United escape as Spurs are denied by spirit of '66

Manchester United 0 - Tottenham Hotspur 0
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The Independent Online

On Monday Sir Alex Ferguson argued the case for video replays; last night he benefited from their absence as Roy Carroll dropped a long, high speculative shot from Pedro Mendes, delivered from his own half, a yard over his goal-line.

On Monday Sir Alex Ferguson argued the case for video replays; last night he benefited from their absence as Roy Carroll dropped a long, high speculative shot from Pedro Mendes, delivered from his own half, a yard over his goal-line.

There was perhaps a minute remaining when the Ulsterman allowed a perfectly catchable ball to slide through both of his hands and the failure of the referee, Mark Clattenburg, or his linesman, Ray Lewis, to spot a blatant goal cost Tottenham their first victory at Old Trafford in 15 years. Commentating on television, Niall Quinn called it the most obvious case of a ball crossing the line he had seen and had this been a case of judging a run out, a cricket umpire would not have bothered to call for the third official.

The spirit of Tofik Bakhramov, the Azerbaijani linesman who ruled Geoff Hurst's shot had crossed the line in a World Cup final was duly invoked by the Tottenham manager, Martin Jol.

"We can all remember 1966," Jol said. "You could not blame the referee then but this was not just a couple of centimetres over the line, it was a metre. In eight seconds they could have told the referee; they already wear earpieces. It is an easy thing to do; it's the Premier League, there's a lot of money at stake and for us there is European football at stake. Had this been Chelsea v Arsenal, it could have been a disaster. It might have cost a championship."

To Manchester United, whether they dropped two points or three hardly mattered. The gap with Chelsea is now 11 with time and resources seeping away. "They can only throw it away now," Sir Alex Ferguson remarked about Chelsea.

Whatever the result, it would have been tempered by the sight of Ryan Giggs, who has been in peerless form, sitting with his thigh heavily strapped, suffering from a hamstring injury that might take a month to heal and will hurt United more than Wayne Rooney's suspension.

United were not short of possession or desire but there was a bluntness about much of their play, especially against a Tottenham side that had not conceded a goal away from home since November.

Nevertheless, Spurs rode some luck. Paul Robinson made several fine saves, while the Tottenham full-back Noe Pamarot drove Phil Neville's deep cross firmly against the foot of his own post. Afterwards, Ferguson insisted that Manchester United ought to have been awarded a penalty for a foul on Ferdinand immediately after the goal-line incident.

For the Manchester United manager, there are problems in goal as well as in attack. This was not the first error Carroll had committed during the game. Earlier, he had spilled a routine back-header that Robbie Keane took from his grasp and fed to Mendes whose shot struck the roof of the net. There have been mistakes this season in the Champions' League against Lyon, and for Northern Ireland. Good keeper though he is, Carroll may need to be rested. The question is whether Ferguson fully trusts either Tim Howard or Ricardo as replacements.

In the first hour, Tottenham, without either Jermain Defoe or Frédéric Kanouté, were pushed deeper and deeper into their own half and found their own counter-attacks undermined by some wayward passing. However, as the game entered its decisive phase, they broke out with increasing confidence.

Nevertheless, this was an extremely significant draw for Tottenham, who had not won a point at Old Trafford since March 1995. Then those dropped points cost Manchester United. Two months afterwards, they went to Upton Park needing a win on the final day of the season to retain their title and saw a season's work evaporate in a flurry of misses. Somehow, it is hard to imagine season 2004-5 being such a close-run thing.

Manchester United (4-3-2-1): Carroll; P Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Heinze; Fletcher (Miller, 76), Keane, Scholes; Giggs (Bellion, 38), Ronaldo (Spector, 84); Smith. Substitutes not used: Ricardo (gk), Djemba-Djemba.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-5-1): Robinson; Pamarot, Naybet, King, Edman; Marney, Mendes, Ricketts, Carrick, Ziegler; Keane. Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), Yeates, Bunjevcevic, Ifil, Gardner.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Northumberland).

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