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By ESPN Staff

Spurs rally around Jol

Quite what did the Tottenham Hotspur board think they gained by fatally undermining their manager? By attempting to sound ambitious, they merely came across as ungrateful. By belatedly showing support, they only served to highlight the predicament of their most successful manager of the Premier League era.

In trying to appear decisive, they merely highlighted their indecisiveness in the summer. In dreaming of a brighter future, they catapulted themselves back into the ranks of the crisis clubs.

But a by-product of their terrible treatment of Martin Jol was unity, on and off the pitch. There was no doubt where their supporters' sympathies lie.

Jol's name reverberated around Old Trafford for much of the match in an emphatic display of the fans' allegiance to the avuncular Dutchman.

'That was probably the most satisfying thing this week,' said a grateful Jol. 'We gave the club a lot of stability. The close watchers know where we came from, what we did the year before and the year before that. There's always a next time, but other clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea have a say in that.'

Whether Daniel Levy, seemingly more enamoured of Juande Ramos, joined in any of the many choruses of 'I love Martin Jol, Martin Jol loves me' is debateable, but the Tottenham players provided an endorsement of their manager.

Yet, in keeping with the undeserved hardship Jol is encountering at the moment, Tottenham's excellence was not rewarded. They struck the woodwork and had two excellent appeals for penalties rejected and, though they were beaten by a majestic strike, even that was deflected.

It was hit by Nani, turning 30 yards out to unleash a ferocious strike that glanced off Carlos Tevez's head before beating Paul Robinson. So whose goal was it?

'I think it's Tevez's,' said Sir Alex Ferguson, though calling it 'a wonder-hit'. Thus speaks a former centre-forward, perhaps aware it took the Argentine 20 games to open his West Ham account and craving a more immediate return at Old Trafford.

Yet the most impressive striker on show was not United's summer recruit, but the man many thought they should have signed. Dimitar Berbatov's economy of movement and delicacy of touch were evident throughout. Within the first 20 seconds, it was his deft flick that supplied Robbie Keane to curl a 20-yard shot that clipped the United bar.

Then, within the space of two second-half minutes, came two flashpoints.

After United's needless concession of possession, the excellent Gareth Bale provided the slide-rule pass to enable Berbatov to advance on goal. As he touched the ball under Edwin van der Sar, Nemanja Vidic collided with the Bulgarian, sending him flying as a covering Rio Ferdinand cleared off the line. Penalty? Referee Howard Webb ruled not. 'I could understand it,' admitted Jol. 'It looked maybe a bit of coincidence, though he [Vidic] pulled him first.'

Then, with van der Sar grounded after blocking one Berbatov shot, Wes Brown flung himself in the way of the second. Again, referee Webb ruled in United's favour. 'The second is a penalty,' insisted Jol. 'If you are a keeper you can do that but even if you use a bit of your arm, it is a penalty.'

Predictably, Ferguson disagreed. 'They protested so much I thought it must have been a penalty,' he said. 'When I saw it, it hit his chest. I'm sure of that.' To complete a frantic five minutes, Jermaine Jenas then cleared off his own line from Tevez before the Argentine - or Nani, depending upon your interpretation - scored.

The pity for Tottenham was that, as Jol said: 'I felt they were there for the taking.' Indeed, Ferguson almost agreed, explaining: 'There was nothing between both sides.' But with United's passing lax and Rio Ferdinand's casual approach almost proving costly, Tottenham were the more impressive.

Anthony Gardner and Ricardo Rocha are only their fourth- and fifth-choice centre backs respectively, but they formed part of a resolute and resilient defence where Pascal Chimbonda was outstanding on the right flank. The left-back berth will be filled by Bale in the long term, but his promising debut was on the left of midfield. 'He is a wonderful talent,' purred Jol.

United might apply the same comment to Nani. Like a burgeoning Ronaldo, his showmanship can be misplaced and his final delivery misjudged but he appears to share his compatriot's gift for the unpredictable. His winner certainly provided that, even if Manchester United's first win of the campaign was expected rather more.

It ended their 24-hour stint in the relegation zone but the sight of Tottenham in 17th can only increase fears for the unfortunate Jol.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Dimitar Berbatov
An outstanding display and Jol's verdict on his future was unequivocal: 'I'd rather die than sell him. Hopefully, I won't die but I am 100 percent convinced he will stay at the club'

MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: Once again, Wayne Rooney and Ronaldo were missed, with Tevez lacking support in attack and Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves yet to convince as a midfield triumvirate when goals are required. Misfortune may have dogged their start to the season, but they enjoyed some luck today.

TOTTENHAM VERDICT: Even in defeat, their improvement was apparent. A defence that was shambolic against Everton displayed greater solidity, while the addition of a natural left-footer such as Bale added balance from the flanks. Berbatov and Keane, meanwhile, displayed why they are Tottenham's premier attacking alliance, whether or not Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent are available.

ON THE SIDELINES: Louis Saha had been tipped to return. Predictably enough, he remains injured and will miss Saturday's match with Sunderland, though Anderson could be fit for a debut then.


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