Manchester United at least had the satisfaction of forcing Chelsea to put the champagne on ice, although Tottenham Hotspur may now be checking if their own end-of-season order of the sparkling stuff is refundable. Their chances of qualifying for the Champions' League, a roller-coaster journey, took a downward swoop with this stomach-tightening loss which followed the soaring success of winning at Everton. They now go across north London to Highbury on Saturday needing to avoid defeat - something they have not done in the last seven years - to keep their destiny in their own hands.
It was Wayne Rooney who took the bubbly here, scoring his 18th and 19th goals of the season and brilliantly holding together United's attack as they recorded a fifth successive away victory and, astonishingly, a fifth in a row at White Hart Lane. It is the happiest of hunting grounds for them and their celebrations at the end spoke volumes of defiance.
United may not be able to regain the title but they took great delight in prolonging the race. "We rode our luck a little bit," said Ryan Giggs afterwards. "You have to have a bit of luck." They believe that commodity was in short supply against Sunderland on Good Friday. That numbing goalless draw stands out angrily amid a run of 10 League wins. How it must hurt United.
Spurs' head coach Martin Jol also looked a little stung. "I thought we punished ourselves," he said afterwards. "Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit but I cannot remember a game where we played so well and were 2-0 down." That was in reference to a blistering first half in which Spurs took a grip on proceedings.
Michael Carrick set the tone. Within two minutes he sent a wonderful crossfield pass, like a quarterback, to Aaron Lennon who cushioned the ball, beat Mikaël Silvestre and sent in a low skidding cross that Jermain Defoe touched beyond the far post. Then Carrick picked out Michael Dawson with a free-kick. The defender reached it, on the stretch, but Edwin van der Sar pushed out his shot.
Immediately Spurs attacked again but United spirited the ball away from Lennon and in the swiftest, most fluent of counter-attacks Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo exchanged passes before the latter crossed and Rooney bundled the ball home. It was all done at break-neck speed.
Spurs countered. Defoe mis-hit, from Robbie Keane's delivery, then Van der Sar turned his shot around a post before Gary Neville and John O'Shea jumped into each other and Dawson volleyed over. Suddenly United struck again. Lee Young-Pyo dallied in possession, wasting three opportunities to clear, and his fellow South Korean Park Ji-Sung intercepted, teeing up Rooney who coolly beat Paul Robinson.
It would have seemed to have killed the contest but, again, Carrick took hold. Soon after the re-start he surged forward before being brought down by Nemanja Vidic. The free-kick was wasted but Spurs won a corner and again United's defenders flapped. Vidic - a hapless figure at times - headed against Rio Ferdinand and Jermaine Jenas stabbed in the rebound.
Indeed, as awesome as United's forward threat was, they were equally as vulnerable in defence. Set-pieces were rarely cleared with comfort and Ferdinand had to put an arm of encouragement around Vidic as he floundered, while manager Sir Alex Ferguson threw on a third central defender and admitted Spurs were worthy of a point.
Still, before then, it was the visitors who had the better chances. First, O'Shea's clever chip released Van Nistelrooy. He was marginally offside but the flag stayed down. Perhaps aware of that he dallied, and when he did finally beat Robinson, he was smartly tackled by Dawson as he was forced wide. Then the Dutchman met Neville's cross and cannoned a shot against the near post.
Spurs pushed for the point - Robinson came up for a corner, all of Jol's fit strikers were used - but United held on. "It's a big disappointment because we thought it could have been a big day for us," sighed Jol afterwards. "If we had got a point today it would have been a very nice, warm sunny afternoon. I really thought that if we had got that point it would have been an example of character." Instead Spurs will have to show that at Arsenal this weekend.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-1-1): Robinson; Stalteri, Davenport, Dawson, Lee; Lennon (Barnard, 78), Carrick, Jenas, Davids (Murphy, 71); Keane; Defoe. Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Naybet, Kelly.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Neville, Vidic, Ferdinand, Silvestre; Park, O'Shea, Giggs, Ronaldo (Brown, 90); Rooney, Van Nistelrooy. Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Evra, Heinze, Saha.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).Reuse content