm.
Rooney saw a glorious curling 25-yard free kick come back off a post with Brad Friedel beaten.The Tottenham goalkeeper saved brilliantly to keep out shots from Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes; van Persie missed a sitter and Carrick saw a header bounce off the bar following a van Persie corner.
United had three claims for penalties turned down by referee Chris Foy – the most likely coming when Sandro handled the ball in his own box, but Spurs hung on to record their historic victory.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said: “We never got started in the first half when our defending was poor.
“We changed things a little at half time and were fantastic after that. Our attitude changed and Wayne’s ability helped. If we had kept it at 2-1 a little longer, I feel we would have gone on to win the game.”