When Spurs battled through 120 minutes of the League Cup Final with
chances to win it, the moment the decision fell to a penalty shoot-out,
it had an ominous air about the outcome for Tottenham.
But there was enough to be proud about in
the preceding action to give the club a lot of hope for the future,
although, with Tottenham, it is always about producing these sort of
performances on a regular basis.
The pre-match talk was all about United
and there were no great expectations about Spurs, but the side put aside
worries of relegation for a few hours and gave their all against United
to keep them goal-less for the second time this season. Not only
that, but the game echoed the league meeting at the Lane in December,
with Tottenham having enough chances to win it and the Red Devils also
testing the Spurs defence.
The opening period of the game was
controlled by United, who were passing crisply and moving the ball
around, as Spurs chased after them. Early on, Assou-Ekotto
signalled his intent with a crunching tackle on Ronaldo and his
performance against the tricky winger was impressive. Two chances
fell United's way in the first five minutes, causing Spurs problems.
Firstly, Carlos Tevez flicked over when Evra crossed to him and then,
when the Argentinian broke away, Zokora fouled him as he bore down on
goal. 30 yards from goal, it was obvious that Ronaldo would try to
produce one of his trademark free-kicks, but this time his well-struck
shot flew over the bar with Heurelho Gomes under it had it dipped on
Giving the ball to United is not
something the team did too much, apart from clearances to nobody in
particular when under pressure. However, Assou-Ekotto passed out
of defence across the pitch straight to Evra and his ball into Tevez was
set up for Ronaldo to hit a shot at goal, but it lacked power and
direction to beat Gomes and it was caught comfortably. Darron
Gibson was the next to have a pop at goal and his shot failed to test
Gomes, as it curled about a yard wide from outside the box.
Tottenham were having trouble getting out
of their own half. Modric was having difficulty getting on the
ball without time, as United's high tempo start pushed Spurs back.
With 14 minutes gone, Nani cut in from their left wing to hit a low shot
on goal from 18 yards and Gomes turned it round for a corner, although
the ball initially seemed to be going wide, but might have crept inside
his near post. A corner came in and while they have been Spurs'
failing lately, they were dealt with competently today.
With some slick passing, Tottenham began
to get a hold in the match. Playing the ball around on the right
wing, Corluka slipped Lennon in and pulled the ball back over a diving
Foster to try and find Roman Pavlyuchenko, but Rio Ferdinand got there
first to get the ball away. Ferdinand went close in the 24th
minute, when a corner was cleared to him outside the penalty area where
he controlled the ball on his thigh and then hit a powerful volley that
dipped onto the top of the net.
Aaron Lennon was a major threat to United
and when Assou-Ekotto picked him out form the other side of the pitch,
he went around Nani like he wasn't there and his cross was kicked out by
Evans. Playing on Evra, who was not well protected by Nani, was a
tactic that Harry had probably picked out and it paid off, but the final
ball into the box was lacking although Lennon was not probably helped by
the lack of movement by the two Spurs forwards. Pav was a bit
better than Bent, but neither succeeded in losing their markers often
enough and Bent often ran into areas where he put a United player
between him and the man on the ball.
Chris Foy had a poor game in charge.
O'Shea crashed Modric down after he skipped away from the ageing Scholes
and got away with no more punishment than a free-kick. Scholes
also got away with fouls before he finally got booked for a poor tackle
that was late, but that was later into extra time.
Spurs made a chance in the 35th minute
when a cross from the left was headed by Pavlyuchenko, but he needed to
glance it rather than get a firm head to the ball, putting it well wide.
Pav didn't have his best game, but was played in a 4-4-2 system that was
designed to give the United back four something to think about and the
Russian would have been confident after scoring in each round up to the
final. However, he would have needed Peter Crouch on his shoulders
to reach Zokora's cross from the right, as he raced clear and crossed
over everyone. If his first touch had taken him straight rather
than going wide, he could have had a shot, but you know what a Didier
shot means !! Corluka put in a cross over Bent's head before
United almost broke the deadlock, with Tevez getting the ball with his
back to goal and he tried to twist and turn, but his shot was blocked by
Michael Dawson, who had a fine match.
