Ronaldo fluffs his lines as Spurs' backbone shows
TOTTENHAM 1-1 MANCHESTER UNITED
After the euphoria his brilliance has inspired in the past few weeks, Cristiano Ronaldo was brought back down to earth with a bump at White Hart Lane.
It was easy to be swept along by the notion that Manchester United had a match-winner who could not be stopped, after his stunning display against Portsmouth on Wednesday night, yet a glance at the Premier League table this evening confirms Ronaldo and his pals still have a long way to go before they live up to their own hype.
United's magical Portuguese winger has been in the sort of form to strike fear into any opponent, yet his match-winning displays have merely allowed United to keep pace with rivals Arsenal and Chelsea at the top of the table. So while the bookies would have you believe there is only one red-hot favourite for the title, the statistics don't back up such a notion.
As Arsenal notched up another three valuable points, with an impressive win at Manchester City prior to kick-off here at White Hart Lane, United and their 'untouchable' superstar were left in little doubt that their rivals have not been intimidated by their recent efforts.
Indeed, the Tottenham side standing in front of Sir Alex Ferguson's men proved just six days ago that they have little fear of Ronaldo and his pals, as they had the chances to upset the champions in a thrilling FA Cup fourth round tie at Old Trafford, so this was always going to be a day when the 'world's greatest player' needed to proved his worth once again.
Genius comes in several forms, but few have seen anything more pure or complete as Ronaldo in the last few months. It seems as if there is barely a facet of the game this 22-year-old maestro has yet to master with his power in the air, sublime skills on the deck and his mastery from set-plays seemingly in a different league to the rest - yet there will always be a day when his magic hat runs out of rabbits.
It's on those rare occasions that his few remaining doubters emerge from the shadows to claim that the winger is little more than a luxury talent who fails to produce the goods when the going gets tough. Where was he in last season's Champions League semi-final defeat? They ask. Didn't he go missing in the FA Cup Final back in May? They say.
Well, this was one of those matches where the odds were not stacked in Ronaldo's favour and as a revived Tottenham set about United with a spirited first half effort, the Red Devils' talisman failed to make his mark.
New Spurs full-back Alan Hutton must have looked like fresh prey to a rampant Ronaldo, but it was the home side who struck first as Dimitar Berbatov tapped home after good work by Aaron Lennon.
Juande Ramos has injected some much needed self-belief into this Tottenham side since his arrival in October. Their record against the top four in the Premier League was woeful during Martin Jol's time in charge and, while they are some way from shedding their tag of nearly men, the confident manner in which they are taking on the top sides now suggests a positive change.
Ramos has also managed to uncover a work ethic that adds so much to their make up, with Aaron Lennon and Jermaine Jenas among those who have taken their game onto a fresh level in the last few months. Those two epitomised the work-rate the manager is extracting from these Tottenham players and there is every reason to believe they can mix it with the best in the not too distant future.
A defence featuring new arrivals Jonathan Woodgate and Hutton looks far more stable than the nervy Spurs rearguards that have struggled to hold onto any kind of lead in recent years and, even though they were to be disappointed in the final minute of this game, this is a team moving forward at pace.
Tottenham's famous 5-1 win against local rivals Arsenal in the Carling Cup semi-final last month was an example of a side ready to break away from the mediocrity they have clung onto for all-too long; and they looked fearless once again as they starred into the face of the reigning champions.
Sticking tight to Ronaldo and denying him the space he thrives on, powerhouse midfielder Tom Huddlestone was among those who reminded United's No.7 that his boots cannot produce miracles every day. And as the new-look and resolute Tottenham rearguard looked secure going into the closing stages, Ferguson pulled off Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes after they failed to make any sort of impression.
Instead, it was Tottenham duo Jenas and Lennon who threatened to hurt United as the home side soaked up the pressure and looked dangerous on the break. Such a game plan would have been a recipe for disaster for Spurs down the years, but the aforementioned rout of Arsenal looks to have filled them with a burst of confidence that will serve them well for some time to come.
It took United until the 76th minute to fire their first meaningful shot at goal as Anderson went close and Ronaldo's off-day was confirmed when he lashed a shot across goal when well placed moments later. Ronaldo's moment came when he had a chance to fire a free-kick towards goal, but the chance came to nothing and, even though United poured on the pressure in the closing stages, Spurs looked set to hold out for a famous win.
Michael Dawson didn't deserve to be cast into the role of villain in the final few seconds, yet he was the guilty man as United snatched a point in a goalmouth scramble that even saw keeper Edwin van der Sar throw himself forward in a desperate bid to avoid defeat. Carlos Tevez was the man taking advantage to sweep home a leveller, although Dawson may be awarded the own goal.
As United boss Ferguson warmly embraced Spurs assistant coach Gus Poyet at the final whistle, it was with a relief he has rarely felt after claiming a point. He knew his side had got out of jail at White Hart Lane and wasn't afraid to admit as much.
'We can see an upward swing at Tottenham and I expected a tough game like this,' he said. 'Juande has his team working his socks off and they made life very difficult for us and in the end we snatched the draw. We never stopped going, which is a great credit to the players and it was a bit fortuitous in the end.
'Arsenal are two points in front of us now and it will be nip and tuck until the end of the season. You cannot say who is going to win the league this season, but it looks like going all the way to the end.'
Spurs boss Juande Ramos was right to take the positives from a performance that epitomised just how far he has taken this group of players in the last few weeks. 'It's very frustrating to lose a goal in the final moments, but I feel pleased with the level of many individual performances,' said the Spaniard, again speaking through a translator.
'It's good that we are coming away from a game against Manchester United feeling disappointed with a draw. I'm satisfied with the performances of Woodgate and Hutton and feel we are taking some steps forward.'
This may prove to be a crucial point in United's pursuit of a second straight Premier League crown as they proved they can find a way out of a hole on a day when their match winner fluffed his lines.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Tom Huddlestone
Few have doubted the abilities of this stocky and youthful midfielder and if he can hone his talents under Juande Ramos' guidance, he will be a real asset for Tottenham. Huddlestone outshone all of United's stars at White Hart Lane.
FOOD WATCH: As usual, traffic woes around this badly positioned stadium meant a pre-match meal was out of the question, but the half-time pie was tasty.
SUSPENSION LOOMS LARGE: Referee Mark Clattenburg booked Wayne Rooney for diving on the edge of the box late on and the England striker will miss next weekend's Manchester derby through suspension.
RAMOS GOLD STAR: After many painful years, Tottenham look to have discovered a backbone that will allow them to make the most of the talent they have in the attacking third. They deserved to beat United and must fancy their chances in their Carling Cup Final against Chelsea later this month.
RONALDO VERDICT: It's impossible to expect this brilliant footballer to win games on his own every week, but this was a day when his mastery was needed. Tottenham's committed heroes worked so hard to keep him quiet and they achieved their aim.