Tottenham Hotspur 0 Manchester United 4: United's divine demolition of Spurs marred by Ronaldo's act of devilry

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The Independent Football

A savage demolition of Tottenham and their six-point lead over Chelsea emphatically restored but, when Cristiano Ronaldo is involved, life is never that simple for Manchester United. He is the man leading the renaissance of Sir Alex Ferguson's team and yet with his brilliance comes the controversy, too.

Before the rout got under way, at the end of the first half, Ronaldo dodged into the Tottenham area, cut between Steed Malbranque and Lee Young Pyo, and hit the ground. The referee Mark Clattenburg does not have the benefit of the freeze frames and different camera angles but when the incident was replayed in slow motion for the White Hart Lane crowd at half-time there was a groan. There was no contact.

It was the closest of decisions, and with two defenders closing in on him Ronaldo may have been anticipating the tackle but even that would be kind on him. Malbranque's foot did not make contact, Ronaldo went down and converted the penalty himself. Within eight minutes of the second half beginning Tottenham were three goals down and buried ­ against this United team you only get one chance.

The penalty decision might have stuck in the throat, but the rest of United's performance was absorbing, a team reaching the height of their powers driven on by Nemanja Vidic, who added the second before goals from Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs sealed the contest. Even Edwin van der Sar's broken nose late on, which forced John O'Shea to take over as goalkeeper, did not cause them to break stride.

Ferguson was not asked about the penalty incident by Sky but the manager could have pleaded mitigating circumstances. Henrik Larsson deserved a penalty earlier in the first half when he tangled with Anthony Gardner and even when Ronaldo was given his penalty Ferguson continued to berate the fourth official for that decision.

Martin Jol said that he would not call Ronaldo "a diver" ­ and it was not quite the kind of incident for those sort of allegations ­ but he did dispute the award of the penalty that changed the game. "It wasn't a penalty," the Tottenham manager said, "it was a difficult situation for the referee. If you see it again on television you can see it wasn't a penalty."

The 15th Premiership goal of Ronaldo's season takes him level with Didier Drogba as the League's top goalscorer and as Ferguson chuckled about refusing to pay out on a £400 bet with his player he also casually dropped in an injury bulletin that will have made Steve McClaren jump. Wayne Rooney came off on 63 minutes "limping", according to Ferguson, and will be a doubt for the England friendly on Wednesday.

It seemed inconceivable that all McClaren's squad would get through the weekend unscathed but that will be a particularly big loss for the England manager who will also be without Jermaine Jenas this week. The Spurs midfielder withdrew last night as he struggles to recover from an ankle injury sustained in December. Ferguson did not specify which part of Rooney was injured but he will be sensitive to any allegation that he is withdrawing the player unnecessarily.

It will be a week to savour for Ferguson. Yesterday, he shouted at the fourth official and he treated the travelling support to his grandfather-dancing-at-a-wedding jig in celebration of the first goal. These are the many moods of a man who seems to be at peace with the world as he sizes up his ninth Premiership title and his first in four years.

It was a game that only caught light in the closing stages of the first half and the smoking fuse was Rooney's temper. The United striker launched an angry pursuit of Lee down the left flank after trying to take a chunk out the full-back deep in the Tottenham half and was booked for his challenge. Rooney is supposed to have left all those angry attempts at retribution behind him, but even now the devil does not lurk far beneath the surface. Gary Neville was also lucky to escape when he grabbed Pascal Chimbonda in the penalty area, a decision overlooked by Clattenburg that was not lost on Jol.

Before his penalty, Ronaldo had blazed over when a Michael Carrick header was saved but there was never any question of him missing from the spot. He beat Paul Robinson to the goalkeeper's left at the World Cup finals, this time it was the right side. Tottenham may find themselves in trouble for replaying the controversial penalty incident on their big screens ­ which contravenes Premier League rules.

In these kind of moods it seems that nothing can stop Ronaldo, or United for that matter. Within eight minutes of the half restarting United were three goals ahead. Robinson saved shots from Vidic and Carrick before Tottenham broke two minutes into the half. Carrick whipped in the corner and United's towering Serbian nodded it in.

Tottenham crumbled. Ferguson leapt from the bench and intimidated Clattenburg into not giving Scholes the booking he deserved for a third bad tackle before United got their third goal. Ronaldo raced past Lee and put in a centre that Scholes rolled in. Giggs added the fourth when the substitute Louis Saha played him in behind Tottenham's defence.

Tom Huddlestone had opened up United a couple of times but Dimitar Berbatov was never quite up to the task of finishing. He was stopped brilliantly by Van der Sar whose nose was broken by Robbie Keane with a few minutes left.

Rio Ferdinand took the goalkeeper's shirt first, only to be told that O'Shea would be a better bet and he tackled Keane beautifully when he went clean through. Not that United needed any further evidence that in this form they are unstoppable.

Goals: Ronaldo (pen, 45) 0-1; Vidic (47) 0-2; Scholes (53) 0-3, Giggs (76) 0-4.

Tottenham (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Dawson, Gardner, Lee; Lennon, Zokora (Ghaly, 56), Huddlestone, Malbranque; Defoe (Keane, 56), Berbatov. Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Murphy, Rocha.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Ronaldo (Park, 68), Carrick, Scholes, Giggs (O'Shea, 79); Larsson, Rooney (Saha, 63). Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Heinze.

Booked: Tottenham Keane; Manchester United Vidic, Rooney, Scholes.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).

Man of the match: Vidic.

Attendance: 36,148.

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