With the final whistle a matter of seconds away and Manchester United clinging on to their 1-0 lead at White Hart Lane, the headlines praising their grit and determination in grinding out a victory under pressure were perhaps already being written. However, Tottenham weren’t done huffing and puffing just yet as Clint Dempsey eventually clinched the goal that earned his side a draw with precious little time remaining and rewrote those predetermined headlines in an instant.
There can be no argument against the fact that the home side were good value for a share of the spoils. They were relentless going forward in the second half and with the home support spurring them on, their dogged perseverance eventually paid off. Over the course of the 90 minutes, not to mention the crucial three minutes added on, a draw was a fair result and had United held on, it would have been quite harsh on Spurs.
Dempsey levels it up at the death
Nevertheless, the United faithful are understandably aggrieved at dropping two points right at the death. It was a solid performance from the defense that has come under immense criticism this season. Sir Alex Ferguson got his tactics spot on and came close to walking away with all three points in what was always going to be one of the toughest away fixtures of the season and the difficult weather conditions didn't make things any easier.
Earlier in the campaign, Tottenham ran rampant at Old Trafford in the first half and United weren’t about to let that happen again. The inspired selection of Phil Jones to partner Michael Carrick in midfield ensured that Gareth Bale was kept on a short leash and never allowed a one-on-one with Rafael at right-back. The whole team worked hard and defended well, allowing the hosts little space to operate in.
Going forward, United didn’t offer much which is strange when you look back at their season so far but when they did score, it was a thing of beauty. The finish epitomized the clinical nature of Robin Van Persie and perfectly complimented a delicious cross from Tom Cleverley but the build-up play was top-notch as well.
United shifted the play from right to left, back to the right again and then whipped it across to the left for the finish. Tottenham’s back-line were left in disarray with that move and that contributed to them losing their bearings a bit and failing to pick up the two men at the far post.
Van Persie was at it again
Apart from that move, United didn’t do enough in attack to really deserve all three points. Their game plan was perfect but they weren’t precise enough on the counter-attack and that was the difference between them cruising with a two-goal cushion and hanging on for dear life with the solitary strike. They will argue that they probably deserved a penalty when Wayne Rooney was brought down in the area but they could have had more opportunities if they were ruthless on the break.
Jones, Carrick and the two centre-backs put in outstanding performances. This game effectively proved that the Rio Ferdinand-Nemanja Vidic partnership is still alive and has plenty to offer. They threw themselves around to get blocks in and Ferdinand was different class on the night, his last-ditch tackle on Jermaine Defoe was just one of his best moments.
Let's not forget the contribution of David de Gea either. The Spanish custodian has been singled out for his weak performances at times but he made a couple of heroic saves this time around. Perhaps he could have punched more firmly in the build-up to the equalizer but still a good performance. Having battled so hard, the United dressing room would not have been a great place to be after the game and the players must have been dejected.
De Gea made some great saves
However, if Tottenham scored considerably earlier rather than in such dramatic fashion, the draw would have been hailed as a fantastic result for the visitors. This is where the experienced players come in. The veterans, although disappointed, will know that the result is still a good one and possibly one that would have satisfied them before kick-off. They will no doubt lift the younger players and help them to look forward to the next game.
Putting things into perspective, United have now played all their away games against the other three teams in the top four and have two wins and a draw to show for it, that’s 10 points from a possible 12 against the best in the league, not a bad return at all.
As far as the title race is concerned, Manchester City will be thrilled with Dempsey’s late strike but they probably have a tougher run-in than United. They’ve still got to entertain Liverpool and Chelsea at home while their travels include visits to Everton, Tottenham and of course, Manchester United. On the other hand, United have Everton at home before their games to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium and then Chelsea at home.
Resilience a good sign for United
The fact is United are on a 12-game unbeaten run in the league which include only two draws. If anything, the result against Spurs should be encouraging because it showed a different, more compact and resilient side to United. Don’t be too surprised if this is exactly the kind of system they employ at the Santiago Bernabeu when they take on Real Madrid in the Champions League.
With the fixtures they now have out of the way, this was unmistakably a good draw for the current league leaders who can still boast a healthy five-point lead over their closest rivals. If they do go on to lift that 20th league title that they seem so destined for, they’ll look back at the result at the Lane and realize that it was a point earned rather than two points dropped.
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