James Lawton: Alex Ferguson's resistance to changing times is subject to heavy, growing pressure

As well as capacity to fight, Manchester United have a genius for riding their luck

There has always been reason to suspect the nature of Manchester United's prospective 20th title triumph and if it should still happen after their icy setback at White Hart Lane the critical verdict will have become even easier to anticipate.

It will have to go down as a victory not for the old bravado of Sir Alex Ferguson's football but his ability to conjure as much contempt for the idea of defeat in bad times as in good.

On this occasion he came within a minute of a classic example of this resistance to changing times. In some ways it would have been an act of larceny if Tottenham's Clint Dempsey hadn't held his nerve to score the late equaliser but though United's lead was trimmed to five points there was still remarkable evidence of an extraordinary will to get the job done under the heaviest pressure.

There were times when they were at risk of being engulfed by the considerable resources of Spurs and David De Gea, who has been just one of United's points of vulnerability this season, was required to produce some remarkable pieces of defiance before Dempsey settled on a ball from Aaron Lennon with the natural born certainty of a superior gunfighter.

However, there was still always a thread of defiance in this United, who go from week to week disputing the notion that along with their capacity to fight they have a genius for riding their luck. Indeed, there were, beyond the continued promise that Robin van Persie will carry them into another chapter of outstanding achievement, some performances of impressive character.

Will the deeper running strength of champions Manchester City, with David Silva finding again some of his most creative and influential form and the raw edge of their European catastrophe beginning to fade, overhaul them for a second straight season?

Maybe, but it remains the boldest of bets. If the decision to leave Wayne Rooney on the bench suggested that Ferguson remains troubled by the form and the confidence of a player who was once so integral to all his hopes of continuing to resist the challenge presented by the resources of his neighbours, the old warrior could take some encouragement in a performance that at one point was threatening to be one of the more impressive of the campaign.

Michael Carrick, a player who appeared to be drifting away from the formidable levels of skill and game management that were developing so significantly a few seasons ago, was again a force of intelligence and nerve yesterday. In front of a defence which for most of the game showed new levels of authority, which was an absolute imperative when such as Gareth Bale and Mousa Dembélé unfurled some of their most menacing work, Carrick read the play brilliantly at times and also produced moments of beautiful penetration.

It was a contribution, which along with the dash of young Rafael and the latest evidence of Danny Welbeck's thoroughbred turn of foot, kept United in league-leading business right up to that final crushing moment.

For Tottenham there was the encouragement that Andre Villas-Boas has a level of talent with which he may indeed be able to return the club to that dizzy level of championship contenders they enjoyed so briefly in the middle of last season. It may take a season or two but United's final struggle to protect what they had gained with some impressive poise and counter-attacking in the first half had much to do with Spurs' swaggering aggression.

Ferguson can certainly conclude that his team are unlikely to suffer quite such an investigation outside of the threat of City. Nothing he may have glimpsed at Stamford Bridge yesterday, when Chelsea beat Arsenal in a match that gave little reason to believe that the agonies of either club are likely to be over any time soon.

It means that the Premier League is likely to remain a contest between two teams of not precisely equal strength – City surely have an edge in the depth of their talent if not their guaranteed resolution – for some considerable time.

United have reason to believe that their level of resolution was maintained buoyantly enough yesterday and in Van Persie plainly they have a man who can make the difference in almost any circumstances. A much more significant contribution is, of course, required from Rooney.

Though he undoubtedly had a strong argument when he claimed a penalty after being clipped by Steven Caulker, his effect as a substitute was dismayingly slight. There was some talk of the energy he brought to a challenging situation. Energy? When was that last considered the prime asset of a player who for long has been the pick of his generation?

United have a hard race to the finish line and it will require a supreme effort. Rooney's contribution may prove pivotal, one way or another, both for his club and a reputation that has never been under quite so much pressure.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Sport
football
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?