A fixture that has averaged almost four goals per game since the Premier League began seemed certain to be decided by a single one here – unusually, in Tottenham's favour – until the final minute of added time, when Manchester United scrambled a barely deserved equaliser. Carlos Tevez was so convinced he had scored it that he took off his shirt in celebration and became the 10th player booked in a fast and feisty game; Spurs were equally adamant that Michael Dawson had the last touch, which compounded their disappointment at not achieving a first victory over United for seven years.
Until a frantic last few minutes, the champions were well below their best and Cristiano Ronaldo, the man of the moment, was never close to adding to his run of nine goals in five games, despite playing much of the second half as a central striker. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, the elder statesmen brought back after a rest in midweek, were so ineffective that Sir Alex Ferguson returned them to the dug-out early in the second half. One of the replacements, Nani, was United's most influential player as they finally created chances in the last quarter of an hour.
Until then Tottenham's defence had stood up splendidly, with Tom Huddlestone shielding a back four in which Jonathan Woodgate was outstanding on his home debut. Alan Hutton, who had eventually decided to move south from Rangers for £9m, played solidly at right-back, and it was again clear that Juande Ramos has improved the side's organisation as well as their fitness. "When you play against a team like Manchester United you can't consider it's two points lost, but we were very, very close to winning," he said.
"In the first half Spurs were the better team," Ferguson admitted. "But for the last 25 minutes we battered them." He was scathing about the refereeing of Mark Clattenburg, who had ordered him to the stands at Bolton this season, declaring: "There's something wrong when Manchester United get seven bookings." Few of the tackles, on either side, were bad ones, but right or wrong, United will face an automatic fine and Wayne Rooney will miss next weekend's Manchester derby.
Despite early neat interchanges from the visitors, the surprise was that neither of two attack-minded sides had forced a save before Spurs scored in the 21st minute. The most promising moves stemmed from speedy breaks out of defence and the goal was no exception, beginning with a shot by Owen Hargreaves that Woodgate blocked and played up to Robbie Keane for a delicate touch that set Jermaine Jenas away. He went down under a challenge from the retreating Hargreaves but even as Tottenham shouted for a penalty, Aaron Lennon drove the ball across, Edwin van der Sar parrying it into the path of Dimitar Berbatov for a tap-in. The goalkeeper led protests that Jenas had handled while on the ground and became the first of the 10 booked, to be followed by Ronaldo, Wes Brown, Nani, Nemanja Vidic, Rooney, Tevez, Woodgate, Huddlestone and Radek Cerny.
United made a change at the interval, Michael Carrick replacing Hargreaves, and they soon added two more in Anderson and Nani. For a while Tottenham continued to make clearer chances, above all in the 56th minute when the visitors' defence opened up alarmingly in the face of a run by Berbatov. He released Keane, who was clear on goal, but shot weakly at Van der Sar. Just before that Huddlestone's fierce 25 yarder was deflected uncomfortably close to the goalkeeper's post by Vidic.
Patrice Evra survived a shout for handball, the ball certainly striking his arm, and when Cerny pulled off a fine save low to his right after Nani set up Anderson, it was his first of the game. His second soon followed, though Nani's shot from an angle was straight at him. Kevin Prince Boateng replaced Lennon to tighten Tottenham up, the worry for their followers being that they were sitting back without managing to counter. From one corner, Tevez almost made them pay, and from the next he did forcing the ball in off Dawson at the near post.Reuse content