Cool Dempsey defies United grit
Manchester United's hopes of completing a clean sweep of away wins at their rivals' homes are on ice. A late flurry as the snow teemed down meant their lead over City is a mere five points. Clint Dempsey has given them a chill.
Resolute defending rather than free-scoring attacking looked to have completed United's job, but Andre Villas-Boas's Spurs, once accused of being a team who faded, kept going to the bitter end. They dominated the second half, and United were clinging on.
Sir Alex Ferguson's watch had been pointed to several times. Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones in particular were throwing themselves into everything. Dempsey, just as at Old Trafford, proved to be United's punisher after sliding Aaron Lennon's admirably calm pass past David De Gea. Tottenham had the point their efforts deserved. In putting themselves another point ahead of Arsenal in the race for the top four, they also put Ferguson in ref rage mode.
"We deserved a little bit more," Villas-Boas said. "But they defended very, very well and we'll take a draw at the last minute. After half-time, we tried to get the crowd behind us and get a win."
After a snowbound build-up that included a pitch inspection by referee Chris Foy but seemingly did not take into account those slip-sliding down Seven Sisters Road before and after the match, the go-ahead was given just an hour before kick-off.
"A good decision to go ahead," AVB said in the magnanimity of what he saw as a moral victory. "The pitch was outstanding."
Ferguson's selection of a midfield diamond suggested an embracing of the elements and a fear of the influence of Mousa Dembele, troublesome for both Fulham and Spurs at Old Trafford this season.
Scott Parker, an understudy to Sandro under Villas-Boas, had his team's first shot on goal after a beginning in which United's unfamiliar shape had them searching for fluidity. Soon after that, Robin Van Persie's looped header signalled a finding of United's range and danger on the break, though Aaron Lennon's subsequent cut inside and shot revealed similar venom from Tottenham. Difficult conditions did not completely preclude the quality both teams have exhibited this season.
Michael Carrick purred through midfield as if playing on a spring day. He began the move that found its way to Tom Cleverley, who had switched wings with Danny Welbeck. The cross was aimed where Van Persie told Cleverley to place it and the Dutchman headed in at the far post as a matter of course, though Kyle Walker could have marked better. Booed by Spurs fans for Arsenal connections, but also for his fear factor, Van Persie's class separated what had been an even contest.
Gareth Bale, as for any White Hart Lane visitor, had been a factor in the opposing manager's thinking. Ferguson had initially looked to close down space on the flanks by employing Welbeck to work the area behind Bale. A switch with Cleverley proved crucial and Bale, by now drifting infield, had sold Kyle Naughton short by neglecting his defensive responsibilities.
The Portuguese pretender announced himself as a Tottenham manager with a September victory against United which stood out among a series of imperfect early showings.
In his post-match presence, although the chance to become the first Spurs boss to do the double over Ferguson's United since Terry Venables in 1989, was gone, there were still smiles of satisfaction. Ferguson is yet to get the better of AVB the Spur.
A warm embrace had been shared before the match, Ferguson even showing off old-school deportment in keeping his woolly hat off until the handshakes were done. The respect may well be more grudging now. Tottenham made a game of it again, and reaped their just reward. That United's most praiseworthy performances came in their backline said much for the flow of the game.
De Gea's reaction save after a Bale shot had bounced off Rio Ferdinand's thigh showed that as an excellent shot-stopper he is halfway to being a superb goalkeeper. The panic that often results from a crossed ball demonstrates that he still lacks control of an 18-yard area. Nemanja Vidic's presence should help matters, but the equaliser coming from another cross suggested there remains a point of weakness.
Wayne Rooney's 'artistic impression' when trying to claim a penalty after a challenge from Steven Caulker may have prevented him getting a decision, but the accusations were levelled at the official rather than the player. Simon Beck is the name of the man in Ferguson's sights, and an FA charge may await. "It was a clear penalty kick on Wayne Rooney, but in no way was the linesman going to give that. He gave them everything else," raged Ferguson, before opening his rolodex of perceived injustice. "We have not had a good record with this linesman. Against Chelsea a few years ago, he gave onside to Didier Drogba who was three yards offside. You remember those things."
Had the penalty been awarded, United could have counted themselves lucky to be two goals up. Spurs began the second half well and pressed on from there. An early Jermain Defoe shot fizzed wide. A Bale shot with the outside of his left foot drifted over. De Gea's legs made an almost impossible save from Dempsey. Scott Parker made a denied claim for a penalty that had Villas-Boas flailing his club-issue towel in rage.
Alongside smooth operator Carrick, Jones, like a farmhand chasing down some troublesome livestock, was to be found careering around the field and making his trademark gurns of determination as Tottenham turned the screw. His face was a particular picture as Dempsey equalised in injury time.
United had failed to hold out; their attacking quality had been lacking all half. "We had a lot of opportunities on the counter attack, but our final ball let us down," lamented Ferguson. "Great football, offensively and defensively," enthused Villas-Boas. "We played better than the opposition."
A point was cold comfort for United and winter cheer for Spurs.