Ferdinand takes lead in United show of strength

Tottenham Hotspur 0 - Manchester United 1
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Like the West End in a slow period, it was all about revivals at White Hart Lane on Saturday. Tottenham's previously well-received ensemble performance received a reality check but Manchester United's much-criticised star vehicle looked set, now its stars are on stage, for a long run.

Like the West End in a slow period, it was all about revivals at White Hart Lane on Saturday. Tottenham's previously well-received ensemble performance received a reality check but Manchester United's much-criticised star vehicle looked set, now its stars are on stage, for a long run.

For all the talk of "crisis", the Premiership's most successful club find themselves fifth in the table this morning. This still leaves United seven points adrift of Arsenal, but both clubs know they have closed much larger gaps in the past.

Controlling this match more comprehensively than the margin of victory suggests, United always looked certain to end Spurs' unbeaten record once Ruud van Nistelrooy, from the penalty spot, had put them in front just before the break. With Rio Ferdinand strolling through another sweatless outing, Roy Keane ruling the midfield and Cristiano Ronaldo a constant threat United thoroughly deserved their win.

It should be remembered that of this quartet only Keane began the season. With the others, plus the impressive Argentinian recruit Gabriel Heinze in place, United are again demonstrating the combination of solidity, confidence, panache and threat that has characterised their many triumphs under Sir Alex Ferguson. Gary Neville and Louis Saha are yet to return, and Wayne Rooney is still to come - he will probably have a run against Fenerbahce tomorrow, especially as Paul Scholes has a groin strain. The key player, though, according to Ferguson, is Ferdinand.

"I think having Rio back has given a lot of people in the team confidence," said the United manager. "Mikaël Silvestre, for example, relishes playing alongside Rio because he is such an assured performer. When you see the influence Rio has on others you see his importance. I've not been surprised by the way he's handled things. He's a fantastic player and he's been training so hard I knew he would fit in so easily. He was absolutely magnificent."

Ferdinand, staying true to his claim that his absence should not be blamed for United's slump, said: "We should get results no matter what team we have out there, we have the ability." But he admitted the returning players were having an influence. "When I look out at the training ground, day in, day out, it is looking a lot more fruitful. It is neither here nor there to us whether people have written us off. We concentrate on our own game and the recent wins have been good for our confidence.

"I haven't found it easy, far from it," he added, "but it is great to be back playing football. You can see from the way I am playing I am enjoying it." The most difficult aspect after eight months of only training, he said, was concentrating for 90 minutes. "You have to be on top of your game the whole way through and that is difficult."

In Jermain Defoe Tottenham had, in theory, the player to punish any lapses in concentration but in practice the home side failed to exert significant pressure. Jacques Santini's Spurs may be hard to beat, but the corollary is that they find goalscoring equally difficult. Theoretically they played with three forwards; in practice Defoe was isolated and when he did weave past Ferdinand he shanked his shot.

Santini, new to England but not to managerial wiles, set up a smokescreen by complaining that the referee, Peter Walton, had been spotted at half-time in the United dressing-room with a smile on his face. Translation difficulties notwithstanding the clear inference - though he refuted this when asked directly - was that Walton was biased.

United denied that Walton had paid them a visit but whether he did or not - and such an occurrence is not that rare - is irrelevant. Walton's one glaring mistake was failing to give a first-minute spot-kick against Spurs when Mbulelo Mabizela lunged into Heinze. Perhaps he, like everyone else, was confounded by the Argentinian staying on his feet.

The penalty he did award was on the linesman's say-so. Erik Edman, who hauled down John O'Shea as he went to meet Heinze's cross, himself intimated it was probably a correct decision - "There was contact, it was my fault," he said - and Jamie Redknapp admitted "it looked a penalty to me". Santini was cute enough to avoid a Football Association charge, but a quiet word from the authorities would not go amiss.

Goal: Van Nistelrooy pen (41) 0-1.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-3-3): Robinson; Paramot, Naybet, King, Edman; Redknapp, Mabizela (Jackson, 66), Mendes; Kanouté (Davies, 29), Defoe, Keane. Substitutes not used: Keller (gk), Gardner, Brown.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Carroll; Brown, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Heinze; Ronaldo, Keane, O'Shea, Giggs (Miller, 82); Van Nistelrooy (Bellion, 85), Smith. Substitutes not used: Ricardo (gk), P Neville, Kleberson.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Tottenham Hotspur: Mendes.

Man of the match: Keane.

Attendance: 36,103.

Comments