Manchester United flew off to Tokyo for the overblown World Club Championship last night having wasted an opportunity to leave some worried Premier League challengers behind them. The champions' failure to make the most of a dominant second half here yesterday evening after the leaders Liverpool and Arsenal had both dropped points left Chelsea the day's real winners ahead of a home game with West Ham this afternoon. Luiz Felipe Scolari's team could be 10 points ahead of United champions before they return – in who knows what sort of condition? – to play at Stoke on Boxing Day.
After a first half in which all their possession counted for nothing and Heurelho Gomes in Tottenham's goal was almost redundant, they ran the game, from which Gomes slowly emerged as a hero. His save from Ryan Giggs in added time was the last and best of a whole series forced upon him as Spurs were forced further and further back.
Dimitar Berbatov, warned by Harry Redknapp to expect "a bit of grief" on his return to White Hart Lane, duly received sackfuls of it at his every touch. He held up the ball well without threatening to repeat the goal he scored for Spurs in this fixture last season, when Carlos Tevez scored in the last minute to prevent Tottenham's first victory over United since 2001. Wayne Rooney was suspended yesterday and this time Tevez had less impact and along with Darren Fletcher was sacrificed in the second half for a useful pair of substitutes in Giggs and Paul Scholes. Cristiano Ronaldo had a goal disallowed for handball, but was fortunate that none of the officials spotted a retaliatory kick at Michael Dawson.
Ultimately, Spurs were happier with the point, their 17th from nine games under Redknapp, who said: "Anytime you get a result from Manchester United it's a good one."
The prospects of doing so appeared to have diminished when Jonathan Woodgate was forced off with an injury to his back after barely 10 minutes. Ledley King, predictably, had been unable to play a second game in six days, but Dawson, who seemed to have lost his way last season, stood up to the challenge splendidly and was the main contender with Gomes to be considered the outstanding performer of a match that was slow to come to life in the driving rain.
When it did so, Spurs made the chances, beginning with a brilliant piece of individualism by David Bentley. Reprising a similar effort from even further out that brought one of the goals of the season at Arsenal, he flicked the ball up for himself and volleyed it left-footed, Edwin van der Sar leaping to pull off a fine save. His next one, much lower down, came from Aaron Lennon, cutting inside from the left after Rafael, United's teenaged Brazilian right-back, won possession then lost it. Luka Modric sent a flying header from Didier Zokora's cross just too high and when Rio Ferdinand, of all people, gave Gomes a save to make just before the interval it was the first United had forced. There would soon be several more from the unpredictable goalkeeper, becoming increasingly popular with Tottenham supporters, who cheered him from all sides of the ground at the final whistle.
Both goalkeepers became busier as the second half wore on. Van der Sar saved well high up from Bentley's free-kick and Gomes held Park Ji-Sung's drive. Giggs, on his 778th appearance for United, soon set up two opportunities. Nemanja Vidic was thwarted by Gomes as he met a good cross with his head and his fellow central defender Ferdinand ought to have done better from Giggs' corner than heading on to the roof of the net. Then Gomes had to save from Park. It was United who finished the stronger, Gomes having the final word with a stunning save in the top corner of the net from Giggs' free-kick before accepting his deserved ovation.
United may not have conceded a goal in the League for more than seven hours but they have scored only two in four games, which is not the form of champions. "It's not the worst result," Sir Alex Ferguson insisted. "There's a handicap in going to Tokyo but we're still delighted to be going to represent England."
Referee: Mike Dean
Man of the match: Gomes
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content