Twice in the closing minutes of the first
half Lennon got free and one cross was wasted, while the other tried to
pick out Bent, but Ferdinand got there first. The corner was
cleared and the half-time whistle blew to give everyone a rest after an
eventful first half. Spurs had done well after a testing first
twenty five minutes and were coming into the game a bit more with Lennon
a key player.
The early chances of the first half fell
to United. Restarting with the same elevens that left the field at
the end of the first half, United started with pace and Modric brought
down Ronaldo to concede a free-kick, which the Portuguese international
fired well wide of the goal. The winger also had a chance a minute
later, but with the goal opening up in front of him, he knocked the ball
across and it was cleared.
To prove it wasn't Pavyluchenko's day, he
grabbed the ball off Modric when Spurs had a free-kick outside of the
corner of the box and wanted to fire it powerfully at goal, but only
succeeded in firing it powerfully at the person in row 43 of the lower
tier. At the other end, Dawson was putting in his trademark block
to deny Gibson, then Ferdinand did the same to Modric's ball into the
area. United made the first change of the game by bringing on
Anderson for the disappointing Welbeck, who ran strongly, but
could not get past Dawson or King.
A ball into Jenas saw him leave it for
Aaron Lennon, who returned it to him in the box and he took an
instinctive first time shot with the outside of his foot and the ball
dropped just over and wide of the angle, with Foster struggling.
One more foul by O'Shea finally got a yellow card and had the temerity
to complain about it, but Modric's cross failed to cause too much
trouble as Foster dealt with it well. Pavyluchenko was put in when
Zokora took the ball off Scholes and set off on a run, but he hit his
shot well wide from the right hand side of the box.
United could have taken the lead with a
cheeky goal when Tottenham got a corner away, but it dropped to Johnny
Evans, who struck a low shot that Tevez was alive to and tried to flick
it thought his legs, but knocked it wide from a yard out. Then
Anderson struck a free-kick well wide before Modric broke away and was
hacked down by O'Shea, but the referee once more failed to show his
mettle and gave Spurs a throw-in rather than a foul and the second
yellow the Irishman deserved.
Tottenham made the change of bringing on
Jamie O'Hara for Pavlyuchenko and Modric moved up behind Bent to allow
the substitute to play on his natural left side. In the 67th
minute, it was heart in the mouth time as Ronaldo ran in from the right
wing, where he found a lot of space and as he went across the face of
the area, Ledley King tackled, but appeared to make contact with the
winger's leg. It was in the box, but Ronaldo didn't get what he
wanted, but paid the price for going down far too easily on two
occasions earlier in the match and was shown the yellow card for diving.
In the 70th minute, the best chance to
win the game fell to Lennon on the right side of the area. King's
pass out to the left wing released Assou-Ekotto and Benny put in a low
ball into the hear to f the penalty box, where Modric was lurking.
He had the awareness to leave the ball to run through to Aaron, who was
in lots of space and perhaps too much, as he hit a strong shot at goal,
where Foster beat the ball out and his parry fell just out of reach of
Darren Bent, who would have only needed a touch to score. If Bent
had beaten the keeper and the two players in front of him, there was a
man on the line who might have cleared it anyway.
With a quarter of an hour to go, Gomes
made a good diving save from a 25 yard curling effort from Anderson,
before Ferguson brought off O'Shea before he got sent off and replaced
him with Vidic. Modric's influence was becoming stronger and the
effort the little man put in was prodigious. His run after nicking
the ball away from Vidic was lung-busting after all the closing down he
did. O'Hara put his body on the line when he got in the way of a
Ronaldo free-kick and had to have treatment after taking it in the
As the seconds ticked away, Spurs moved
the ball well and Jermaine Jenas passed it to the wing for Corluka to
let Lennon cut into the box, but he was denied a shot by Vidic's
intervention. However, the last word of the 90 minutes was left to
Cristiano Ronaldo, who hit a fierce shot cutting in from the right and
although he beat Gomes, he did not beat the post, as the ball bounced
off it across goal and Nani could not get his foot around it to turn it
into the unguarded net.
