Tottenham Hotspur 1 Manchester United 1: Spurs provide Woodgate with another shot at redemption

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The Independent Online

One of the more inventive excuses Peter Ridsdale came up with as his Leeds United reign crumbled and Rio Ferdinand was sold to Manchester United for £30m in 2002 was that the defender had only been bought in the first place as cover for Jonathan Woodgate. He was probably only right in one aspect: that Woodgate, and his terrible injury problems, was always a defender who would need a lot of cover.

Almost eight years on and these two amigos from the good old days at Elland Road were on opposite sides again on Saturday. Ferdinand, with two Premier League winners medals, 64 England caps and a regular place in the national team can reflect on one of the brightest careers in modern English football. Woodgate, making his Spurs debut, simply has, after Newcastle United, Real Madrid and Middlesbrough, yet another shot at redemption.

His career wracked by injury, it is an indicator of the 28-year-old's natural talent that every time he manages to get fit he is in demand from new clubs and his country. On Wednesday he now finds himself the prime candidate to partner Ferdinand in the centre of England's defence against Switzerland with John Terry and Ledley King injured. The question for Woodgate is not whether he deserves his place in the England team – he does – but how long he can stay fit.

Alongside Michael Dawson it was Woodgate who offered Spurs their greatest hope of a famous victory against United, denied to the home team in the third minute of stoppage time when Carlos Tevez got ahead of Dawson to poke the ball in.

Make no mistake, this was not one of those days when the great United ensemble was on song but there was a sheer bloody-mindedness about Spurs' performance which was, quite frankly, most uncharacteristic of this club in recent times.

Cristiano Ronaldo will not be sifting the highlights of this game for his end of season DVD; it was not one of his better performances regardless of Sir Alex Ferguson's protestations about the systematic fouling of his star man. Chasing the equaliser after Dimitar Berbatov scored in the 20th minute, United switched to a 4-3-3 formation with Ronaldo as centre-forward and Wayne Rooney and Tevez either side of him. That Spurs' defence survived as long as they did showed, once again, the effect of Juande Ramos.

The latest convert to the Ramosistas said that he was playing for a "proper manager" and in doing so Woodgate may well have been firing a parting shot at Gareth Southgate.

"I could have stayed at Middlesbrough and had the easy, comfortable life," Woodgate said. "I could have lived near my home [town] but I wanted to come to Spurs and move to London and play for a good team who are going places. I am a footballer and I want to win things. I want to play for a club with ambition and try to win trophies.

"The manager, the players – you can see what they are trying to build. It's like when I was at Leeds and all these new players came in and I was excited. The fans are good, but the manager has won silverware, he knows what he's doing – he's a proper manager. He looks the part, [the way] he talks, he's good. I'm enjoying it. I wouldn't say it's sad [leaving Middlesbrough]. It's my decision. I wanted to come here and do things. I'm not sad about it."

Of course, the first time Fabio Capello encountered Woodgate at Real Madrid, he rated the player so highly he was happy for the defender to go out on loan to Middlesbrough for the season. Yet faced with the prospect of picking Joleon Lescott or Matthew Upson it would seem that the Spurs man will be at the head of the contenders to play alongside Ferdinand whose criticism of referee Mark Clattenburg was United's major beef after the game.

There were seven United bookings for a variety of offences although those for Ronaldo and Edwin Van der Sar (both dissent) and Rooney (diving) were spot on. Ferguson was insistent that Jermaine Jenas should have been sent off in the first half for a foul on Ronaldo that passed by the rest of us largely without comment.

"When Manchester United get seven bookings it's not right – something is wrong," Ferguson said, invoking a rule that evidently only exists in his own head.

Nevertheless, it would be ludicrous to suggest that dropping two points against Arsenal is a sign of United's title challenge faltering, and a point was not a bad result against a Spurs team in this kind of form.

It is hard to fathom just how a United team of such talents conspire to under-perform other than to put it down to one of those fickle afternoons in a 38-game season. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were very far from their best and that had an impact on United's first half performance.

"We never say die, we never give up," Ferdinand said. "You've seen us do it many times over the years, getting late equalisers and winners and we managed to nick it back and get a draw.

"The ref told me there were 30 seconds to go just before the corner [that United equalised from]. It's [the title] not over yet, don't worry. It's early yet. We'd rather be top. Even in the last two months it's changed a lot but we're in a good position."

Ferguson said later that of the four United players who were to join up with England this evening "not all of them will play" which suggests he knows more about Capello's plans than anyone else. Few will be more crucial to the start of the new regime than Ferdinand and Rooney; as for Woodgate – he has a chance to make a real impression.

l As he remembered those who died at Munich, Ryan Giggs said, "We have to carry on the legacy. If you are representing Manchester United, you have to play in the right manner, excite supporters and wherever you go, get people off their seats. That has got to go on because that is one of the things that sets this club apart."

Goals: Berbatov (20) 1-0; Tevez (90) 1-1

Tottenham (4-4-2): Cerny; Chimbonda, Dawson, Woodgate, Hutton; Lennon (Boateng, 78), Jenas, Huddlestone, Malbranque; Berbatov, Keane (O'Hara, 90). Substitutes not used: Robinson (gk), Lee, Taarabt.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Ronaldo, Hargreaves (Carrick, 45), Scholes (Anderson, 59), Giggs (Nani, 59); Rooney, Tevez. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), O'Shea

Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).

Booked: Tottenham: Woodgate, Huddlestone, Cerny. Manchester United: Van der Sar, Ronaldo, Brown, Nani, Vidic, Rooney, Tevez.

Man of the match: Woodgate.

Attendance: 36,075.

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