United thwart Tottenham's attack in stern defence of title credentials

Tottenham Hotspur 0 Manchester United 0

White Hart Lane

If this Premier League season of shock results and unpredictable twists is to reward one old, indestructible virtue of English football, then it is surely the capacity to defend heroically when chips are down and backs are against walls. And if that is to be the deciding factor, then the still-unbeaten Manchester United have that quality aplenty.

They were not the best team at White Hart Lane yesterday, certainly not in attack, and they enjoyed just 40 per cent of the possession. For the last 15 minutes, they were reduced to 10 men, which ruined the plan formulated on the United bench to bring on Paul Scholes for the last period of the game. The game's most creative player was not in a red shirt – that was the superb Luka Modric who ran the midfield.

But for sheer bloody-mindedness, for chasing and toiling and for the judicious block, tackle and header, United matched Harry Redknapp's new Premier League force over 90 frantic minutes. Nemanja Vidic ran Modric close for the game's best player and Rio Ferdinand was not too far behind in third. As long as United have those two players shoring up the centre of their defence, a 19th league title remains a real possibility.

It was their eighth draw away from home, a remarkable record which means they reach 21 games in the league season without defeat. This is not a classic United team like Ferguson's first great title-winning side of 1993 and 1994 and neither does it leave the opposition scorched like the previous incarnation with Cristiano Ronaldo, but it has retained a familiar durability.

Top of the league on goal difference from Manchester City, United battled to keep Spurs out yesterday, but they prevailed. For years, this has been the kind of fixture Ferguson's team have expected to mop up without too much struggle, but times have changed. The gap has closed to the point where it was hard to get a cigarette paper between these two sides.

Up against the immovable object of Ferdinand and Vidic was Modric and, to a lesser extent, the likes of Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Peter Crouch. Even when Rafael Da Silva was sent off, it was a job to break United down. It was not one fewer opponent that Spurs required, rather it was a flash of brilliance, or a slight misjudgement from one of United's defenders, to let them in. It never came.

Rafael's red card for a second booking was the wrong decision by Mike Dean. He ran across the back of Benoît Assou-Ekotto, where toe and heal made the slightest of contact. This being a game played at a remorseless pace, the Spurs left-back went down and Dean overreacted, erroneously believing he had seen an intentional trip.

Rafael went off, first stopping to berate Dean and then, as he left, booting a pitchside microphone. Until then he had enjoyed a decent game. He had not stopped Bale every time the left winger ran at him – no one does – but he handled him as best he could and even went past Bale in the opposite direction in the first half. Even with the extra man, Spurs struggled to make inroads. For such a compelling game there were precious few chances, the best of the second half was a shot stroked just over the bar by Van der Vaart on 81 minutes. Spurs created more before the break but they never managed to put a cross on Crouch's head and the England striker never really escaped the attentions of Vidic.

It was in midfield that Spurs dominated, Modric happy to receive the ball, as Redknapp later pointed out, in the most unpromising of situations. There is nowhere that the Croat will not take the ball to feet and twist and feint to make a bit of space for the pass. He was exceptional and Ferguson, that long-time admirer, must be wondering if it is time for his third raid in five years upon Spurs' squad.

The United manager switched his formation to 4-3-3 in the second half and introduced Luis Anderson to give his midfield a touch more bite. Wayne Rooney was moved out to the right wing in a poor afternoon's work from him. He made space for a shot that was saved by Heurelho Gomes on 52 minutes but this was one of those days when he was outshone by others.

Up in the directors' box, David Beckham will have considered how he might have fitted into this game. Given the speed and the fury of it he will not have been the only one wondering what place there is for a 35-year-old dead-ball specialist. Redknapp made one change, bringing on Jermain Defoe for Wilson Palacios, and if Beckham had been available he might have felt more a liability than a strength.

On 67 minutes, it was Modric who came sliding back into his own area to clear a cross from Darren Fletcher. Six minutes later Vidic chased Modric back into his own half, way out of position. It was that kind of game – ferociously competitive, no quarter given and requiring of full and total concentration on both sides.

As for the controversy, Vidic did get a little too eager to grab handfuls of his opponent's shirt, especially Van der Vaart's in the United area during the first half. He did the same on Defoe with four minutes left. But in the first incident, the United captain was far too surreptitious to be caught by anyone but the television cameras

The best moment of the first half came from a classic piece of work from Bale on the left. From Michael Dawson's low, driven pass he went inside and then out again going past first Rafael and then Fletcher. His cross was met by Van der Vaart who put his header the wrong side of the near post.

Redknapp's side gave it everything they have and by the end he had taken off a holding midfielder for a striker to try to win the game. But this is Manchester United and year after year they find different ways to defy their opponents year after year. Redknapp said afterwards that there is not much between the two sides and he was right. But only one of them have won this title before.

Match facts


Tottenham: Defoe (Palacios, 78), Unused: Cudicini (gk),Bassong, Corluka, Jenas, Kranjcar, Pavlyuchenko.

Manchester United: Anderson (Nani, 61), Hernandez (Berbatov, 78). Unused: Kuszczak (gk), Smalling, J Evans, Scholes, Owen. Booked: Tottenham Van der Vaart, Palacios. Man Utd Evra, Rafael, Fletcher, Rooney.

Sent off: Man Utd Rafael (74).

Man of the match Modric

Referee M Dean (Wirral).

Att 35,828.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit