Having lost recently at Wembley, this slippery pitch almost replicated
the big day in the FA Cup semi-final, with players losing their footing
and not playing to their normal level of performance, leaving Spurs 1-3
losers at Old Trafford as has so often happened over the years.
This time it came courtesy of two penalties
and some sloppy defending, which is something Spurs haven't been too
guilty of lately. There was little debate about the award of the
spot-kicks, as opposed to last season's dreadful decision by Howard Webb.
But there were some tackles which Andre Marriner let go which might have
brought cautions in other matches. Bale seemed to be targeted -
not for fouls, but for players following through on him, but other
United players appeared to be getting there a fraction too late, which
players from other clubs usually get punished for.
Valencia's follow-through on a challenge
when Gareth cleared the ball required treatment on the Welshman's knee
and it looked as if it severely hampered him from then on. His
lack of tracking back on the second goal may have been a result of the
knock, as he did not appear to be his usual speedy self up and down the
In fact, with the news that neither Wayne
Rooney nor Rio Ferdinand would be playing, it is a little surprising
that Tottenham failed to play with the intensity or tempo that they had
displayed against Arsenal and Chelsea. That left the match
resembling the Portsmouth Wembley meeting even more. With little
to trouble either keeper in the first hour, it was positively dull, as
both teams pressed the man on the ball meaning that percentage
passes were played and a lot of the time were picked off.
With Bale moving to left back and
Assou-Ekotto to right back to accommodate Palacios' return to midfield,
the side were moved around and with King replacing Bassong, the team
hardly resembled the one that beat Chelsea. The side seemed to
have functioned perfectly well without Wilson while he was suspended, so
to bring him back in seemed to make a big difference to the style of
play. Twice inside the first five minutes he needlessly gave the
ball away - one on the edge of our area - and then got robbed of the
ball twice more, while giving the ball away with fancy flicks to leave
us open to a break. Whereas the ball had been moved speedily and
slickly in the last two games, it stuck in midfield and left the front
two without much service.
It took until the 29th minute for the
ball to get to Pavlyuchenko and his shot might have been straight at van
der Sar, but it was the first one of the match. Then United broke
forward and Nani's low ball in from the left caused Bale to almost stand
on the ball and leave it for Berbatov just six yards out. Luckily,
Ledley King threw a block to stop the ball getting through and the ball
was cleared. Within a minute, Rafael had put Valencia away down
the right, he cut inside and hit a low shot across Gomes, but the keeper
got down well to it to stop it getting past him into the far corner.
Spurs tried to move the game into the
United half and a free kick for a foul on Bentley brought a booking for
Nani, who had been late on a couple of occasions, but Bale failed to
work van der Sar missing the target high to the right of the goal and
then Modric did all the hard work, by shimmying one way to throw three
defenders off and then getting into the box, but failing to find a good
shot at the end of it leaving the ball pulled well wide in the 39th
minute. Berbatov flashed a couple of shots over the bar, with both
trying to power the bal rather than place it like he used to do for us.
But unlike that time, he appears to be an isolated figure, who is
performing like he did in the final throes of his time with Spurs.
He did little to hurt his former club in this match, other than a back
heel in the second half to produce the first penalty.
But he had made such back-heels
previously in the match and missed his intended target. With
Tottenham making a decent start to the second half, with Bentley's ball
into the box bouncing off Defoe to Pav, who couldn't get it down to get
an effort on goal, it looked as though the pressure would be away from
our own goal. Eight minutes into the half though, Berbatov rose at
the far post to head Evra's cross back across Gomes and to the back
post, where Fletcher failed to get a touch when he was coming in
Then Palacios broke through a couple of
tackles ten yards outside the United box and drove forward, producing a
low shot that he didn't fully get hold of, but forced van der Sar to
dive to his left to take the ball low down. Harry replaced the
disappointing Defoe with Gudjohnsen and the move blew up in his face as
United took the lead three minute slater when Berbatov cut in from the
left and Assou-Ekotto was the wrong side of him, but when he continued
his run and back-heeled the ball outside him, BAE was trying to tackle
the on-running Evra with his wrong leg and having dived in, he took the
Frenchman's legs and the ref pointed to the spot. Ryan Giggs
stepped up to administer the necessary, by putting the ball out of
Gomes' reach into the inside of the side-netting, even though the
Brazilian guessed the right way.
So, 58 minutes gone and 0-1 down.
Would Tottenham let their heads drop or fight back ? Well, Harry
brought on Lennon to replace Bentley, with Bale moving into midfield,
Assou-Ekotto to left back and Palacios dropping back to right-back.
It immediately brought a little joy, with a couple of runs from Aaron,
one ending with a foul and another with him running infield and losing
the ball, but he did look a bit hesitant going into tackles to start off
Spurs did win a corner on their left in
the 70th minute and Bale crossed the ball into the edge of the six yard
box, where Ledley King rose to head home past van der Sar and Rafael,
who had moved off the goal-post. It was an unexpected equaliser
and from that moment, it looked as though Spurs might go on to get
another. Within the space of a five minute spell, a couple of
dangerous crosses and a move that put Gudjohnsen in on the edge of the
box almost brought a second, by the Icelander couldn't find space to get
his shot away and it came back to Hud, who uncharacteristically blasted
way over the bar.
In the 80th minute, a break on our left
saw Nani get away from Crouch, exchange passes and then leave Bale
behind him as he went into the box unchallenged and with only Gomes to
beat, he produced an impudent little dink over the keeper to make it 2-1
and give United the advantage with time running out.
Five minutes on and the ball dropped
loose in midfield, with it bouncing off Huddlestone's shins and with
Dawson backing off, it was picked up by Nani between them. The
United winger ran forward to the left side of the box and when he got
inside the area, he slowed, leaving the chasing Palacios to bump into
him and knock him over to concede another spot-kick and Giggs did the
same as with the first, except this time he put it to Gomes' left and
while he went the right way, it was too well-placed to stop.
3-1 might have been a bit harsh, but it
served to show that once more, there is still a long way to go until we
can challenge the top sides. 67 away games against the top four
without a win and until that changes, it might be us worrying about the
top four instead of us being one of the top four and other teams
worrying about us. It leaves us two points clear of City before
their game at Arsenal and with the game against them coming up next
week, it will need a better away performance to take Spurs clear of the
Middle Eastlands club.
too bad today. Good, but not good enough.
the heathrow spur