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Sep 12, 2009

Ten-man United burst Spurs' bubble

Four days after he gave a hint that he has what it takes to succeed David Beckham on the right side of the England midfield, Tottenham winger Aaron Lennon fluffed his chance to confirm he is the real deal as the Premier League champions ran riot at White Hart Lane.

No one has poured more passion into the England cause over the course of the last decade than Beckham, yet the emergence of Lennon as a genuine pretender to his crown means his days sporting the No.7 shirt he cherishes more than any other may now be coming to an end.

Lennon's thrilling display in Wednesday night's 5-1 World Cup qualifying demolition of Croatia was a clear sign that the Tottenham winger is ready to convert the potential he has long displayed into something more tangible, yet this 90 minutes of anonymity suggested the 22-year-old is a long way from being the finished product.

Tottenham's newest superstar was always likely to be presented with a firm test of his credentials as the reigning Premier League champions rolled into town and while his energy was never an issue, this was to be the day when the true Premier League wing wizard showed him who was boss.

The veteran Ryan Giggs was clearly the outstanding wide player on show in this game, yet Lennon should not despair as this was the afternoon when United confirmed they remain a major force to be reckoned with in the Premier League. Cristiano Ronaldo? On this evidence, United have enough class to live without him.

This game swung with thrilling uncertainty from the off. Jermain Defoe scoring a goal that is certain to go down as one of the Premier League's best this season as his bicycle kick gave Spurs a lead after just 47 seconds. It was a moment of sublime class from the in-form striker.

Tottenham fans hardly needed any motivation to raise their voices after their side's flawless start to the season and it quickly became clear that the scoring would not end there, with these two sides refusing to take a backwards step as they piled into each other with real relish.

Any notion that the international break had taken the edge off Spurs or United was banished as the pace was set at an electrifying level and barely dropped in a sensational first half of action, yet defending was not a priority for a Tottenham side determined to go toe to toe with United.

It proved to be a flawed plan as United's chin is rarely shaky in a straight battle of raw abilities and with Tottenham looking far too open and failing to get the ball to creator in chief Lennon, the red tide eventually washed over them.

Berbatov's tumble on the edge of the box may have been a little theatrical, but there was little doubt that Wilson Palacios was rash with his two-footed lunge after 24 minutes. The legendary Giggs kept up his record of scoring in each Premier League season since 1992 by curling a delicious free-kick equaliser.

Anderson's thumping goal five minutes before the break edged United ahead in a first half notable for an improved performance by United striker Dimitar Berbatov. Jeered to the rafters on his return to White Hart Lane, the Bulgarian responded with a classy display that helped United regain their composure after that early setback inflicted by Defoe.

The half-time whistle gave all packed into this enduringly atmospheric arena a chance to draw breath and reflect on a first half that had passed by the focus of our attention. Lennon would have fancied his chances of getting involved in a game as open as this, but it just wouldn't happen for him.

Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp encouraged captain Robbie Keane to drift into a central role for the second half, with the experiment of playing him on the left flank clearly not working. He was clearly hoping the wide threat would still come if Lennon could be brought into the fray.

The chances continued to flow as substitute Jermaine Jenas was denied by a stunning save from Ben Foster, before Crouch crashed a header against the bar from the corner that followed, but Spurs had lost their verve and not even a red card for Paul Scholes could revive them.

Scholes' curious inability to tackle has been one of his trademarks down the years and while he may have been unfortunate to pick up a second caution in an unavoidable clash with Tom Huddlestone, his earlier 'assault' on Defoe's leg could have resulted in a straight red.

Tottenham failed to make the most of their numerical advantage and with Lennon continuing to do a good impression of the invisible man, it was the brilliant Wayne Rooney who scored next as he established an impregnable 3-1 lead for United 12 minutes from time.

"It was always going to be a hard game because Tottenham are in such great form and they got off to a fantastic start which made life difficult for us," United boss Sir Alex Ferguson told ESPN. "We needed to settle in the game and once we did that, I thought we played very well.

"The referee got it wrong with the red card. It was a bad sending off and I didn't see anything in it at all. I think he was sent off because his name was Paul Scholes, simple as that."

Spurs boss Redknapp accepted his team were beaten by the better side, but tried to find a silver lining in his first defeat of the season. "United are a top class outfit and they had a bit too much for us," conceded Redknapp. "We never really got going after that fantastic opening goal, but we will keep things in perspective. 12 points from five games is still a great start to the season."

Passing judgment on a player over 90 minutes is always an inconclusive test of his credentials, but the ease with which United took the sting out of the Lennon threat on this balmy September afternoon in North London suggests he may not be the complete answer to England's right side dilemma.

Lennon may prove to be the natural successor to Beckham in an England team looking forward to the World Cup finals next summer with real optimism, but he has to display consistency of performance against top quality opposition each and every week if he is to live up to his billing.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Wayne Rooney
The England hit-man is in red hot form and his work rate was spectacular in this game. Rooney thoroughly deserved to get on the score sheet in the closing stages.

LENNON VERDICT: United nullified the threat Lennon could pose by ensuring Tottenham found it tough to get he ball to him. He needs to prove he can deal with the attention of becoming a marked man.

TOTTENHAM VERDICT: Their bristling self belief may have got the better of them as Spurs gave United too much space to shine with their attacking ambition. Redknapp needs to get his team playing with more structure against top quality opponents, as they were not good enough to match United. Some realistic perspective will now be added to their hopes for this season.

UNITED VERDICT: This was a fine away day performance from the champs. Tottenham looked set to give them a formidable test after Defoe's first minute goal, but United took the haymaker on the chin before delivering a knock-out blow themselves.

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