Crouch and Van der Vaart went closest as both sides struggle in the final third
Rafael was sent off with 15 minutes remaining as both Tottenham and Manchester United rued sloppiness in the final third as they played out a 0-0 draw, that saw the away side regain top spot in the Premier League on goal difference.
Under the cloud of a pre-match protest regarding the proposed move to East London, Spurs fans would have been delighted by the start their team made to the game. Within mere seconds of kick-off Gareth Bale robbed Darren Fletcher on the left flank and skipped past Rafael to deliver a cross into the United area, but his ball was driven too close to Edwin van der Sar and the goalkeeper gratefully clutched hold of the ball with his countryman Rafael van der Vaart lurking at the far post.
A couple of minutes later and the away side had their own glimpse of goal when the ex-Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov slipped the ball between Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Michael Dawson for Wayne Rooney to run onto. With William Gallas nipping at his heels, the England frontman managed to flash a shot across the face of Heurelho Gomes’ goal.
Spurs were playing with confidence, summed up by sublime play from Luka Modric as the Croatian ran rings around Fletcher in the centre of the pitch before finding Alan Hutton in an advanced position. The right-back took a touch, looked up and delivered a perfect low cross towards Peter Crouch but, under pressure from Rio Ferdinand, he saw his shot whistle inches past the post.
With Tottenham pressing United ferociously all over the pitch, an early lead seemed inevitable but the away team had their chances as well, in particular when Rooney received the ball on the edge of the area and let loose with a snap shot through the crowd of players to try and catch out the unsighted Gomes, but the Brazilian did well to parry.
Rafael received a yellow card mid-way through the first half for a reckless challenge on Palacios, a prospect that would have had Bale licking his lips with delight as he often got the better of the right-back but, surprisingly, his delivery let him down more often then not.
As the first half drew on, Spurs’ dominance subsided as they struggled to break down the United defence. A series of corners, all taken by Van der Vaart, all failed to worry the away side defence, and Spurs grew frustrated. Given United's experience in soaking up pressure and then breaking on the counter attack, Redknapp’s men were desperate to break the deadlock first.
It was, as has been the staple aspect of any Spurs game this season, box-to-box action. Unfortunately, unlike the first half an hour, the last 10 to 15 minutes of the first half lost some of the quality as the players opted to rush their play instead of the precise, cool movement that was previously on show.
With more quality needed in the final third from both sides in the second half, the early action followed on from the end of the first half. Rooney saw an opening, after a mazy run from Rafael, to try a half-volley from the edge of the Spurs area but he cut across too much and it flew wide.
Soon after, Rooney had another chance. With Berbatov drawing defenders away, space opened up on the edge of the area for the Englishman to have a shot and he unleashed a low drive across Gomes, but again the Brazilian was a match to it and pushed the ball out for a corner.
A change of formation was Ferguson’s attempt at remedying the lack of spark in United’s final third with the anonymous Berbatov spearheading a five man midfield, with Rooney lingering on the right-hand side but it was to no avail. United were just not clicking as they approached Spurs’ penalty area, but the same could be said about Spurs own attacking forays.
Judging by their dominance in possession, this was Tottenham’s best chance to end their 11 year wait for a victory over United in the league and the odds on them achieving that would have shortened when Rafael was deemed to trip the scampering Assou-Ekotto and received his second yellow card and thus his marching orders.
Spurs upped the ante straight away with Redknapp chucking on Jermaine Defoe for Palacios for the final 10 minutes, but it was Van der Vaart who came the closest to a winner when sloppy defending from Fletcher gave the Dutchman the chance to curl an effort from inside the area towards the top corner of United’s goal, but groans engulfed White Hart Lane when the ball whistled inches past the post and that was that.
United go back to the summit of the Premier League, leap-frogging neighbours Manchester City on goal difference while Spurs face a daunting set of fixtures as they try to force their way back into the top four.