Two clubs with 19 FA Cup wins between them, and just about the same number of injuries, produced a patchy, if fluctuating, fourth-round tie yesterday evening, in which Manchester United were required to shrug off conceding an early goal before winning through. While doing so they introduced no fewer than three new actors to the theatre of dreams, but still suffered further personnel problems.
That will be a handicap as the world champions continue their pursuit of five trophies this season, the next opportunity to win one materialising five weeks today in the the Carling Cup final. The game will be between the same clubs, though almost certainly not the same teams. Both managers will want some of their wounded defensive warriors back wellbefore then, although given the number of absentees from both back-lines, there was a surprising paucity of scoring opportunities in the second half in particular.
"We've got a real problem at full-back now," said Sir Alex Ferguson, after losing Fabio da Silva, the identical twin brother of the absent Rafael. His satisfaction at reaching the last 16 was qualified by the mounting injury worries and also by "scandalous" reports that he did not want a replay. A more confident Tottenham side might have been able to force one as United not only lost control during the second half but were forced into further changes.
Harry Redknapp, the last visiting manager to win at Old Trafford, in the sixth round last season with Portsmouth, was upset by suggestions from television pundits that his team lacked effort. "That's unfair," he said. "I'm very disappointed if they're saying that." Having veered between promises to field his "weakest team possible" (Wednesday) and "strongest available team" (Friday), Redknapp produced something closer to the latter. The half-dozen absentees, including Jonathan Woodgate, Jermaine Jenas and Aaron Lennon, were mostly injured, although Jermain Defoe only sat in the dug-out initially.
United had almost a full team unavailable, five defenders among them, although unexpectedly it was Nemanja Vidic, one of the season's stars and the only regular member of the back-line on parade, who was caught out for Tottenham's early strike. Benoît Assou-Ekotto had a cross turned away as far as Tom Huddlestone, whose more precise centre allowed Roman Pavlyuchenko to drift in front of Vidic for a deft angled header into the far corner of the net.
The blow shook United out of some early lethargy and there was heavy pressure on the visiting defence even before it gave way twice in quick succession. In the 35th minute a training-ground move brought the equaliser.
Michael Carrick laid a corner back to the unmarked Scholes 25 yards out and a low shot was deflected in off Huddlestone's foot. Within 30 seconds Carrick played a gorgeous through-ball for another former Spurs man, Dimitar Berbatov, who took one touch and struck it past Ben Alnwick.
Earlier the young goalkeeper saved well from the lively Carlos Tevez, although he had been beaten when the Argentine hit the bar after Berbatov flicked on Fabio's cross.
Luka Modric, unable to get on the ball to any sustained effect, had to be replaced at the interval, Giovanni dos Santos coming on to play wide on the right and David Bentley movinginside, from where he set up the first opportunity of the second half. He hit a useful cross beyond the far post, where Gareth Bale volleyed it wide.
Bentley then induced some alarm among the home support with a fierce drive past the angle of bar and post.
Fabio's injury gave a first chance to the teenage red-head Richard Eckersley, and the wide midfielder Zoran Tosic, signed from Partizan Belgrade, became their third new face. But the home side, for all of Carrick's prompting, lost much of their vim and when Cristiano Ronaldo drew a save from Alnwick in the 67th minute it was United's only threat of the half.
"I thought we did OK," Redknapp said. Even for him, "OK" is rarely enough at Old Trafford.
Referee: Peter Walton
Man of the match: Carrick
Match rating: 7Reuse content