Spurs shatter United to ease pressure on manager

Manchester United 2 Tottenham Hotspur 3: Dempsey strike stuns Old Trafford to give Villas-Boas credibility on one of biggest stages

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The Independent Football

He did not sprint down the touchline and slide to the turf in his suit, but this night would have done for Andre Villas-Boas what Porto's elimination of Manchester United from the Champions League here did for Jose Mourinho.

One of Saturday morning's papers declared that Tottenham were in a state of crisis, with Villas-Boas facing the same kind of player unrest that did for him at Chelsea.

This breathtaking, breathless game was some response. When a longed-for final whistle blew, the Spurs manager punched the air repeatedly. Last season, during his brief tenure at Stamford Bridge, he had seen a three-goal lead evaporate against Manchester United.

This time, his players clung on, surviving two strikes against the frame of Brad Friedel's goal to embrace a victory that might change everything at White Hart Lane. Sir Alex Ferguson was prowling the touchline long before the interval, something he does not do unless he is especially anxious or angry.

Frankly, he was entitled to be livid. "In the first half we simply defended poorly," the United manager reflected afterwards. "We were fantastic in the second and should have got something from the game. But in the first half we were just playing against the wind."

Tottenham had attacked from the very beginning. There is not much that rhymes with Vertonghen but those who had travelled up from London made a fair fist of it as his name rolled around the great stadium.

His height, 6ft 2in, and a hulking, muscular build does not suggest pace but Jan Vertonghen is deceptively quick and, having played a one-two with Gareth Bale, he ran into spaces that opened up before him like a prairie. Rafael da Silva and Rio Ferdinand performed the role of an honour guard as he shot and, although Jonny Evans slid in to block, the Ulsterman succeeded only in deflecting the ball past Anders Lindegaard.

There was no real let-up. Ferguson made a tacit admission that a midfield containing both Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, men with a combined age greater than Sir Bobby Charlton, will inherently lack pace by withdrawing the Welshman in favour of Wayne Rooney during what would have been an ill-tempered interval.

There was never the slightest possibility Scholes, who with Rooney dazzled in the second half, would get anywhere near Bale as he sprinted directly at the heart of a creaking United defence.

Jermain Defoe had made himself available to his left and Ferdinand was blocking his route to goal. He need not have bothered. Bale kept running and in his guts Lindegaard would have known what was coming next, a shot surgically delivered into the corner of his net.

Those who knew some of the history between these clubs would have known this match was not dead. Gary Neville remembers the first half at White Hart Lane exactly 11 years before as the most embarrassing 45 minutes he had been involved in. Tottenham ended it 3-0 up and lost the match 5-3.

As Glenn Hoddle celebrated with his backroom staff during the interval, Teddy Sheringham, who had returned to Spurs from Old Trafford, looked up and told his manager that the game was not yet done.

Nor was this. First, Rooney, who was later to strike Friedel's post with a vicious free-kick, provided a beautifully-measured cross for Luis Nani to slide home in front of the Stretford End. Tottenham responded by immediately scoring a third as Bale found Defoe whose shot, half-saved by Anders Lindegaard, was driven home by Clint Dempsey.

Then Shinji Kagawa, played in by Michael Carrick, performed a balletic turn that had Friedel sprawling helplessly in front of him.

Three goals had been scored in the space of 139 seconds. Only the introduction of rush goalies could have made Old Trafford look more like a school playground.

Manchester Utd (4-4-1-1): Lindegaard; Da Silva, Ferdinand (Hernandez, 90), Evans, Evra; Giggs (Rooney, 45), Carrick, Scholes, Kagawa (Welbeck, 79); Nani; Van Persie.

Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Friedel; Walker, Gallas, Caulker, Vertonghen; Dembele (Huddlestone, 83), Sandro; Lennon, Demsey (Sigurdsson, 70), Bale; Defoe (Dawson, 90).

Referee: Chris Foy

Man of the match: Bale (Tottenham)

Match rating: 9/10