It might come to be remembered as the weekend Manchester United won two trophies: handed the Premier League on a plate by Liverpool, gifted the Carling Cup by the gutlessness of Spurs' penalty takers. When it has come to the crunch this season, those teams required to stand eye-to-eye with Sir Alex Ferguson's team have suffered from the most remarkable collapses of nerve.
Another trophy for Ferguson, another opponent who blinked first. And so the extraordinary possibility of winning all four major competitions is on for United with the first, and least important, in the bag. When the shoot-out began it was not just that each of Ferguson's four penalty-takers scored, it was that they never looked like missing. Jamie O'Hara and David Bentley failed from the penalty spot and United tidied up the small matter of the Carling Cup with ease.
At the decisive moment of the game, Spurs were spooked, just like the yips got to Liverpool at Middlesbrough on Saturday. As the United players ran to the winning penalty-scorer Luis Anderson there was a restraint in their celebrations, an attitude that said there are much more important days to come. The Carling Cup in itself is no special achievement for this club, but if, come the end of May, it could be placed alongside the Club World Cup, the Champions League and the two remaining domestic cups it would be part of a dazzling, unprecedented collection.
There was not a lot else by which to remember this 120 minutes of football which is probably why the Sky cameras were often drawn to the collection of United players whom Ferguson had not even chosen in his squad. Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov were among those by the tunnel watching the game in their suits, Ferguson's confidence in the rest of his squad justified by the result if not the performance.
Ben Foster, in the United goal, saved O'Hara's penalty and an earlier shot from Aaron Lennon – a rare chance for him to demonstrate to the watching Fabio Capello that he might be a useful man to have in a crisis come the 2010 World Cup finals. In the minutes before the shoot-out he was shown footage of previous Spurs penalties on the iPod of United's goalkeeping coach Eric Steele and subsequently dived the right way to stop O'Hara's kick. Lennon will also have caught the England manager's eye with a performance that caused United's left flank of Luis Nani and Patrice Evra serious trouble at times. Bentley, a substitute in extra-time, failed again to live up to his own high opinion of himself. There is a clip on YouTube that shows the Spurs winger drop-kicking a football from the roof of a building into a builder's skip below to win a £15,000 watch from his agent. Yesterday Bentley was unable even to hit the goal from 12 yards, dragging his shot wide of Foster's right post and handing United the chance to wrap things up with their fourth penalty. For £15m, Spurs and Harry Redknapp are entitled to expect a little more than that.
For their part, United's penalties were immaculate with the possible exception of Ryan Giggs' first which clipped the inside of Heurelho Gomes' post on the way in. But in the manner Giggs, Carlos Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Anderson scored was the mood of their season. It was confident, free of self-doubt, a team taking their destiny by the scruff of the neck. Perhaps Ferguson has also proved to himself yesterday that by leaving so many big names out he has the depth to his squad that he has always sought. Darron Gibson's performance was more impressive than the marginal Danny Welbeck, substituted after 55 minutes, and although neither were a revelation they measured up fine.
Officially Rooney's absence was down to the fact that he had a virus, although he looked very chirpy in spite of that. The one man whom Ferguson just refuses to do without is Ronaldo who played the full 120 minutes and lightened up just about enough at the end to put on a silly hat thrown from the stands as United paraded the trophy. In the course of the match, however, he threw one of his most extraordinary tantrums to date when referee Chris Foy denied him a penalty.
After about four television replays, it was fair to say that Ronaldo deserved a penalty for Ledley King's tackle on him after 67 minutes. Trying to gauge it in real-time was like trying to read a newspaper through the window of a passing express train. Ronaldo got to the ball fractionally before King, who tripped him. Foy booked Ronaldo for diving which caused Ronaldo to jump up and down on the spot in fury.
That call was balanced by Foy's earlier decision not to dismiss John O'Shea who had already been booked when he fouled Luka Modric on 65 minutes so Ferguson's complaints were not entirely justified. The United manager switched his team to 4-3-3 early in the second half when Welbeck came off. Redknapp responded by also removing his centre-forward, Roman Pavlyuchenko, and bringing on O'Hara, an extra midfielder.
Other than Lennon's shot that Foster did well to save on 71 minutes, the closest to a goal came in the third minute of stoppage time. Ronaldo cut in from the left, past Benoit Assou-Ekotto who struck a vicious shot that came off Gomes' post. The ball fell to Nani and he could not even hit the target. United have bigger challenges to overcome now, starting with Newcastle in the league on Wednesday, and they give the impression of not having stretched themselves yet. And when their opposition are capable of crumbling like this, it is not any surprise.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Foster; O'Shea (Vidic, 76), Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Ronaldo, Gibson (Giggs, 91), Scholes, Nani; Tevez, Welbeck (Anderson, 56). Substitutes not used: Park, Kuszczak (gk), Possebon, Eckersley. Booked: O'Shea, Ronaldo, Scholes
Tottenham (4-4-2): Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, King, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon (Bentley, 102), Zokora Jenas (Bale, 99), Modric; Bent, Pavlyuchenko (O'Hara, 65). Substitutes not used: Huddlestone, Gunter, Taarabt, Alnwick (gk).
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).
Man of the match: Ferdinand.
How Spurs paid penalty
*Ryan Giggs (Man Utd) scores
*Jamie O'Hara (Spurs) saved
*Carlos Tevez scores
*Vedran Corluka scores
*Cristiano Ronaldo scores
*David Bentley misses
Manchester United win penalty shoot-out 4-1
Rio's wedding will be a hoot
Major trophies won in Sir Alex Ferguson's 23 years at the helm at Old Trafford
Having picked up the Carling Cup yesterday, Rio Ferdinand has enlisted some help in looking after some equally precious metal – his marriage rings – in August. Ferdinand has reportedly hired a barn owl called Ollie to deliver the rings when he marries fiancée Rebecca Ellison at the Great Hall of Peckforton Castle in Cheshire. The bird, who has delivered rings at six marriages already, will swoop onto the best man's gloved hand, clutching a velvet pouch holding the rings, when called.
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