In a very enthralling Barclays Premier League match, Manchester United earned a goalless draw with Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
The Reds not only extended their unbeaten streak in the Premier League to 26 games, but also their personal streak over Tottenham to 24 games, but United was forced to dig deep and defend astutely against a very vibrant Spurs’ team – especially in the second half after the referee, Mike Dean, wrongfully sent off Rafael.
The result sees United reclaim top spot in the Premier League standing, but their lead – even though they have matches in hand – has been reduced to just their goal difference over Manchester City, who beat Wolverhampton 4-3 on Saturday.
Sir Alex Ferguson named a very experienced starting XI to face Spurs making three obvious changes from the team that defeated Liverpool 1-0 in the Third Round of the FA Cup last weekend.
Edwin van der Sar, Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney were all recalled to the starting line-up in place of Tomasz Kuszczak, Jonny Evans and Javier Hernandez, respectively, and, along with Paul Scholes, those three were also selected to the substitutes’ bench for the match.
The match against Spurs became another landmark match for Ryan Giggs, who was making his 600th Premier League appearance for United.
Harry Redknapp also named an experienced Spurs’ team as well, and all eyes will certainly be on the two players that Sir Alex has been linked with a move for – Luka Modric and Gareth Bale – but its Aaron Lennon, who missed the first match, will be one to watch as he has very entertaining battle with Patrice Evra.
The game had a frenetic start, because a misplaced pass from Carrick allowed Bale to run at Rafael, but his cross was too close and well held by by van der Sar.
With in two minutes, United had a very good chance of their own, after well timed pass by Dimitar Berbatov found a smart diagonal run by Rooney, but his snap shot went wide of Gomes’ right-hand post.
Spurs earned a free-kick after Carrick, although he got some of the ball, foul on Wilson Palacios 25-yards from goal, which Rafael van der Vaart struck with pace, but it was straight at van der Sar.
The United goalkeeper released a counter attack, which led to Nani sending a ball to the back post, which was only half-cleared by Spurs and Fletcher brought it down and played it to Rooney, and the forward’s shot was well grabbed by Gomes.
It really should have been one-nil to the home side after Alan Hutton supplied a wonderful near post ball to Peter Crouch, but he failed to hit the target from less than six yards out.
Modric was very lively as he was getting the better of Fletcher, and the United midfielder let him get to the baseline, but thankfully it came to nothing.
As he did two years ago at Old Trafford, Lennon left Evra in his wake, but a very strong challenge by Vidic blocked his shot out for a corner.
Tottenham got another dangerously place free-kick on the right-hand angle of the box, which allowed van der Vaart to swing it in with his competent left-foot, but Dawson could not make the proper contact that was needed.
United had a chance after some good touches, but Rooney’s cross skidded across the face of goal begging for a touch that never came.
Bale raced passed Rafael and supplied a tempting cross, but it had too much height and power for either van der Vaart or Crouch to get on the end of.
van der Vaart earned himself a booking after he fouled Rooney, however, it was not for the push in the back, but for him needlessly blasting the ball away.
Rooney spotted Berbatov out wide, and after his route to goal was cut off, he hit a return pass to his strike partner, who hit a first-time shot that required Gomes into making a very good one-handed save.
From a Tottenham corner, they worked it short and van der Vaart struck a sweet left-footed shot, which was blocked by Berbatov, but it fell to Dawson and the big center-back had a go from distance that went well wide of van der Sar’s right-hand post.
In the 27th minute, Rafael was in some serious trouble when caught Palacios with a heavy challenge, but, thankfully, Mike Dean used common sense and did not succumb to the pressure applied by the Tottenham players.
United had a chance to catch Tottenham, but Carrick, who just gave the ball away under little pressure, put too much pace and bend on his forward ball, which went out for a Spurs throw-in.
Dean got it wrong when he whistled against Vidic for a foul on Crouch 35-yards from goal, which was in a good position for Bale to strike, but VDS held it very well.
Fletcher and Carrick kept gifting the possession back to Spurs after their United teammates did well to win the ball back and deny Tottenham’s potent attack.
Palacios paid back Rafael back for his tough challenge with one of his own, and he as well earned a place in Dean’s notebook.
United’s sloppy passing allowed Tottenham to relentlessly attack with ease and conviction.
Dawson pinged a lovely low pass to Bale, which allowed him to gain an advantage over Rafael and scampered down the wing, and his driven cross was met by the head of van der Vaart, but, thankfully, it went the wrong side of the post.
United were put under some more unneeded pressure after yet another misplaced pass from Carrick, but a poor challenge by Crouch with his studs showing on Giggs allowed United to breathe.
However, that relief was only momentarily, because Fletcher’s poor control forced him to wipe out Bale and was rightfully shown a yellow card for the brash challenge.
From the ensuing free-kick, Modric played a very deep, curling cross, which forced van der Sar into another save – this time punching the ball clear.
