The problem against Tottenham was inside our heads, claims Manchester United's Patrice Evra

Manchester United 2 Tottenham Hotspur 3

Once, when he was asked why Sir Alex Ferguson was suddenly so nice about him, Arsène Wenger replied wistfully that he was no longer seen as a threat at Old Trafford.

Manchester United's great helmsman invariably lavishes praise on those he regularly beats. Usually, when they play Newcastle, Ferguson will highlight their open football, their readiness to make a game of it. Newcastle have not won at Old Trafford since 1972.

Tottenham Hotspur had not won there since 1989. In his programme notes, Ferguson was gushing: "Managers and coaches come and go but it seems to be in the genes at Tottenham that they will play with a quality and style that is good to watch."

He was not quite so complimentary after the final whistle, attacking Spurs goalkeeper Brad Friedel for time-wasting and claiming it was "an insult to the game" that referee Chris Foy had added only four minutes of stoppage time. Today, preparing for the Champions League fixture with Cluj, Ferguson finds himself in Transylvania, a place where you can expect to be bitten.

On Saturday, however, it was the match that had bite. Tottenham, displaying all the flair that Ferguson had talked about, had glided into a two-goal lead before facing the full brunt of a hurricane, inspired by an electrified Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes.

Playing United in this kind of mood must be like being on the other side of the door as Jack Nicholson starts smashing it down with an axe and a cry of "Here's Johnny!" in The Shining. Clint Dempsey, the scorer of Spurs' precious third goal, was on the bench in the desperate, final moments "just praying we would see it out."

Steven Caulker, who was not born when Gary Lineker scored Tottenham's last winner at Old Trafford, was in the thick of things in a defence that, under enormous pressure, buckled but did not break. "When it got to 2-1 and 3-2, there were times when you have to stand strong and hold the line," said the 20-year-old graduate of the Tottenham academy. "There were times when United came close but people were prepared to put their bodies on the line – the main example being when William Gallas collided with a post to get the ball out for a corner."

United's defence had proved rather more brittle. Rio Ferdinand was at fault for all three Tottenham goals. His game, reliant on positioning and timing, should outlast that of John Terry which depends on muscle and work-rate – but perhaps it won't.

This may have been a blip or it may have been the start of a champion's twilight. United have kept two clean sheets in seven matches – and in one of those Galatasaray struck the frame of their goal three times.

"We put on the Manchester United face only in the second half and that is not enough, if you want the title," said the Old Trafford left-back Patrice Evra.

"You could say that in the second half we maybe deserved to win because we created a lot of chances but we were not good enough in the first half and that is what is really painful.

"If you want to talk about positives, let's make sure we play the way we did in the second half. If we do, it will be difficult for any team to beat us. But we have to play like that from the first minute. That's why I say the problem was inside our heads. It was not tactics, it was not tiredness. You don't play a second half like that and make the excuse that you are tired."

Romanians get back on track

Romanian champions CFR Cluj warmed up for their tie with Manchester United with a 5-1 thrashing of Gloria Bistrita, pushing them up to fifth in the table after an indifferent start to the season.

Pantelis Kapetanos put the Transylvanian side ahead after just five minutes with a towering header before a Gabriel Stelian brace, a goal either side of half-time, demonstrated their superiority.

Sasa Bjelanovic and Brazilian Luis Alberton scored late on to round off a resounding win as Alin Minteuan's side look to build on their 2-0 win at Braga in the opening round of group stage fixtures.

Match facts

Man Utd: LINDEGAARD 6/10; RAFAEL 5; FERDINAND 4; EVANS 5; EVRA 6; NANI 7; CARRICK 7; SCHOLES 8; GIGGS 5; KAGAWA 6; VAN PERSIE

Spurs: FRIEDEL 7; VERTONGHEN 8; CAULKER 7; GALLAS 7; WALKER 7; BALE 8; DEMBELE 7; DEMPSEY 7; SANDRO 8; LENNON 7; DEFOE 7

Goals: Man Utd Nani 51, Kagawa 53. Tottenham Vertonghen 2, Bale 32, Dempsey 52. Subs: Man U Rooney 8 (Giggs, 45), Welbeck (Kagawa, 79), Hernandez (Ferdinand, 90). TH Sigurdsson 5 (Dempsey, 70), Huddlestone (Dembélé, 84), Dawson (Defoe, 90). Man of match Bale. Match rating 9/10. Poss Man U 74%. TH 26%. Attempts on target Man U 7. TH 4. Ref C Foy (Merseyside). Att 75,566.

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

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness