Carr has drive to lift Spurs

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Back in London for the first time since their 5-0 defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Manchester United fell to their fourth defeat in five matches at White Hart Lane yesterday. And they even had to concede George Graham's happy boast that "we did it magnificently in spite of the injuries which meant we were down to our last few players".

Back in London for the first time since their 5-0 defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Manchester United fell to their fourth defeat in five matches at White Hart Lane yesterday. And they even had to concede George Graham's happy boast that "we did it magnificently in spite of the injuries which meant we were down to our last few players".

It would be foolish to suggest that United do not have the quality to recover from their recent undulating form and climb back to somewhere near the heights of last season, but to see them take the lead yesterday, have Roy Keane seemingly in absolute control of midfield then allow Spurs to take a comfortable margin of victory, certainly prompted doubts.

Sir Alex Ferguson said, rather lamely, that the rain-soaked pitch of the second half "did not suit our passing game" and that all teams "go through times when the ball doesn't run for them". But of more importance was his admission that Paul Scholes would soon need a hernia operation - a significant loss at a difficult time.

United returned to their Premiership labours haunted by the knowledge that every slip they make this season is interpreted as the certain harbinger of a crashing downfall after last season's European and domestic triumphs. And never more so than after being beaten by Marseille earlier in the week, than this.

It was said that the team had become "complacent", Ferguson had lost his ability to motivate and was considering his future. Exaggeration and speculation no doubt, but beating an increasingly well organised Spurs before being reunited with Europe in Zagreb this week had become a pressing need, if only to quell the pessimistic tabloid gossip.

Spurs, being short of strikers - Steffen Iversen started as the lone arrowhead - and suffering the late withdrawal of the central defender Chris Perry with a stomach strain, the omens were against them. Yet it added to the challenge for Sol Campbell who is (or perhaps was) keen to join United. Unfortunately, he made quite the wrong impression after 23 minutes of busy, unproductive play that had emphasised the importance for United of having Keane back in midfield for his first league appearance since August.

Keane linked instinctively with Ryan Giggs, who was also making his return. The mistake Campbell made was not his alone. Andy Cole had threaded a pass forward into the Spurs penalty area to where Giggs was back to goal with, it seemed, the impenetrable barrier of Campbell and Luke Young a pace or two ahead. Giggs twisted almost as the ball arrived and somehow got between the big men. Ian Walker sped from the line for damage limitation but Giggs shot past him.

The complexion changed. United settled themselves into a more confident passing game and were astounded when, in the 35th minute, a strange header back towards his own goal by Mickaël Silvestre almost rolled in, but bobbled away for a corner from which Tim Sherwood headed towards the foot of the far post. Iversen first pushed the ball against it with his hand - the referee was unsighted, then scrambled the rebound across the line. United's confidence quickly receded. Ginola took possession from a short corner, centred and Scholes headed into his own goal. Spurs became inspired.

The intervention of half-time did little for Tottenham's momentum and soothed United's concern. Through the curtains of rain and the surface water Giggs upstaged Ginola in effective artistry. Meanwhile Keane dominated everything in that patch between penalty area and halfway line.

Keane needed to risk ever increasing excursions upfield. In the meantime Ferguson removed David Beckham, who had never really found the plot, and put on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. That effect was quickly nullified by an astonishing long, low shot out of the grey and from well outside the penalty area by Stephen Carr. Mark Bosnich could only make a gesture of a hopeless dive.

Sadly, as frustration switched back to United's minds, so Keane resorted to one of those reckless moments which have blighted his career, here careering into Mauricio Taricco. The yellow card was inevitable as was one shown to Steffen Freund for attempting to intimidate Keane further.

Naturally United lifted themselves for an intense final 10 minutes but their composure had gone and the quality of their forward movement was rarely that of last season. Indeed it was more reminiscent of their last visit to the capital.

Comments