Tuesday 10 December 2019

Brazen Nani sinks Spurs

Man Utd 2 Tottenham 0

Nani. Photo: PA
Nani. Photo: PA

Tottenham have never won at Old Trafford in the Premier League and United's impressive record against them was never in danger yesterday, when goals from Nemanja Vidic and a certainty for A Question of Sport's 'What Happened Next?' round maintained their recent improvement.

One always seemed likely to be enough but the second, with time running out, provided the talking point. Mark Clattenburg has not been Spurs' favourite referee since -- on the same ground -- he disallowed Pedro Mendes' goal when Roy Carroll had clawed the ball out from two yards over his line.

He won't be getting a Christmas card from Harry Redknapp for allowing Nani's strike -- after his tussle with Younes Kaboul left Gomes throwing the ball down expecting to take a free-kick for handball. The Portuguese winger couldn't believe his luck at the absence of a whistle, and, looking around in disbelief, tapped the ball into an empty net.

It is two years, almost to the day, since Redknapp took charge of an ailing Tottenham -- who were bottom of the table with two points from eight games -- and some billed this match as the acid test for the remarkable progress Spurs have made since. The suggestion was lazy journalism. It is not United but Chelsea, who won yet again yesterday, who provide the ultimate examination these days. Ferguson admitted as much beforehand.

"For 18 years it used to be said that to win the league you had to finish in front of Manchester United," he said. Now the harsh reality is that if we are going to win the championship we must finish ahead of Chelsea. We are playing catch-up already."

It is also worth remembering that Redknapp and his team played with one eye on Tuesday's visit of Internazionale in the Champions League. United are also in European action that night, of course, but their task, against Turkey's Bursaspor, is less of a concern, given that they are already in control of their group.

There had been talk of Redknapp resting his man of the moment, Gareth Bale, but when push came to shove he decided he couldn't do without his leading scorer at a time when his strikers have been found wanting. Instead, Spurs' most significant change saw Peter Crouch relegated to the bench and Robbie Keane promoted for only his second start in the League this season. It was a good, competitive contest from the start -- something which couldn't always be said of this fixture in the recent past.

Both teams were tantalisingly close to taking the lead in the first eight minutes, Park Ji-Sung and Rafael van der Vaart shivering uprights from distance with the respective goalkeepers beaten. As might have been expected, United created most of the goal attempts, Park, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher going on to test Gomes before Vidic gave them the lead in the 31st minute.

Like William Gallas before him, Kaboul was booked for flooring the in-form Javier Hernandez and from Nani's consequent free-kick, the burly centre-half climbed above Benoit Assou-Ekotto to head past Gomes.

For as long as there was only one goal in it, Spurs were very much in contention -- a fact Bale underlined early in the second half when he went on one of the blistering runs that brought him that hat-trick in Milan. The difference was that the incursion was made on the right this time, and the finish, from right to left, flew inches wide of the far post.

The ineffective Keane was replaced by Roman Pavlyuchenko, and Wilson Palacios and Crouch came on for Jermaine Jenas and Van der Vaart, but the substitutions did nothing to inconvenience United, who went close again through a Hernandez volley before Nani's controversial winner decided matters.

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