Dempsey earns Spurs a late reward
Tottenham 1 Manchester U 1:For a long time it had seemed as though Tottenham Hotspur would be unable to match the accuracy of those supporters who amused themselves during the difficult moments by pinging snowballs at Manchester United’s players.
One hit Patrice Evra on the backside. Another rebounded off Rafael da Silva’s shoulder. Yet their players kept us waiting before showing any real precision themselves.
The giant clocks at either end of this stadium had stopped on 90 minutes by the time the moment arrived. The fourth official’s electronic board had flashed up there would be three extra minutes and, if you listened carefully, there was the clanking of plastic seats being emptied as the early leavers decided they had seen enough.
Tottenham, however, deserved that moment when David de Gea punched a cross towards Aaron Lennon and the most dangerous player on the pitch turned the ball into Clint Dempsey’s path. De Gea, outstanding all afternoon, was hopelessly exposed this time and the American turned in the goal that spared Spurs a first defeat in seven matches while preventing United from restoring a seven-point lead over Manchester City at the top of the table.
22nd goal of the season
Alex Ferguson’s team had led from the 25th minute, when Robin van Persie headed in his 22nd goal of the season. They were entitled to be aggrieved that the referee, Chris Foy, did not award them a penalty just after the hour, when Steven Caulker clearly brought down the substitute Wayne Rooney. Ferguson also talked afterwards about his players not making more of their counterattacking breaks in the second half.
Yet the reason it was counterattack was because their opponents had begun to pin them back by that point. United had to defend with great diligence at times. In other moments, they rode their luck. Before the final twist, they were just grateful that Spurs were so generous with their finishing.
De Gea might reflect he could have punched the ball further from goal before Dempsey’s equaliser but prior to that he had been outstanding. The Spaniard pulled off a series of splendid saves, at least one of which could be described as exceptional.
Rio Ferdinand played as if still affronted by the mistakes he had made when these sides met at Old Trafford in September. Evra, however, had a torrid time against Lennon who showed, not for the first time, that he has the beating of the left-back. Evra is no slouch but the Frenchman was lucky not to be sent off after resorting to fouling the winger. Lennon, direct and penetrative and always wanting the ball, illuminated the game.
Spurs must be given credit for their perseverance because, at half-time, the mood inside White Hart Lane was flat – as might be imagined considering they were behind to a side that had not lost at this ground since 2001.
United had played with a mixture of control and menace. Daniel Welbeck was bright and lively while Shinji Kagawa oozed intelligence and played a delightful part in their goal. Further back, Michael Carrick’s class and composure will have reminded the Spurs fans of his qualities.
United also have a striker who increasingly gives the impression that, even with four months still to play, everybody else is competing for the silver or bronze when it comes to the player-of-the-season awards.
The latest demonstration of Van Persie’s ability to find space, elude opponents and then finish calmly and ruthlessly arrived in the form of a far-post header from Tom Cleverley’s cross. A period of run-of-the-mill passing had suddenly accelerated into an incisive forward move, first to the left and then the right.
At its origin was a lovely flick from Kagawa into Carrick’s path and that was the moment Spurs suddenly looked vulnerable. Welbeck cut inside, thought about having a shot but passed to Cleverley. Once the cross reached Van Persie there was an inevitability about where it would finish.