Football: Sol keeps head as United lose theirs

Tottenham Hotspur 2 Manchester United 2 Campbell 70, 90 Solskjaer 11, 18 Half-time: 0-2 Attendance: 36,079; United get one early bath, two quick goals, seven premature Christmas cards - and a last-minute shock
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The Independent Online
ALEX FERGUSON duly celebrated his team's reacquisition of the Premier League leadership in time-honoured fashion. A head-down dash to the dressing-room, muttering who knows what, with a face as dark as the skies over Tottenham, a brush-off to the opposition manager George Graham when the fellow Scot proffered a hand, and even a refusal to enjoy reliving the experience with his friends from the press.

Yes, it can be hard job accepting that Manchester United have regained the position they relinquished in April. Maybe it had something to do with the dismissal of defender Gary Neville that meant his side were fighting a rearguard action for all of the second half, six other cautions for his men and, most significantly, the spectacle of Tottenham's captain Sol Campbell twice outwitting his defence with trademark headers - the second in added time - to secure a draw that at one time looked as likely as David Ginola shaving his head to improve wind resistance.

In the circumstances, perhaps a somewhat fortunate Graham should have known better than to go through the normal managerial pleasantries after a contest riven with thrilling incident marred by too many challenges of malevolent intent.

Apparently, like his tackles as a player, the timing wasn't perfect. "I haven't seen Alex since the match finished," smiled Graham afterwards. "But I'll have a word with him before he leaves the ground."

In truth, Ferguson had precious little to complain about, other than self-inflicted circumstances which contrived to deprive United of three points and a clear advantage over Aston Villa, who play Arsenal at home this afternoon. For most of the first half his team performed as though hangover was not in their lexicon, following the mentally and physically draining European tie with Bayern Munich three days earlier. Ferguson had made five changes, significantly including the installation of the former Tottenham favourite Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in place of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. David Beckham was not rested and from the first minute he was in one of those moods, snarling at referee Uriah Rennie one minute and mocking the Spurs defenders with his wing play the next. It was two of his sublime, teasing crosses that laid on both United's first-half goals, the first directed goalward by Ryan Giggs with Solskjaer applying the coup de grace when it rebounded off the goalkeeper Ian Walker. The second was similar, but this time with the Norwegian pouncing to convert the opportunity directly from a few yards' range. "I warned my players how good United were on the break, and that's exactly how they scored their goals - with their pace and movement," admitted Graham who, with his side in disarray, had deserted his usual first-half position in the directors' box to orchestrate proceedings from the sideline.

United were almost contemptuous in the disassembling of the Tottenham defence during that period as they sought to avenge that 3-1 Worthington Cup defeat 10 days earlier. Spurs' talented 19-year-old central defender, Luke Young, was looking decidedly old by this stage. While L'Oreal man, Ginola, had caused similar distraction down the same flank, his crossing had not possessed the menace of Beckham and Chris Armstrong and Les Ferdinand were offered virtually nothing on which to sate their appetite.

Games between these sides are often an unsuitable subject for table talk at vicars' tea parties and four United players had already incurred Mr Rennie's wrath by this time, including both Neville brothers. When Gary, having already received a yellow card for a two-footed lunge at Allan Nielsen, then appeared to pull back Ginola by the shirt, his fate was inevitable, though it brought Ferguson to his feet and he had to be directed back to the dug-out by the reserve official, Mike Reed.

The game was in danger of degenerating further in a second half in which both managers became embroiled in touchline confrontations with Reed - ironically, the man who has issued 62 Premiership cautions himself this season.

It became particularly inflamed when Beckham fouled Andy Sinton near the touchline, though the England midfielder walked away with a caution. Seconds later, Sinton committed a crude retaliatory act on Beckham, which brought both sets of players rushing to confront each other. Mr Rennie, one of the game's more laid-back officials, settled the issue with a yellow card for Sinton.

"I was surprised how physical it was," admitted Graham, whose team received only two cautions. "But we're not physical, that's for sure."

For 70 minutes United, who had brought on Henning Berg for Solskjaer at the interval and regrouped with a back three, looked as though they would hold out for a famous victory. Then Campbell powered home a header from Anderton's free- kick for his fifth goal of the season.

Nielsen should have equalised just after when unmarked, but he headed the ball straight at Schmeichel. With only seconds remaining in the two minutes' added time, Campbell repeated his earlier act, steering another header wide of Schmeichel. It installed him as Spurs' second highest scorer, after Armstrong. "Captain Fantastic," screamed the PA announcer. Strangely, Ferguson didn't seem to think so.