Even though, they could have worked something better from their counter attack following that clearance, but they played it out until the halftime whistle, and just after that came from Dean, you could almost hear the huge sighs of relief from the United players and a very concerned Sir Alex, who could be pondering some changes to his team during the interval.
Tottenham got the second half underway as neither manager made any changes, but it was United who had the first chance of the half after two minutes, but Giggs’ volley dipped wide of Gomes’ right post.
The match definitely lost the pace that it had for the entire opening 45 minutes, but United earned their first corner of the match in the 50th minute, and it very nearly came to the opening goal.
Giggs whipped in an in-swinging corner, which was flicked on by Carrick, but it went just a yard wide of the far post.
With Tottenham defenders dropping back, Rooney was encouraged to shoot from 20 yards, and the finger tips of Gomes touched the ball around the post and out for their second consecutive corner, which failed to come to anything.
After another sloppy pass from Fletcher, Vidic was forced to foul Lennon 30 yards from goal, but thankfully van der Vaart’s free-kick went directly into the United wall.
Spurs began getting on the ball, and it resulted in another free-kick after Evra chopped down Lennon and picked up United’s third booking of the match.
Fletcher misplaced another pass, which saw Tottenham change the field quickly, but Carrick did expertly well to nip when van der Vaart broke into the United penalty area, and Palacios blasted the ball well wide from 35 yards.
Finally in the 60th minute, Sir Alex was forced to make a change bringing on Anderson, but shockingly it was for Nani and not Fletcher or Carrick, which even puzzled Giggs.
Some very good individual play from Rafael pants Benoit Assou-Ekotto twice, but his near post shot was directly at Gomes.
Since Rafael was pushed way up the pitch, Bale had a chance to run at Rooney and then Ferdinand, and it took a very good strong foot from Carrick to clear the Tottenham winger’s low cross.
Spurs were doing well to work the ball forward, but to the relief of United supporters, Modric’s square pass was selfishly hammered high and wide by Palacios – even though he had better options available.
Following the substation, the game began to get very stretched with each team invited to attack, and van der Vaart got the ball in the United penalty area, but Vidic did well to block his shot.
Following a very good first-touch cross from Bale, VDS threw the ball out to Rooney, who then sent a long, searching pass that was just inches away from finding Giggs’ darting run, but Gomes was off his line to collect at the edge of Spurs’ box.
Before Sir Alex could bring on Paul Scholes, Rafael was wrongfully shown his second yellow card for very incidental challenge on Assou-Ekotto, which also saw Rooney being booked for protesting the booking.
The replays confirmed that it was very poor – maybe match turning – decision from Dean, and with no full-backs on the bench, it forced Fletcher to go back to right-back to provide cover.
Redknapp decided on his first change of the match, and it was a very dangerous one for United, as Jermaine Defoe came on for Palacios, and the stoppage in play also allowed Sir Alex to make his second bringing on the quick Javier Hernandez for Berbatov.
The last ten or so minutes is definitely going to test the resolve of the United players, and the young Mexican nearly gifted Tottenham a goal.
Chicharito tried leaving the ball off for Giggs, but it was a hospital pass, and it was behind the Welshman, which gave a sitting ball for van der Vaart to smack, and to his relief, his show flew just inches over the junction of the crossbar and post.
With the man-advantage, Tottenham were good for the majority of the possession, and in the 84th minute, Defoe had a glimpse at goal, but his left-footed shot was poorly hit and went out for a goal kick.
The pressure did not let up, though, and Vidic was guilty of pulling Defoe’s shirt, to give another free-kick down the United left channel, but the Reds held their ground.
There was more heart-in-mouth defending from United scramble the ball away, and then Vidic went down injured, so the Reds were down to 10-men for a moment, and it took a very well-timed, last ditch tackle from Hernandez to stop Lennon.
With a minimum of four minutes of stoppage-time to play, United had a chance to get forward, but Spurs defended well against two chances from Giggs.
Spurs had a couple rolls of the dice left, and a sliced clearance from Evra gave the hosts a throw from the corner flag, but it came to nothing and allowed United to counter.
Hernandez did well to gain possession and play it out wide to Giggs with space, but, unfortunately, his cross was cut out by Michael Dawson with Rooney lurking.
Manchester United will see this as a point gained after being put under intense pressure and playing the last part of the match with 10 men after Rafael’s second yellow, but, on the other hand, Tottenham will see this as a failed chance to make a serious title statement.
Ahead of the match, Nemanja Vidic said that he needs to lead by example, and that is exactly what the big Serbian center-back did.
E. van Der Sar – 8; Rafael – 5, R. Ferdinand – 7, N. Vidic – 8, P. Evra – 5; Nani – 5 (Anderson – 5), M. Carrick – 6, D. Fletcher – 4, R. Giggs – 6; D. Berbatov – 5 (J. Hernandez – 5), W. Rooney – 5
Shots (On Target): 7 (4)
Fouls Conceded (Suffered): 20 (9)
Bookings: Rafael (2 – sent off), D. Fletcher, P. Evra, W. Rooney