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Man Utd v Spurs, 06.03.02

FA BARCLAYCARD PREMIERSHIP
WEDNESDAY 6TH MARCH, 2002
MANCHESTER UNITED 4 (2) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0 (0)

Scorers:-
Beckham (2), 15, 64
Van Nistelroy (2), 43 (pen), 76

Attendance:- 67, 059

Referee:- Mike Riley

Teams:-
Man Utd (4-4-2):- Barthez; G. Neville (sub P. Neville, 69), Johnsen, Blanc, Silvestre; Beckham, Keane (Capt), Veron (sub Fortune, 70), Scholes (sub Butt, 70); Forlan, Van Nistelroy

Subs not used:- Carroll; Giggs

Booked:- Keane

Spurs (3-5-2):- Sullivan; King, Richards, Thatcher; Taricco, Davies, Sherwood, Poyet (sub Perry, 66), Ziege (sub Etherington, 85); Sheringham (Capt), Rebrov (sub Ferdinand, 46)

Subs not used:- Keller; Gardner

Booked:- Poyet (dissent), Sherwood, Ziege (fouls) Sent off:- Taricco (Professional Foul)

As a Spurs fan, when you make (for me) the 370 mile round trip for a midweek evening match at Old Trafford, you go not in any state of expectation, other than to see a good game of football in a stadium packed almost full to the tune of 67,000 souls. Result-wise, the best you hope for is maybe a draw, or at least a decent showing. Spurs actually started this game well, and despite falling behind after 15 minutes to Beckham's first goal, we were competing. Until, that is, referee Mike Riley made one of the outrageous decisions of the season to a) award Man Utd a penalty for a foul committed yards outside the area (having initially waved play-on), and b) send off the offender Mauricio Taricco for a professional foul on Paul Scholes, when he was not the last defender, but was one of a line of defenders. This seemed to be a classic case of the home team influencing the decision, as Scholes ran to the referee to protest about the foul. Glenn Hoddle protested afterwards, "It was a diabolical decision. It happened one and a half yards outside the penalty box. It should have been a free kick and a yellow card. The linesman gave it. The referee was waving play on". Even Sir Alex Ferguson agreed the penalty was harsh, but considered that the red card for Taricco was correct.

Once Ruud Van Nistelroy converted the penalty, Spurs were never going to get back in the game, which was over as a contest. Yes, Man Utd were deserving winners, and they replace Arsenal at the top of the Premiership, but it was so disappointing to be cheated in this way, by the officials. Thereafter there was an element of gallows humour from the Spurs fans, calling for a penalty in all parts of the ground whenever a Man U player went down, even if he slipped! The away fans were magnificent in defeat, singing non-stop for the closing stages.

Ferguson fielded a strong side, giving recent signing Forlan a first start, and he tended to play deep on the left flank, whilst Scholes had licence to cross the midfield. Giggs was the unused sub, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (who received a goal of the month award before the game) was apparently out with an injury. Darren Anderton was still missing, and Les Ferdinand did not get involved till the second half, when he replaced the ineffective Rebrov, who I can only recall influencing one attack.

Veron had an early long shot deflected for a corner, before Teddy fed Sergei to the left of goal. Rebrov's shooting opportunity was blocked, and from the corner taken by Ziege, Dean Richards headed over the bar. A Thatcher cross reached Davies on the right, but his low shot was also deflected wide. After 10 minutes Davies fed Teddy, whose long shot provided a test for Barthez going low to his left. Sheringham then provided Poyet with a chance from some distance. Barthez could not hold this shot, but the ball was safely cleared.

This early period of hope and respectability for Spurs was cruelly pierced when van Nistelroy came deep, and turned the ball for Beckham to race ahead of the ever-trailing Thatcher, and to fire low to the right of Sullivan with his left foot. Spurs then failed to keep the pressure off in the very windy conditions. Sheringham lost the ball when trying to run it out of danger, instead losing to Keane whose long shot was well saved by Sullivan, diving to his left. Without a doubt, Sullivan prevented an even greater deficit tonight, with confident and clean handling.

Both teams were struggling with the conditions, with balls overhit, or being carried by the wind. Spurs though, lost composure and were often harried into conceding possession by the busy United midfield, but we did restrict them to long shots or crosses. Then came the penalty incident. Ruud Van Nistelroy scored his 20th Premiership goal of the season with the crashing spot-kick.

Les Ferdinand replaced Sergei, and should have scored in his first minutes, when he won a header, had the goal at his mercy inside the 6 yard box, but contrived to scoop the ball way over the target. There was one more long dipping shot from Sheringham that went just over the bar, but that was it for Spurs, as even Blanc got in on the shooting act with a blistering right foot shot from 25 yards that tested Sullivan to the full, as he dived to his right to save.

Forlan gave Richards a torrid time in this half, as he regularly turned him and beat him for pace. The Spurs defence was fully stretched, and Ziege seemed to be coasting in no-mans land rather than help poor Thatcher. In the end, Hoddle had to replace Poyet with another defender - Perry - just to try and keep the score down.

Forlan had several golden opportunities. The first came when Scholes and Beckham combined on the right and the England Captain's cross reached Forlan at the back post, but he shot hopelessly off target. Then Forlan was away down the left, but hit his left foot shot across goal and wide. The inevitable third goal came from Beckham with a fine right foot shot high into the net from 15 yards. Spurs agony was complete when Van Nistelroy scored his 31 st goal of the season from close range, as defenders stumbled in front of him when the ball arrived from the right, and the Dutchman beat Sullivan at his near post from close range.

It is hard to see how Spurs can reproduce almost their only good performance this year, when they entertain Chelsea again this Sunday in the FA Cup quarter-final. I sincerely hope that Anderton will be fit, as we have sorely missed him in the middle.

Brian Judson's Preview for this game can still be read here
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