Berbatov strike keeps United on course for four

Manchester United 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1: Ferguson's superbly equipped team capable of maintaining fight on all fronts and turning a good run into a great one
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Had Dimitar Berbatov's winner been any sweeter it would have gone straight on to the old dessert trolley they used to wheel around here in the days of Best, Law, and Charlton – and Paddy Crerand.

Michael Carrick confected the Crerand role quite exquisitely with the stunning through ball that ravaged Spurs and the Bulgarian's finish was worthy of any of the great United trio. But then if United managed to produce a classic reference point – before the game entered a coma after half-time – they also gave at least some weight to a question that has rarely been asked before, and never with the current whiff of serious enquiry.

Do United really have a shot at an unprecedented quadruple triumph?

The price around 33-1 going into this action didn't seem the last word in charity, but then when Carrick proposed, Berbatov disposed and Spurs could do not much more than wait for the last rites, nor did it look solely a wager for someone completely detached from reality.

United are second favourites at 6-1 in the Champions League, with Barcelona justifiably at half the price, but in the other competitions it is backing against them that requires the nerve.

The Spurs manager, Harry Redknapp, who said that his recent scathing criticism of the level of some of his players' commitment was on this occasion tempered by his belief that a bolder approach could have brought painful repercussions on the scoreline, agreed that a United four-timer, if not likely, was distinctly possible. "Let's face it," he said, "they have the ability to batter anyone."

Certainly, their rise to the leadership of the Premier League, their passage into the final of the Carling Cup and this waltz into the last 16 of the FA Cup, despite the absence of such key players as Rio Ferdinand, his impressive young understudy Jonny Evans, Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra, speaks of growing depth and adaptability. "We've had a good run," says Sir Alex Ferguson, "now I want a great run."

Unlike his closest domestic rivals, and the beaten Redknapp, Ferguson can certainly do a little preening on the subject of sending out teams of voracious appetite.

Once the brilliantly shocking early strike of Roman Pavlyuchenko had been absorbed, United seemed intent on showing quite how well equipped they have become for fighting in so many different theatres at the same time.

Young Brazilian Fabio da Silva filled in for Evra at left-back with such passion, and touch, that his 53 minutes before injury were quite long enough to rival the impression made by his brother Rafael in a series of remarkable performances on the other flank, and then it was the turn of Richard Eckersley to play with bite and an old-headed poise. Danny Welbeck, coltish legs not withstanding, played wide with fine touch and dangerous pace before he too was injured. Zoran Tosic, the Serbian find who has caused so much excitement in Ferguson's old talent-plundering heart, was given 18 minutes to introduce himself after the exit of Cristiano Ronaldo. He did it with the authority of a kid gunfighter wise to the world beyond his years.

The old guard – Gary Neville filled in at the centre of defence and Paul Scholes scored his first goal of the season – must have felt like wrinklies in a disco, but not at the cost of their ability to interpret the music correctly.

Ferguson conceded that Carrick had been bruised by the decision to go with man of the match Ryan Giggs in the recent destruction of Chelsea, but here was the reassuring evidence that the former Spurs player had rejected the dismayingly popular sulking option. Carrick played with consistent intelligence and vision, and his killing pass to Berbatov kindled a fresh bout of pride in his former West Ham boss Redknapp.

Carrick's old mentor was reminded of the satisfaction he had felt while watching the Champions League final in Moscow in the spring. Four of Redknapp's Upton Park protégés – Carrick, Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole – had been involved in that memorable action and now he believed that Carrick was on the point of becoming as vital to England manager Fabio Capello as he is to United.

"Not many can pass the ball like Michael," said Redknapp, "and I can see him going on to do a big job for England alongside Gerrard and Lampard – their energy going forward, his ability to pick out the passes."

Such an assessment might have been even more haunting for the Spurs manager if he had not just signed Wigan's clever and commanding midfielder Wilson Palacios or treatment room reports on Jermaine Jenas had not been so encouraging.

The injury-afflicted Spurs were grievously deficient in the midfield, where Luka Modric, playing behind the striker, was virtually invisible, Tom Huddlestone too languid and, once again, David Bentley's vision of himself remained a wonder somewhat lost on the rest of the world.

It would also have helped Spurs hugely to have had men like the injured Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate attempting to contain the touch of Berbatov and the furies of Carlos Tevez. As it was, the admirable Michael Dawson was required to run and head himself silly. It was lonely work.

Tevez, naturally, also ran himself silly. Additionally, he smacked the crossbar with a glorious shot. As always when he plays, there were chants of "Argentina".

He may not have the finesse, or the predatory eye, of Berbatov or the blazing skills of Rooney or Ronaldo, but who would easily discard a man of such heart and sinew?

If United fail to achieve their unlikely quest, we can be sure of one thing. Tevez will not have faltered over a single step.

Goals: Pavlyuchenko (5) 0-1; Scholes (35) 1-1; Berbatov (36) 2-1.

Manchester United (4-4-2) : Foster; O'Shea, Neville, Vidic, Fabio Da Silva (Eckersley, 53); Welbeck (Fletcher, 86), Carrick, Scholes, Ronaldo (Tosic, 72); Tevez, Berbatov. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Giggs, Possebon, Chester.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-1-1): Alnwick; Gunter, Dawson, Corluka, Assou-Ekotto; Bentley (Defoe, 72), Zokora, Huddlestone, Bale (Taarabt, 67); Modric (Giovani, 46); Pavlyuchenko. Substitutes not used: Gomes (gk), Gilberto, Rocha, Dervite.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Manchester United Vidic, Tevez.

Man of the match: Carrick.

Attendance: 75, 014.

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