TOTTENHAM (1) vs MANCHESTER UNITED (3)
MANCHESTER UNITED extinguished Tottenham’s flagging Premier League title hopes with a clinical display at White Hart Lane yesterday, but manager Harry Redknapp insists his side remain on course to end the season as London’s top club.
Redknapp held a team meeting on Thursday in which he stressed the need to treat last weekend’s 5-2 mauling at the hands of Arsenal as a one-off. Initially his message had the desired effect as Spurs tore into United and displayed many of the hallmarks that characterised their early season rise to prominence.
Spurs would have led at the break had referee had Martin Atkinson not ruled out Emmanuel Adebayor’s goal – “harshly” in Redknapp’s opinion – for handball, but it was United who led at the interval through Wayne Rooney’s 45th minute header.
The home side continued to press in the second half but two moments of individual excellence from Ashley Young ensured United moved back to within two points of leaders Manchester City, despite Jermain Defoe’s late consolation.
Having lorded it over Arsenal for the majority of the season, Spurs are now nervously glancing over their shoulders at their illustrious rivals, who have clambered menacingly to within four points, but Redknapp maintains his side should still be considered favourites to end the campaign as the capital’s top dogs.
“It’s going to be tight but I’d rather be where we are, four points in front, than in Arsenal’s position,” said Redknapp.“I’m looking to finish third and I’d be disappointed if we ended up in fourth. We’re still in pole position even if that 10-point gap has suddenly gone down to four.
“We’ve got some hard games coming up with Everton and Chelsea away but I still feel we can go on a run and I fancy us to finish third.”
Asked whether Chelsea, who are seven points behind Spurs, would threaten his primary ambition having ousted manager Andre Villas-Boas yesterday, Redknapp added: “Unless [Jose] Mourinho comes in it’s not going to affect it.
“The problem is we’ve played a couple of top teams. This was always going to be a tough period.”
Certainly, Tottenham’s task was made tougher yesterday as a result of the self-inflicted wounds that saw United open a two-goal lead that they never threatened to relinquish.
Still feeling wronged by the decision to chalk off Adebayor’s effort Spurs, and Kyle Walker in particular, switched off and allowed Rooney to power home Young’s expertly flighted corner.
On the hour mark, and shortly after David de Gea had denied Jake Livermore with a splendid save low down to his right, Luka Modric was the guilty party when he allowed Nani to run unchecked into the penalty area. The Portuguese winger’s cross was sliced up in the air by Walker and met with a dextrous volley by Young.
Nine minutes later the England international located the same portion of Brad Friedel’s net with a superb bending effort from 25 yards before substitute Defoe belatedly registered the goal his side had threatened all afternoon.
CITY A.M. VERDICT
Spurs huffed and puffed but just could not blow United’s house down. Failing to take chances against any opposition is inviting trouble, but it is particularly the case when the champions are in town and so it proved.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jonny Evans was a Vidic-esque figure of defiance at the heart of a United defence that was pummeled in the first half, but after ending the game with two glorious goals and an assist, Ashley Young stole the show.
Chelsea are the only league visitors to N17 this season to have avoided defeat having conceded the first goal, so Sir Alex Ferguson was correct in his assertion that the decision to rule out Adebayor’s goal was pivotal.
While Spurs are now resigned to scrapping for third and automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League, United’s relentless pursuit of rivals Manchester City may be about to bear fruit. Ferguson’s men have emerged relatively unscathed from a testing recent schedule and with a more forgiving set of fixtures ahead, they could well arrive at the 30 April summit meeting ahead in the title race.
“It’s an entirely unbelievable result. I would say that’s our hardest away game of the season. They’d only lost one game; it was their first home game, I think, against City, when they had a few injury problems. That was the magnitude of our challenge today. In the first half we weren’t at the races.”
Man United manger Sir Alex Ferguson