Sir Alex Ferguson’s men beat Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford, with a thumping Nemanja Vidic header and a smartly taken – if loudly protested – Nani goal ensuring a fourth win on the bounce for the Reds. The win continues a run in which Spurs have never beaten United at Old Trafford during the Premier League era.
Spurs’ players protested vociferously about Nani’s goal, scored with six minutes to go, which referee Mark Clattenburg awarded following consultation with his assistant. But Heurelho Gomes committed a cardinal sin by failing to play to the whistle and Nani, coming from behind the Spurs ‘keeper, scored after the Brazilian threw the ball on the ground in expectation of a free kick.
Harry Redknapp called the decision “scandalous” but with United having been denied a penalty when the Portuguese winger fell in the box after Younes Kaboul’s shirt-pull, Nani’s quick-thinking brought an eventual reward. The ball, still being live, was there to be played deemed the officials.
“It was bizarre. No-one knew at the time what was wrong,” Ferguson told ESPN.
“One minute the goalkeeper had the ball in his hands and next it’s in his net. Nani looked back and looked at the referee and the referee said play on, so what can he do but put the ball in the net?
“You can look at the referee and look at the linesmen and blame them, but the goalkeeper should know better. He’s an experienced goalkeeper. I thought he made a mess of it.
“The referee played on because the goalkeeper took possession of the ball. He then went to take a free kick thinking it was a foul. He made an error.”
The goal provided a controversial end to the match but in truth United fully deserved the victory following an outstanding defensive display and controlled second half performance.
The visitors brought, arguably, its best team to Old Trafford in a generation but failed to create any significant chances after the break despite matching United during open play for much of the game. For all Tottenham’s attractive football it too often lacked an end product.
Yet, Spurs’ midfield offered much to admire, with Rafael van der Vaart always threatening until a 77th minute injury forced the Dutchman off.
United had the better of the opening exchanges though, with Park Ji-Sung’s outstanding low driving rebounding off Gomes’ right-hand post. The South Korean’s form has been little short of abysmal this season but this was better by far.
Anything the Korean could do, van der Vaart matched, with the Dutchman similarly hitting the woodwork with a long-range drive minutes later. But Gomes’ almost gifted United the opening goal, spilling Michael Carrick’s drive and recovering moments before Javier Hernandez could drive the ball home.
It mattered little though, with United taking the lead from a set piece, after Nani’s swinging free-kick was met by a Vidic’s outstanding header. The Serbian is always a threat but Spurs’ poor marking hardly helped the Londoners’ cause.
Not that the visitors were ever out of the game – Luka Modric brought an excellent save from van der Sar, volleying Jermaine Jenas’ floated corner and Gareth Bale ran 40 yards before driving wide with his unfavoured right foot.
United remained in control though, with Rio Ferdinand and Vidic excellent, ably supported by Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra on the flanks. Darren Fletcher and Carrick played their part as the defensive screen too, making 11 interceptions in the match; 10 more than the Spurs’ midfield put together.
The came the bluster of the final minutes. Spurs claimed an injustice, surrounding the officials for a full five minutes after the final whistle, but with referee Clattenburg later explaining that he had awarded Gomes the advantage it is hard to see what grounds the visitors had.
“It was a little bit strange,” added Fletcher.
“The referee said the ball was still in play, so when the goalkeeper’s put it down Nani’s put the ball in the back of the net, it was quick thinking on his part.
“I felt it was a penalty anyway, so maybe a little bit of justice.”
Indeed it was. After all, Spurs gave it away. The ball, not the match that is. United deservedly won that.
United – 442 – Van der Sar; Da Silva (Brown 64), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Fletcher, Park; Berbatov (Scholes 64), Hernandez (Obertan 87).
Spurs – 4411 – Gomes; Hutton, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Jenas (Palacios 66), Modric, Bale; Van der Vaart (Crouch 77); Keane (Pavlyuchenko 62).
Attendance – 75,223
Man of the Match – Vidic
Possession: United 48% – 52% Spurs
Attempts: 18 – 11
On target: 10 – 5
Corners: 1 – 4
Fouls: 12 – 10