Spurs' spirit shines again at Old Trafford
Towards the beginning of last season, Andre Villas-Boas secured the affection of Spurs fans by pulling off the club's first victory at Old Trafford for the best part of twenty years. Wednesday night, Tim Sherwood did the same.
Even if his tenure as manager proves to be shorter than even AVB's, this 2-1 win is a signal that however gung-ho he may be, he knows how to create a strong team spirit and work ethic.
It wasn't easy of course. But then again, Spurs seldom make things easy for themselves. Having taken a 2-0 lead midway through the second half after Christian Eriksen's header from Aaron Lennon's cross escaped the clutches of David de Gea, the Spurs defence stood still to gift Danny Welbeck a goal back. For the last 20 minutes, the away team were left to tough it out as Manchester United finally woke up from their torpor and started to apply some pressure. Fortunately, David Moyes' United do not have the steel, fear of losing and willpower to pull a result out of the fire, and Spurs were able to claim the three points they deserved.
Spurs had made three changes from the team that had outplayed Stoke at the weekend. Etienne Capoue came in for Paulinho, who is likely to be out for at least a month following yet another vindictive high tackle by Charlie Adam. Danny Rose returned at left back instead of Zeki Fryers and Kyle Walker returned from his one match suspension to replace Kyle Naughton.
The initial exchanges all went to United. Time and again Antonio Valencia outpaced Rose, and Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverly were given far too much space in midfield by Moussa Dembele and Capoue. Only desperate defending by Vlad Chiriches and Michael Dawson, who both had their most accomplished games of the season, kept the scores level.
After 20 minutes or so, Spurs began to settle with Emmanuel Adebayor and Dembele beginning to make their presence felt, and it was Spurs who might have gone ahead when Lennon was put through by Adebayor. Ten minutes later, Spurs did get the first goal when a neat cross from Roberto Soldado was headed back by Adebayor past De Gea who was rooted to his line. For the rest of the half, neither side really threatened and Spurs went in ahead.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson, the second half would surely have been the cue for a determined onslaught by the home side. But United started the second half as listlessly as they had ended the first; not even Wayne Rooney could get his team going. With United misfiring, Spurs gained in confidence and composure and for 20 minutes or so dominated the game. Although Spurs' second goal, scored by Eriksen, may not have been entirely expected, no-one could argue it had been against the run of play.
Seconds later, with United looking down and out, there came the inevitable moment of self-destruction and the doubts began to creep in. Adebayor went off injured to be replaced by Nacer Chadli. Nabil Bentaleb came on for Capoue and Harry Kane made life awkward for the United defence when he came on for Soldado.
By the end, the Spurs players were out on their feet but United didn't have the resources or creativity to break Spurs down.
At the start of the game, Sherwood would almost certainly have been happy with a draw. Indeed, the strategy initially suggested that was the limit of Spurs' ambition. But this isn't the strongest United side and just possibly Spurs are a rather better one than some critics have suggested. It's also possible that Sherwood has rather more tactical awareness than many had predicted. Either that or he's just very lucky.
Right now, both he and Spurs won't care which it is. Victories at Old Trafford can never be taken for granted and when they do happen, they are to be savoured to the full. Bring on Arsenal in the FA Cup.