So, the game entered an extra 30 minutes.
Which wasn't what Tottenham needed with a home league game against
Middlesbrough on Wednesday, which is another must-win match.
United added fresh legs in the old legs of Ryan Giggs, but it was
Jermaine Jenas who had the first chance of extra time. He made a
long run down the left hand channel and looked like he was going to get
a shot off, but Ferdinand got in the way and then, when play switched to
the other end and Giggs set up Nani, his shot was straight at Gomes from
12 yards out.
The Spurs midfield had worked really hard
and Jenas had been box-to-box the whole game, putting in a good
performance, but he was replaced by Gareth Bale to add a bit more
attacking intent, but then Lennon went down holding the back of his
thigh after trying to keep a ball in play and he had to go off with
Bentley replacing him. The final act of the half was a Tevez
header that glanced Nani's cross a fair way wide.
The second half became a real test of
fitness, as Dawson also had some serious cramp and Ledley King was
playing on memory, having not done 120 minutes since last season's
final. But both players held up well and were getting in the way
when United attacked, although Spurs had their chances with O'Hara
having a shot blocked, a follow-up blocked and his final effort of the
three going way over the bar. Scholes finally picked up his long
awaited yellow card for a cynical foul and it indicated that his time
had gone, with his influence on the game being minimal.
It was hoped that Bentley's fresh legs
might make a difference, but his first foray saw him bump into Evans and
then he put a free-kick from a good position onto the roof of the net
rather than putting it into the mixer for the players who had made the
trip up from the back to try and get on the end of it.
Tevez hit a shot wildly over and Evra
struck a first time shot after a cross landed at his feet at the far
post, but form the edge of the box, he slipped as he hit it and it flew
powerfully, but too high. For Spurs, Bale made a run on goal from
halfway, but appeared to come inside onto his right foot instead of
shifting it onto his better left and the chance was gone. As added
time was reached, Ronaldo was denied by another Dawson tackle, but then
set up Anderson, who could only blast wide again. If only he would
have kept that up.
The final final whistle signalled a
penalty shoot out and the penalties were to be taken at the United end.
Giggs took the first one and crashed it in on off the inside of the
post, with O'Hara being brave enough take to on the task of the first
penalty for Spurs. He struck it a what is deemed a good height for
keeper's and with Foster guessing the right way, he pushed the ball out.
1-0 to United.
Tevez beat Gomes' dive for 2-0 and
Charlie Corluka stepped up for the second Tottenham spot-kick.
Coolly lifting the ball over Foster's dive, he made it 2-1.
Ronaldo stepped forward for United's third and converted it by sending
Gomes the wrong way, leaving David Bentley to try and keep Tottenham in
with a chance. Unfortunately, he dragged his shot wide of the goal
and it was 3-1 to Man U with Anderson left the task of converting to win
the trophy. He did, by putting the ball into the opposite corner
of the goal to Gomes' dive and the cup was theirs.
It was a little disappointing that we
probably played better today than we did last year and had the chances
to create more openings and to score more goals, but the finishing might
have been better with Defoe in the side and maybe, the opposition was
better this year than Chelsea last year. For all that, we didn't
have much hope going into the game and pushed the World Club Champions
all the way. It is a shame finals have to be settled this way, but
if it had gone to a replay (as these things used to in the good old
days), it would surely have been another game that Harry wouldn't have
wanted to interfere with the league run-in.
And it is now that which takes
precedence, with twelve games left to salvage the season. After
last year's victory the season went flat. This year that cannot
MARCO VAN HIP