United stun Spurs at White Hart Lane
Manchester United moved within two points of the Premier League summit after condemning Tottenham Hotspur to their first home defeat since August with a brutal display of clinical finishing. Tottenham dominated large parts of the game, but were lacking in creativity and when given the opportunities, United were simply devastating as they ran out to a 3-1 win.
Spurs thought they had taken the lead when Louis Saha's shot flew in off Emmanuel Adebayor, but referee Martin Atkinson ruled it out for handball and from then on, the visitors put the home side to the sword with a display that showed exactly why they are firmly in the hunt for their 20th league title.
"It was a great performance by Spurs in the first half," said United coach Sir Alex Ferguson. "Maybe we got tactics wrong. We had a bit of luck scoring right beore half-time with our first effort on goal. That was a killer for Tottenham.
"We improved after half-time, but we really needed the second goal to give us confidence. It was a massive result and a massive performance by our defenders. They have dug in and we showed the determination to get the result."
Wayne Rooney rose to nod home an Ashley Young corner on the stroke of half-time and the former Aston Villa man then went on to add two in the second half, the first an acrobatic scissor kick, and the second a world-class drive from 30 yards. Jermain Defoe pulled one back for the hosts with three minutes left, but the game had already long gone by that point.
The defeat, Tottenham's first at home since Manchester City thumped them 5-1 in August, effectively ends any marginal hopes the Londoners may have had of clinching their first title since 1961 and they are now only four points ahead of Arsenal ahead of a tough run of fixtures.
United, meanwhile, sit two points behind leaders and bitter local rivals Manchester City and the season looks set to be decided by the showdown between the two sides next month. This fixture has brought about many classics in the past, but today's game started off slowly on a soggy afternoon in north London.
The absence of the suspended Scott Parker, injury victim Rafael van der Vaart and the ill Gareth Bale hit Spurs, although Sandro and youngster Jake Livermore did their best to deal with the imposing United midfield. The visitors dominated the opening 15 minutes with Paul Scholes giving a master class in dictating the play in the middle of the park.
Spurs take control
The Red Devils failed to fathom any chances, though, and Spurs soon started to take a grip on proceedings. Aaron Lennon, recalled to the starting line-up after missing the past six games, rushed forward after cutting in from the flank before Jonny Evans put in a crucial block.
David De Gea nervously palmed away a shot from Adebayor, who burst forward after picking up Sandro's pass. The crowd sensed a goal and Lennon continued to cause havoc down the right, whipping over a ball that ricocheted about the box. Tottenham suspected the ball had hit a United hand but Atkinson shook his head.
Younes Kaboul then fired a bullet of a free-kick that went just wide before Rooney ventured forward only at the other end only to be cut out by Ledley King. Spurs poured forward looking for an opener and they thought they had it in the bag in the 38th minute. Lennon snuck in to the box and Saha turned his cross straight at Adebayor, who back-heeled the ball into the net. However, he was adjudged to have controlled the ball with his arm and the goal was disallowed.
The home contingent in the sell-out crowd vented their fury and their despair deepened on the stroke of half-time as United took the lead. Sandro saw yellow for a late tackle on Young and the resulting free-kick saw Spurs concede a corner that led to United going ahead. Young swung the ball in and Rooney found space in front of Kyle Walker to head home with Brad Friedel well beaten.
Spurs came out for the second half fired up. Livermore stung De Gea's palms with a fierce drive before Kaboul headed narrowly wide. Benoit Assou-Ekotto skimmed the top of the bar with a wicked curling free-kick as Tottenham looked certain to find an equaliser.
Young bags a brace
The home crowd were stunned in to silence on the hour, however, as United added a second. The Spurs defence switched off, allowing Nani to skip in to the box and fire a cross that ricocheted in to the path of Young, who adjusted his body to fire in a fine scissor kick. Ferguson immediately brought on Ryan Giggs for Scholes and the travelling supporters mocked the home side by chanting "Harry for England".
United were starting to play some sublime football and their third came in the 68th minute in spectacular style. Tottenham's defence backed off Young and he made them pay by unleashing a brilliant 30-yard strike that flew in over an outstretched Friedel.
More taunts came from the away fans as United threatened to go on a rampage. Harry Redknapp brought on Niko Kranjcar, Danny Rose and Defoe to freshen things up and the move paid dividends to a minor extent when Defoe pulled back a consolation. The former West Ham United man picked up a wayward ball and advanced towards the United backline before belting home a 25-yard drive.
Spurs continued to push forward but two more goals in the three added minutes was too tall an order and United walked away with all three points.