Manchester United held onto their unbeaten Premier League record despite Rafael da Silva's red card in today's 0-0 draw with Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side had to play the final 16 minutes with ten men following Brazilian defender Rafael's dismissal for two bookings. But United survived with few alarms to extend their undefeated run to 21 league games and return to the top of the table, ahead of Manchester City on goal difference.
The leaders were nowhere near their best and have now drawn eight of their ten away league matches this season but, with two games in hand on City, they remain favourites to regain the title they last won in 2009. For fifth-placed Tottenham there was only frustration as they missed an opportunity to beat United for the first time since 2001 and move back into the top four.
David Beckham had hoped United's visit to the Lane would mark his Premier League return, but Spurs have still to complete their proposed loan deal for the LA Galaxy star so he was reduced to watching from the stands. In the end, former United midfielder Beckham must have left disappointed as neither team were able to hit top form.
"It was a tough game," United manager Ferguson said afterwards. "Tottenham are in a great bit of form but they really didn't make many chances against us and we can take credit for that. We were a bit careless with the use of the ball. But overall it's a decent point for us you so we can't complain. Our defenders were particularly good."
Only a couple of minutes had passed when Wayne Rooney took Dimitar Berbatov's pass and cleverly turned William Gallas before dragging his shot wide. That close shave drew an immediate response from Redknapp's team. Luka Modric picked out Alan Hutton on the right and he whipped over a low cross towards Peter Crouch. The England forward got in front of Rio Ferdinand and met the ball with a flicked volley but his effort flashed just wide from close-range.
Rooney forced Heurelho Gomes into action for the first time with a snap shot from just outside the penalty area. But, while United have proved impossible to overcome in the league, their away form has been far from convincing and once again there was a lack of fluency about the leaders' attacking play.
Rafael receives two bookings
Rafael escaped with a booking after a wild lunge on Wilson Palacios left the Spurs midfielder crumpled in a heap and in need of treatment. It was an incident typical of a match high on perspiration but low on inspiration. Spurs continued to produce the more incisive breaks and Dutch playmaker Rafael van der Vaart went close when he headed into the side-netting from Gareth Bale's cross.
United finally threatened twice in quick succession early in the second half. Michael Carrick glanced his header wide from a Ryan Giggs corner before Rooney made space for a powerful strike from the edge of the penalty area that Gomes saved well at full stretch. Even so, Nani remained completely anonymous and it was no surprise when Ferguson hauled the United winger off after an hour.
United could have done with a moment of magic from Giggs - making the 600th league appearance of his remarkable career - but even the Welsh midfielder found it impossible to unlock Spurs' defence. United's task was made even harder in the 73rd minute when Rafael was sent off after earning a second booking with a trip on Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
Rafael's response was to launch a foul-mouthed tirade at referee Mike Dean before stomping down the tunnel, while Rooney was booked for leading the United protests. Spurs had only one real chance to steal the points but Van der Vaart's curled his shot over after a weak clearance from United substitute Javier Hernandez.