Tottenham 0-0 Manchester United: Daily Mirror match report
Published 22:00 16/01/11 By Martin Lipton
Still unbeaten, still indomitable, back on top of the league.
But while Manchester United left White Hart Lane where they wanted to be after arguably their biggest away test to date, this was a game and a weekend which left the door that little bit more open to their title rivals.
Last night in N17 wasn’t about the sort of fluid, fluent, attacking football that United have made their hallmark, although there were signs of Wayne Rooney inching back to form.
Only the total desire and resolve of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand resisted Spurs’ efforts to make themselves genuine title contenders, as Luka Modric bossed the game when Harry Redknapp’s men cured themselves of their long-ball fixation.
That commitment was even more required after Rafael Da Silva’s second yellow, for a trip from behind on Benoit Assou-Ekotto, with 16 minutes left to go, which left the Brazilian incandescent, Rooney on the brink and Sir Alex Ferguson silencing himself.
Yet although Fergie hailed the performance and the result, the simple statistics are that United have won just two of their 10 away games so far, have dropped 16 points.
They still have three big ones to go, too, at Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal.
And while the resourcefulness and resilience served them well as Spurs just lacked the extra essence of self-belief that could have prevented their winless streak over United extending to 24 games and 10 years, this was further evidence that Fergie’s men are still not the full ticket.
This was supposed to be the ultimate end to a day of derby passion yet what initially it looked like a potential classic as the start fizzed and bubbled soon lost its way.
Rooney scuffed wide from Dimitar Berbatov’s glorious pass inside two minutes - the first of three early efforts from the England ace that might have brought a goal.
In that period Rooney’s link-up with Berbatov suggested a fruitful afternoon yet at the other end Spurs were looking to create out wide, utilising their speed on both flanks as Gareth Bale showed his quality, bringing the crowd to life every time he got on the ball.
The best football of the half saw Peter Crouch, preferred to Jermain Defoe up front, inches wide on the half-volley from Hutton’s terrific low cross while Rafael Van der Vaart and Bale both struck free-kicks at Edwin Van Der Sar.
But while Modric wanted to get on the ball and Spurs looked good whenever he did, Redknapp’s men fell into the trap of playing long to Crouch, the high balls eaten up by Ferdinand and Vidic, with Van der Vaart by-passed.
Vidic loves those sort of contests and the mistake was illustrated when Dawson’s raking pass allowed Bale the chance to expose both Fletcher and Rafael - cowed by his first caution for a shocker on Wilson Palacios - for pace with Van der Vaart nodding into the side-netting at the near post.
That was more like it from a game that was heated, with near the knuckle tackles from Palacios and Darren Fletcher meaning they rightly joined Rafael in Mike Dean’s book, the Scot for a lunge on Bale.
Yet without ever really hitting top gear, United looked like a team who felt they had weathered to storm, ready to wait for the crucial opening to come their way.
It might have come when Michael Carrick’s near-post header flashed across the far post before Rooney broke free of his shackles, drifted away from Hutton but was superbly denied by Heurelho Gomes down to his right.
That, though, was as close as United were to come, with Modric almost monopolising the ball at times, Ryan Giggs 600th Premier League appearance not his most memorable.
As Spurs took over, Nani’s withdrawal saw Rooney moved to the right as Berbatov operated as the lone striker but when Rafael ran into Assou-Ekotto from behind - at best clumsy, at worst cynical - Dean decided he had no option, with the reaction of the United players and bench on the verge of the unacceptable.
Spurs came again, Van Der Vaart just over, with Redknapp finishing with six attacking players but the waves crashing against United’s resistant rocks, with Gomes smartly off his line to foil Giggs on the counter.
United would not have deserved that, and they took the point. This, though, is a race nobody seems able to stamp their authority on. And that gives hope to everybody.