Only twice did it need to stand up for the champions and risk conflict with the club after the recent brushes between fans and stewards. Those moments came courtesy of a brace of goals from the effervescent Ryan Giggs, who is developing this season into a formidable figure more central to United's three-pronged attack on silverware.
Tottenham have now won only once in 20 visits to Old Trafford and, tellingly, once in 12 Premiership meetings between the two clubs to reflect the movement in opposite directions of the pair in the Nineties. At least yesterday Spurs did not collapse as readily as they have in several heavy defeats this season, with Espen Baardsen proving a capable deputy for Ian Walker in goal, but their occupancy in the bottom three is beginning to look like residency.
"Defensively we were well- organised, compact and solid," said their coach Christian Gross, overstating a little. "We need points but it is not easy to come here and get them. I am convinced we can survive but we need to score more goals. We have only 19."
They rarely looked like adding to that tally yesterday with Les Ferdinand and David Ginola on the usual long injury list and Jurgen Klinsmann having to dine on scraps in a team selection designed for damage limitation. The German was even booked after kicking away the ball in frustration.
By contrast, United had an abundance of possession and, Giggs apart, grew careless and wasteful near goal. At times the match resembled shooting practice, or a training ground drill where an attacking unit seeks ways through a defence.
"It was a win, that was all," said the United manager Alex Ferguson. "We were just too comfortable, in second gear a lot of the time. The only pleasing thing for us was that the supporters sat down. Giggs was magnificent; that was the highlight."
The disparity between the teams could be seen simply in resources and selection. For all the talk of transfer activity in the past week, only Nicola Berti, on a free transfer from Internazionale of Milan, was a new face for Spurs. And Klinsmann was the only recognised striker.
By contrast, Ferguson could afford to rest Nicky Butt, outstanding in the 5-3 FA Cup win at Chelsea last Sunday, to give Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer a game. In what must have been a frightening line-up for Spurs, the United manager sent out six forward players, among them Teddy Sheringham, their former captain and once a splendid foil for Klinsmann.
Before the kick-off Sheringham sought out the German for a warm handshake but otherwise Spurs were offered little except escape from a thrashing. The tone was set a couple of minutes into the game when Sheringham slipped Giggs clear on the left and Andy Cole met his cut-back firmly only for Baardsen to divert it over the bar with a foot.
Spurs did break out well midway through the first half when Sol Campbell, again excellent in defence as he was forced to cover for colleagues, found Jose Dominguez, who touched on to Ruel Fox and from his return pass the Portuguese's shot was touched round the post by Peter Schmeichel. From the corner, Stephen Clemence then had a goalbound shot defelected wide.
But soon United were charging forward again. The youthful David Beckham and Paul Scholes, delivering respectively a succession of curling crosses and piercing balls, were bypassing the ageing Berti and Colin Calderwood in the centre of Tottenham's midfield. Cole should have scored when Beckham found him with a neat ball and the striker rounded the sluggish Ramon Vega but his shot was too close to Baardsen's legs.
Then, just as the crowd were growing restless with the interval approaching and the game goalless, United opened the scoring - "the wrongest time for us," Gross was to say. The industrious Cole won possession and fed Beckham, who sent in a deep cross from the right, Sheringham jumped with Vega and Baardsen at the far post - the Norwegian goalkeeper left to complain of a foul - and when the ball dropped, Giggs was on hand to drive it emphatically home.
An avalanche, in keeping with Spurs' season to date, might have been expected, the more so when Sheringham twice forced Baardsen into saves and Cole, fed by Giggs, shot into the side netting early in the second half.
Beckham was again the provider for United's second goal with another deep cross from the right, though this time no Spurs player intervened as Giggs rose unchallenged to nod the ball down into Baardsen's left corner.
Moments earlier, as emphasis of his willingness and United's work ethic, Giggs had been in defence heading a cross clear. "He's got a great engine," said Ferguson. "And he has a change of pace, so coming from a deeper position he is capable of hurting teams. His passing was brilliant, though. His game is becoming more the all-round one we thought it would."
Tottenham may be relieved to have avoided more of a hiding but now come six-goal West Ham. "We are in big, big trouble now," said Klinsmann. "We need to work psychologically in the next couple of days to get players in better condition." It will take longer than that, however, before we see a team capable of doing justice to the club and the fixture.Reuse content