Sir Alex Ferguson's programme column spoke of the need for Manchester United to be "kicking on" in their pursuit of Chelsea. After Nani sealed a familiar fate for Tottenham at Old Trafford by kicking in after he had blatantly handled the ball, even the United manager admitted the goal was "bizarre" while his opposite number Harry Redknapp bemoaned "a farcical way to finish a game".
With seven minutes left, and United defending Nemanja Vidic's first-half goal, Nani tumbled heavily in the Spurs penalty area after a tug of his shirt by Younes Kaboul. The Portuguese winger put his hand on the ball while lying on the turf, which persuaded Heurelho Gomes to put it down for a free-kick. But then Nani, having risen to his feet and determined that the ball might still be "live", sidefooted it into the net.
Ferguson, whose team were also the beneficiaries in 2005 when the same referee, Mark Clattenburg, failed to spot that Pedro Mendes's shot from the halfway line was fumbled over the line by Roy Carroll for what would have been a last-minute winner for Spurs, felt the blame for the confusion lay with Gomes and the referee's assistant, Simon Beck.
"The linesmen didn't flag until after the goal was scored. So he made an error," Ferguson said. "The referee didn't blow his whistle at all, so then Nani went back and the referee said play on. So what can you do? He put the ball in the net.
"The goalkeeper should know better. He's an experienced player but I thought he made a mess of it," added Ferguson. "I thought we should have had a penalty first of all. I think when Nani fell, he handled the ball but the referee didn't blow for it because the keeper had posses sion. He played on. He went to take a free-kick thinking it was a foul, so he has made an error."
Ferguson said he could "absolutely" appreciate why Redknapp, his players and staff were so incensed. "At the time I had no idea what had happened. It was bizarre. The keeper has got the ball in his hands. Next minute it's in the net. So I can understand their frustration."
Redknapp, having been similarly dismayed 18 months ago when Spurs' 2-0 lead at United turned into a 5-2 defeat after a dubious penalty award, was adamant Mr Clattenburg and his assistant had made a "scandalous" decision. "If he has let play go on, he should have been telling Gomes, 'play on, play on'. What a farcical way to finish a game.
"It was obvious for Gomes to leave the ball there because everyone saw Nani handle. Look at Darren Fletcher's reaction: he's pulling Nani back and telling him to get on with it. I've always thought he was a good referee, and he is, but he made a real mess of that. Alex asked me, 'Did you see what happened?' I said 'Yes. Hand-ball'. He didn't know. He hadn't seen it."
The Spurs manager argued that Nani ought to have been shown a yellow card for deliberately handling the ball, adding: "You can't put your hand on it just because you've got the hump over a penalty." He accepted that the decision may not have affected the outcome, yet added that there had still been time for an equaliser had it remained 1-0. With barely concealed sarcasm he concluded that the officials "will come up with a story that will make it look right".
Fletcher claimed Kaboul's challenge on Nani merited a penalty, but conceded: "It's one of those decisions where nobody really knows what's happened. But Nani can't do anything but put the ball in the net. He's got the opportunity to score, so he's got to score.
"If the referee hasn't given the free-kick, the ball's still in play. If the goalie then puts it down, Nani has every right to put it into the back of the net. You're always getting told to play to the whistle and sometimes you've got to do that."
Tottenham's tales of woe: The curse of Old Trafford
4 Jan 2005 Manchester United and Tottenham are goalless at Old Trafford after 89 minutes when Pedro Mendes, the Spurs midfielder, sees Roy Carroll is well off his line and launches an ambitious shot from just over the halfway line.
The goalkeeper races back to try to keep the shot out but he spills the ball at least a yard over his line. He turns instinctively to scoop it away. With the referee Mark Clattenburg and his assistant Rob Lewis too far away from the incident to judge, Mendes is denied what would almost certainly have been a winning goal.
25 April 2009 Tottenham outplay United in the first half in Manchester and go in at the interval with a 2-0 advantage thanks to goals by Darren Bent and Luka Modric. But the game turns on a controversial penalty award by Howard Webb 11 minutes into the second half.
Wayne Rooney hits a throughball into the penalty area for Michael Carrick to chase. Heurelho Gomes is smart off his line and sprawls at Carrick's feet, appearing to touch the ball away cleanly, but his momentum carries him into Carrick and Webb awards a penalty.
Cristiano Ronaldo scores it and in the next 14 minutes United, sparked into life by the goal, score three more times and run out 5-2 winners.
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