Manchester United drew an eighth Premier League game away from home this season as Sir Alex Ferguson’s outfit survived the last quarter with 10 men at White Hart Lane. Rafael da Silva saw red in a vibrant encounter with Tottenham Hotspur but Ferguson’s side saw out the match to stretch an unbeaten league run to 26 matches.
But the game at White Hart Lane ended in controversy with Rafael’s red card, who twice appeared harshly judged by referee Mike Dean. The youngster picked up a yellow card for a first half tackle in which the Brazilian appeared to win the ball, and then a second for inadvertently tripping Spurs defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
The second red of Rafael’s career may have proven a steep learning curve but for the home side’s failings. For all the home side’s possession Harry Redknapp’s outfit failed to either create enough opportunities or take the limited chances that came Spurs’ way.
Indeed, having seen his team harshly reduced to 10, Ferguson is entitled to be satisfied with the point even if United’s record away from home is the worst of any potential champions in the past 20 years.
“It was a tough game and Tottenham are in great in form but they didn’t really create any chances today,” said Ferguson, whose side returns to the top of the Premier League on goal difference from Manchester City.
“We’ve got games in hand but we’ve got to win them. We’ve got to go to Chelsea, we’ve got to go to Blackpool and they’re in great form at the moment. It’s an exciting run in.
“It’s about winning games and keeping your nerve. Today, defensively, we kept our nerve. Given the performances that Tottenham have had at home it was a great performance by us today.”
The Scot had selected an attacking looking line-up for the trip south, with Edwin van der Sar and Nemanja Vidic returning after missing the cup tie with Liverpool last weekend and Wayne Rooney paired with Dimitar Berbatov up-front.
The selection was prescient in a game that began with a cup tie flavour as both sides sought to attack in numbers. Yet, for all the good possession in midfield neither United nor the hosts could force clear-cut openings.
Rooney seemed way off the pace though, even if the former Evertonian also created two chances in his first game back after a fortnight off with injury. First the 25-year-old wasted an early opportunity after Berbatov’s fine pass and then Rooney forced a save from home stopper Heurelho Gomes after the break.
The home side’s progression in recent seasons reflected a game in which rapid one and two touch passing dominated. Indeed, the home side created two presentable chances with first Peter Crouch firing narrowly wide from Alun Hutton’s fine centre and then Rafael van der Vaart heading Gareth Bale’s cross into the side netting.
If anything United improved after the break as Michael Carrick flicked a header just wide and Gomes saved at full stretch from Rooney.
Rafael’s red 20 minutes from the end saw the visitors revert to a more cautious approach but Spurs – much as Redknapp’s side has progressed – failed to break United down. For that Rio Ferdinand and the magnificent Vidic take huge credit.
“I think we had to be solid today, it was a good defensive display,” added United ‘keeper van der Sar.
“On the ball we could have brought more but that’s a compliment to Tottenham. I had a couple of free kicks to save but they didn’t hurt us much. Defensively it was great.
“It’s an ok result today especially going down to 10 men. It was a high pressure game for him [Rafael] but he’s only 20 and he’s looking forward to many more years at the club.”
Yet, while the 20-year-old full-back learned much from the dismissal against Bayern Munich last season he will take little from Dean’s actions today.
“I don’t need to discuss that, you can see for yourself,” said Ferguson dismissively. “I don’t need to discuss the referee.”
Little wonder. An honest assessment would surely bring little but another touchline ban. Yet, despite the frustration Ferguson will take the point as United head into the final months of the season in pole position. Trips to the Emirates and Stamford bridge follow, but with two games in hand on City it is now United’s title to lose.
Spurs – 4411 – Gomes; Hutton, Gallas, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Palacios (Defore 18), Modric, Bale; Van der Vaart; Crouch.
United – 442 – Van der Sar; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani (Anderson 61), Carrick, Fletcher, Giggs; Berbatov (Hernandez 78), Rooney.
Attendance – 35,828
Man of the Match – Vidic
Possession: Spurs 58% – 42% United
Attempts: 15 – 7
On Target: 2 – 4
Corners: 8 – 2
Fouls: 9 – 18