In a game with much exciting, flowing football tottenham Hotspur suffered their first defeat at white hart Lane since last August. After United took a two goal lead in the first half it was always going to be very difficult for Spurs to get even a point from this game. United used all their experience gained over many years in European competitions to restrict Spurs as they looked to get back into the game.
Spurs had three changes from the team that won on Saturday at Everton - all three players who were doubtful with injury after that game failed to appear. King and Gardner were replaced in central defence by Michael Dawson, returning after suspension, and Calum Davenport who was making his first Premiership start for Spurs. Edgar Davids replaced Tainio on the left side of midfield. Mido was still unavailable due to a continuing injury problem.
Both teams started brightly and two early chances fell to Spurs but a header from Dawson and a shot from Defoe went just wide. Then from a corner to Tottenham after eight minutes, United cleared quickly and on the break the ball was played to Wayne Rooney who scored easily from inside the six yard box. Spurs were caught and United made them pay, the worst possible start for the home team. In a very open game, played at a fast tempo and in good spirit, Spurs continued to apply pressure with Aaron Lennon very dangerous on the right. However, for all the open play neither goalkeeper had to make any serious saves.
As half-time approached, with Spurs defending in their left back position, Lee's attempt to clear was blockeed by his compatriot, Park, but he regained the ball and rather than play it out of defence he ran across field into his own penalty area where Park dispossessed him and the ball ran to Rooney who again had an easy chance to score. Spurs didn't deserve to be two goals behind but United had taken their chances clinically.
United started the second half determined to restrict Spurs who were increasing the pressure on their defence. Eventually after a number of close calls, from a corner the ball broke to Jermaine Jenas who pulled one back. This should have lifted Spurs but rather United ensured that every man was back and restricted Spurs at every opportunity. Although they had much of the possession, Spurs were unable to create anything in the danger areas, being forced to play the ball sideways and backwards because of United's covering and tackling. Murphy replaced Davids and Barnard came on for Lennon but neither could make any impression. Barnard was making his debut for Spurs.
In the end it was United who could have had a third as Van Nistelrooy crashed a shot against the post as United broke quickly with Spurs pushing forward.
A good game with much to commend it, United will be pleased to have kept the pressure on Chelsea, Arsenal will have been delighted that their North London rivals lost giving them the chance to close the gap for fourth place and Spurs will be very disappointed that again an individual error has cost them dearly in a match against a top team and that they got nothing from a game in which they had so much possession and had chances to score but didn't make the most of them. The statistics show that Spurs had 15 attempts on goal to United's 10 with 5 shots on target to 3 for the visitors but the stat for goals is the one that counts and it was in favour of United.
Dawson was tremendous throughout and was unfortunate not to score, having a number of near misses. Davenport made a very impressive debut and it should give him great confidence for the future. Carrick played well and Lennon was dangerous in the first half. Keane, as captain, led by example and worked very hard but just coudn't get the break while Defoe came close on a number of occasions but has lost that vital edge in front of goal.
With a difficult final run of games, there were always going to be set-backs. This is a disappointment, especially after playing so well and deserving of at least a point but even if Arsenal win what will be their game in hand at Manchester City, Spurs will still be a point ahead and a result at Highbury on Saturday will be a dramatic climax to a splendid season.
Spurs can take heart that they can compete with the top clubs, they just have not discovered how to beat them.
Robinson, Stalteri, Dawson, Davenpoprt, Lee, Lennon (Barnard), Jenas, Carrick, Davids (Murphy), Keane, Defoe. Subs: (unused) Cerny, Kelly, Naybet.
"We punished ourselves. I can't remember a game in which we played so well and we're 2-0 down.