Spurs rise to occasion as United pinned back

Posted by Mark Payne

Clint DempseyAPClint Dempsey scores his equalising goal

Tottenham Hotspur have had enough of being Manchester United's whipping boys. Too many times the team Manchester have left this ground with three points despite not shifting up through the gears. Two top four finishes in three years have given this generation of Spurs players the belief previous incarnations have lacked. United were lucky to get out of town without being pasted.

- Report: Tottenham 1-1 Man Utd

The players would have been forgiven for huddling together at kick-off to preserve body heat. It is not often games are played in driving snow such as this. "Nobody wants a backlog," said Sir Alex Ferguson before kick off, hinting that he already has his mind on the European Cup tie with Real Madrid next month. The players know that many of them are auditioning for places in that showpiece. Some are reading their lines better than others.

No prizes for guessing who will be leading man for Manchester United. Ten goals in the last ten games for Robin van Persie now, the kind of statistics they notice even in La Liga. The Dutchman has scored four more goals than Ronaldo this season. But Spurs were in no mood to sit back and let the former Arsenal man soak up more glory.

United are supposed to be a more solid outfit when Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are paired at centre back. That was the case here, they even had Phil Jones shielding them as extra protection from Gareth Bale, but it was a tactic that merely invited Spurs to attack them. Lennon, Bale and Clint Dempsey duly obliged.

"We knew crosses were causing them problems," said Dempsey after the game, about ten minutes after United had finally fluffed one and conceded the equaliser with almost the last kick of the game. David de Gea will attract attention for his less than emphatic punch of the ball, but that would be harsh. It is no exaggeration to say the Spaniard had kept United in it until that point.

Ferguson complained of "not finishing [Tottenham] off", but the London side are no easy prey any more. United have dropped four points to Andre Villas Boas' side and there can be no complaints from Old Trafford. In both matches the results have been just about fair.

The bigger picture is favourable for United, as Ferguson pointed out after this game. They have now played all of their major rivals away from home and this was the last tricky trip they have to make in the league this season. Arsenal and Manchester City still need to come to this ground and won't be taking the points for granted. "We'd have taken a point before the game," said Ferdinand gravely.

Ferguson is rotating his squad right now but will want his players to put a run together before they re-enter the fray in the Champions' League again. The midfield pairing of Cleverley and Carrick is starting to look the fulcrum required to unleash all of the side's attacking potential. Phil Jones also had a good game but his role needs clearer definition and slippery opponents, like Aaron Lennon, are still able to drag him out of position. Fergie rates Jones as a "fantastic player", but still hasn't found the best position for him yet.

United did a good job of shackling Bale et al for ninety minutes but ultimately it was their lack of ambition that cost them. It just doesn't suit this team to cling on to narrow leads and draw their opponents forward. Particularly seeing as Tottenham are at their best when streaming upfield. "We believe we have the quality to finish in a top four spot," said Dempsey after the game. If they keep playing like this, they will.

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