Four Premiership matches at Old Trafford have brought United a mere four goals and five points, Tottenham fighting back in the second half for a deserved draw, although they drop to third behind Charlton.
Despite that, and three previous wins in a row, manager Martin Jol has modestly insisted they are still not on a par with United and Liverpool, as well as city rivals Chelsea and Arsenal, and are therefore not ready for the Champions' League.
But if not Tottenham, then who? Wigan, presumably. Having failed to finish higher than ninth in the last decade, the north London club are at last beginning to see the benefit of £60m worth of investment in the last couple of years. Even so, their current status is as much a comment on the lack of consistency elsewhere as on their own quality.
Jol was just content to have inspired an improvement with what it can be assumed was a lively half-time lecture. "I was disappointed because three or four players hadn't fulfilled their potential," he said. "The second half was 100 per cent better and we could have nicked it."
Sir Alex was not having that, claiming: "It's disappointing because we were in control of the game, never in danger before their goal. We should have finished them off."
There were fewer opportunities to do that than he would have liked, however, apart from Ruud van Nistelrooy and substitute Cristiano Ronaldo putting headers wide from good positions.
The other talking point was a fierce midfield scrap between Alan Smith and Edgar Davids, Yorkshire terrier against Dutch pitbull. Smith ought to have received the first booking, but Davids saved him by getting quickly to his feet, only to receive a yellow card later - his fifth of the season - which will keep him out of the derby against Arsenal.
With Ryan Giggs joining a lengthy injury list, Ferguson was grateful to have Wayne Rooney available again for his last match as a teenager, working prodigiously hard without looking like scoring. Ronaldo, badly out of sorts against Lille in a difficult week in which he was interviewed by police in connection with allegations of rape, was in the dug-out, allowing the South Korean Park Ji-Sung to start on the opposite flank to his compatriot and former Eindhoven team-mate, Spurs' left-back Lee Young-Pyo - a coincidence that turned the press box into a place of sweet Seoul music.
Paul Robinson presented United with a goal as early as the seventh minute. Michael Dawson conceded a free-kick on the left as he tried to pull out of a challenge on Rooney; Paul Scholes swung the kick over and Robinson failed to grasp Van Nistelrooy's soft header, giving Mikaël Silvestre a tap-in.
Robinson did better to beat out a shot from Smith, who had cleverly deceived Ledley King, one of his rivals for the vacancy as holding midfielder in the national team. Another contender, Michael Carrick, was quieter until the second half.
Spurs were much more vigorous after the interval, too much so for referee Uriah Rennie, who booked Davids, Jermaine Jenas and Paul Stalteri in quick succession. His first yellow card, delayed a little too long, was for Rooney, who had just created the best chance of the half with an imaginative back-heel; Van Nistelrooy, briefly clear, was thwarted by Dawson's recovery.
But with 18 minutes left, Spurs, having brought on Robbie Keane for the disappointing Aaron Lennon, found an equaliser. Jermain Defoe was fouled just outside the penalty area and Jenas, slowly rediscovering some form, curled his shot wide of a helpless Edwin van der Sar.
Carrick's long free-kick then dipped on to the top of the bar before Spurs replaced Defoe with Pedro Mendes, the scorer here last season of the goal the linesman missed. No pyrotechnics this time, however, from the Portuguese; nor from Ronaldo, who sent a free header wide in added time as United vainly sought to prevent more frustration at the theatre of draws.Reuse content