Slick Spurs the latest to suggest that United are now one-man team

Manchester United 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1

Rooney had one moment of improbable brilliance, a pass off the outside of the back of his heel which had the impact of a knife slashing through silk, but without the permanent effect. The admirably composed Spurs defence, in which Ledley King and his young assistant Michael Dawson grew both larger and more flexible by the minute, simply re-formed.

Rooney produced one more amazing feat, running down Aaron Lennon before taking the ball off his feet, rather like a juggernaut turning into the slow lane while nudging aside a bubble car. When Rooney does such things the body language of Old Trafford, and not least Sir Alex Ferguson's, bursts back into life. But increasingly it is more of a tremor than a surge.

The truth has been accumulating down the months and here it was plain as a weary old bullfrog in a stagnant pool. Rooney can freshen and inspire United only to a certain extent; he cannot indefinitely confuse the issue.

At Fulham recently he pulled it off so spectacularly the old Craven Cottage hero, World Cup-winning George Cohen, was still raving about his performance a week later. But he would not have been raving this day; he would have been acknowledging that one individual, however gifted, can only do so much.

Here the sum of Rooney's contribution, which dismayingly included a stream of lost possession, in the end added up to not much more than a downpayment on a disaster fund.

Reports that owner Malcolm Glazer is willing to crank up Ferguson's spending power to a significant degree - which in the shadow of Roman Abramovich's Chelsea empire must remain a relative term - can only be reinforced by the clearest evidence of the onset of that disaster: institutionalised mediocrity.

That was the gnawing reality of the slippage of a clear edge over an impressively strengthened, but scarcely devastating, Spurs in the first half. At no stage of the game were United either terribly bad - or terribly good. They simply subsided like an irresolute soufflé.

Cristiano Ronaldo, stewing in his own difficulties in the fast lane, came on to replace a stiffly predictable Darren Fletcher, and the much touted little Giuseppe Rossi had 10 minutes of eager but indecisive running at the cover coolly marshalled by King and Dawson. In midfield Alan Smith started with considerable energy but his influence faded in the face of the still fierce intensity of Edgar Davids, as did that of captain Paul Scholes. Whatever United had it was never quite enough. Ruud van Nistelrooy, the owner of a flurry of early goals, was visible but now he bustles rather than dismantles.

It is another lost dimension.

What does Fergie do? How does he rekindle a belief so relentlessly undermined since the first shock of Chelsea's impact? When a man has done so much, made wave upon wave of success to the point of infallibility, the sweep of this question is plainly haunting. What can he do? That is perhaps the more relevant question.

Soon enough, you have to say, Ferguson has to abandon the idea that either Alan Smith or Darren Fletcher can begin to compensate for the ebbing of Roy Keane. For the moment, if he cannot have a Michael Essien, he needs someone more like Davids, a man driven like Keane by the belief that every second of a match is a test as much of his will as his ability. Smith may have a lot of that commitment, but he does not have the strength of mind, the evenly spread tenacity and vision of a true midfielder. Kleberson and Djemba-Djemba fell short; so too, you have to believe, will Smith and Fletcher.

Martin Jol was less than jubilant, and you could understand why. The Dutchman's team may be in the formative stages of their development but their growing composure in the second half should have produced more impact than Jermaine Jenas's imperiously struck free-kick, which equalised United's early strike after Paul Robinson had uncharacteristically dropped the ball at Mikaël Silvestre's feet. Jol, while respectful of a great team "in transition" agreed that he came here with more than the hope of mere parity. If Blackburn won here recently, why not Spurs, for whom good defence is augmented by the midfield craft of Davids and Michael Carrick, the late-budding confidence of Jenas and the bite of Jermain Defoe?

Jol was bitterly upset by referee Uriah Rennie's booking of Davids. He said that the caution followed a bout of sustained leniency, especially in the matter of Smith's rough attempts to subdue the old hand.

For Ferguson, without Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Gabriel Heinze and the still valuable influence of Keane, the temporary absence of one important player must have seemed a relatively minor matter.

What he is missing is something that even Rooney was for once unable to supply. It is that sublime belief that you are bound to win - an asset beyond anyone's price. That at least was the fear on the day when Rooney said goodbye to the least complicated years of his life.

Goals: Silvestre (7) 1-0; Jenas (72) 1-1.

Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Van der Sar; Bardsley (Rossi, 81), Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea; Fletcher (Ronaldo, 75), Smith, Scholes, Park; Rooney; van Nistelrooy. Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Miller, Pique.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Stalteri, Dawson, King, Lee; Lennon (Keane, 75), Jenas, Carrick, Davids; Defoe (Mendes, 84), Mido. Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Naybet, Kelly.

Referee: U Rennie (South Yorkshire).

Booked: Manchester United Rooney, Bardsley; Tottenham Hotspur Davids, Jenas, Stalteri.

Man of the match: Davids.

Attendance: 67,856.

In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
Jennifer Lawrence at the Vanity Fair Academy Awards party in February 2014
people12 undisclosed female victims are seeking $100m in damages
4 May 2013: The sun rises over Tower Bridge in London. Temperatures across the UK could be higher than several European holiday destinations by Monday, including parts of Italy and France (Andy Hepburn/PA)
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
voicesI like surprises - that's why I'm bringing them back to politics, writes Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Adam Levine plays a butcher who obsessively stalks a woman in Maroon 5's 'Animals' music video
music'Animals' video 'promotes sexual violence against women'
Bear and hare woodland scene from John Lewis Christmas advert
newsRetailer breaks with tradition, selling real festive fir trees online for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Horowitz will write the next 007 novel
booksAnthony Horowitz to write new instalment in spy series for 2015
Stunt BMX rider Danny MacAskill
cyclingJaw-dropping video shows Danny MacAskill's latest death-defying BMX stunt
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Kicking on: Nathaniel Clyne is relishing the challenge of the Premier League after moving from Crystal Palace
footballSurprises include a first ever call-up for one Southampton star
Anthony stopped due to the lack of step free access at Mansion House
Blue Ghost Fireflies in Brevard, North Carolina. Blue Ghost fireflies are unique because they stay lit and only hover about a foot off the ground.
Photo Location: Brevard, North Carolina
travelGallery: The winner of National Geographic's photo contest receives $10,000
The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?