Portuguese capitalises on confusion to score with five minutes remaining
Nemanja Vidic had headed United into the lead on the half-hour mark, but the main talking point will be Nani's goal with five minutes to play, where he tucked the ball into the net despite Spurs believing they had been awarded a free-kick for handball against the Portuguese.
The goal stood after consultation between referee Mark Clattenburg and his assistant, and Spurs players were left to remonstrate with the officials at the full-time whistle.
Javier Hernandez retained his place in the United starting XI from the side that defeated Stoke last Sunday, his two goals in that game being added to with the winner against Wolves in the League Cup in midweek. Michael Carrick was recalled to midfield to face his previous club.
For Spurs, Robbie Keane was given the nod to start, with Peter Crouch dropping out. The other change from the side that drew with Everton the previous weekend was Jermaine Jenas replacing Wilson Palacios.
Nani made a bright start for United and tried his luck from 25 yards with a skidding low shot that crashed off Heurelho Gomes’ right post. By the ninth minute, Spurs had also hit the post, Rafael Van der Vaart hitting an unstoppable left-foot drive that had Edwin Van der Sar grasping thin air.
While Manchester United were having much of the possession in the opening quarter of the match, they were fortunate to escape after Rio Ferdinand blundered in defence and allowed Gareth Bale to ghost into the area from the bye line. Van der Sar was alert to block the in-form winger’s cross-shot, and the resulting corner was headed over by Younes Kaboul, to spare United any further embarrassment.
It was an even game though, and United took the lead on 31 minutes when Nemanja Vidic leapt to meet a whipped free-kick from Nani to glance a header low into the corner beyond a helpless Gomes, who would have been asking questions of a defence that failed to deal with the set-piece at all well.
Spurs responded well to the setback and Van der Vaart created space for himself in the penalty area only to hopelessly sclaff his shot across the six-yard line. Soon after, they worked a lovely corner kick routine that found Luka Modric on the edge of the box and allowed the Croatian to drill in a shot that Van der Sar did brilliantly to paw clear.
Crunch time | Gareth Bale slides in on Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher
The second half began with a setback for Spurs, as William Gallas was forced off with a leg injury, with Sebastian Bassong coming on in his place.
United were the first to have a serious effort on goal, Nani somehow conjuring a stabbed effort towards the far corner of the net from the right of the box, but Gomes was in the perfect place to snatch the ball out of the air. Spurs tried to hit back at the other end, but first Jenas’ touch deserted him on the edge of the box and then Bale followed suit.
Bale almost made amends for that when a stunning burst of pace took him away from the United midfield and beyond the last line of defence, but faced with a shot on his weaker right side, he pulled a low effort across the face of Van der Sar’s goal.
United were presented with a free-kick opportunity on the edge of the area on 64 minutes, but Nani could only direct his effort straight at Gomes. The Portuguese then turned provider, releasing Hernandez, but Gomes was again well positioned to smother the Mexican’s low shot from 16 yards.
Roman Pavlyuchenko had replaced Robbie Keane midway through the second half, and having fired one shot into the side-netting, he then tried his luck from distance. The shot clipped off Vidic’s shin and spun just past the outside of the post, with Van der Sar rooted to the spot.
The game was then settled with a bizarre passage of play. Nani surged into the area and appeared to be brought down by Bassong. As he fell, he clearly stopped the ball with his hand. No penalty was given, so Gomes believed it to be a free-kick to Tottenham. He placed the ball down, only for Nani to steal in and knock the ball into the net.
Referee Clattenburg awarded the goal, but the assistant referee flagged for an infringement. After consultation, the goal was awarded, to utter disbelief from infuriated Spurs players.
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