Football: Only Giggs hits high notes in low-key United performance

Manchester United 2 Tottenham Hotspur 0
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The Independent Online
Guy Hodgson

Manchester United 2 Tottenham Hotspur 0

From his appearance, he had endured a hard afternoon and why a Tottenham supporter should have the audacity to sit himself in front of the microphones in the media room was beyond everyone. Only on closer examination did it become apparent the grim countenance belonged to Alex Ferguson.

"Well, it was a win," he said with obvious distaste. When Manchester United lose, he can bounce in with a carefree air, drawing consolation that a lesson might have been taught. It is the lesser triumphs that irk him, the ones where his team make more mental effort putting on their boots than they do on the pitch.

For two weekends running, against Coventry and Chelsea, United had concluded matches in a state of stupor. "We have to remember matches last more than 80 minutes," Gary Pallister had said in the build-up and you could not fault their determination to go the distance. Instead of being casual for 10 minutes they went the full 90.

Perhaps Ferguson was partly at fault. Resting Nicky Butt, who had a slight knock but would have been fit to tackle leviathans if the opponents had been Monaco, sends a subconscious message to the players: the manager does not think we need a ball winner against this lot. Such is injury- wracked Tottenham's dismal state.

Ferguson operated on similar lines against Sheffield Wednesday and was rewarded with the same laid back performance until breaks went their way, the resistance dissolved and United won 6-1. They might have done the same to Tottenham - Andy Cole could have got a hat-trick - but it would have been oh so much effort.

Which, to give credit where it is due, was also down to Tottenham. As Christian Gross said afterwards, they had been solid and made things difficult - which is something they cannot always be accused of.

The otherwise anonymous Jurgen Klinsmann could have made things interesting, too, if the linesman had not flagged for offside when the German striker palpably was not and when the score was 1-0. Yet it says a lot about a match when the opposition manager says the standard would have been improved if Tottenham had scored. United knew they were going to win.

You could tell that from the goal celebrations. Andy Cole hoisted Ryan Giggs skywards in a half-hearted orgasm of delight the rest of his team- mates went around shaking hands. Nice to meet you, pretty routine day at the office isn't it?

Which is not to accuse the home team of physical laziness, just mental. Brian Kidd, Ferguson's No 2, had said on the radio beforehand that one of the secrets of the current side is that most of the players are United supporters as well as employees. There are no luxury players at Old Trafford, they all run themselves into the ground.

No one more so on Saturday than Giggs. Even if he had not scored it would still have been an outstanding performance from the Welshman who has blossomed into far, far more than a talented dribbler. One gift often neglected in the praise heaped upon him is his stamina. We know he is quick, we know he can sweep past players but he can do it over and over again, in the 90th minute as well as the first.

His first goal was a volley of precise power after Spurs' goalkeeper Espen Bardsen had spilled the ball, but for his second goal he ran like a whippet from deep in his own territory to meet David Beckham's cross while only seconds earlier he was doing the center-half's job with a clearing header from a rare Tottenham break.

"He's got a great engine," Ferguson said. "He runs at teams not only with pace but from deep positions and it catches them on the hop."

It did against Tottenham, although footballers less gifted than Giggs can do that. "We have to win next week against West Ham," Gross said. "No other result will be acceptable."

Goals: Giggs (43) 1-0; Giggs (67) 2-0.

Manchester United (4-3-1-2): Schmeichel; G Neville, Johnsen, Pallister, Irwin; Beckham, Scholes, Giggs; Sheringham; Cole, Solksjaer. Substitutes not used: Butt, McClair, Berg, Clegg, Pilkington (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-1-1): Bardsen; Carr, Vega, Campbell, Wilson; Fox (Brady, 77), Berti, Calderwood, Clemence (Sinton, 53); Dominguez; Klinsmann. Substitutes not used: Mabbutt, Mahorn, Brown (gk).

Booking: Tottenham: Klinsmann.

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill, Surrey).

Man of the match: Giggs.

Attendance: 55,281.

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