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Match Reports

Manchester United v Spurs, 20.03.04

FA BARCLAYCARD PREMIERSHIP
SATURDAY 20TH MARCH, 2004
MANCHESTER UNITED 3 (1) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0 (0)

Scorers:-
Giggs, 30
Ronaldo, 89
Bellion, 90

Referee:- Mr. Dermot Gallagher

Attendance:- 67,644

Teams:-
Man Utd (4-4-2):- Carroll; P. Neville, Brown, Silvestre, O'Shea; Solskjaer (sub Ronaldo, 73), Keane (Capt.), Scholes (sub Bellion, 90), Giggs; Van Nistelrooy, Forlan (sub Butt, 80)

Subs not used:- Howard; Fletcher

Booked:- Giggs

Spurs (4-4-2):- Keller; Carr (Capt..), Doherty, Gardner, Taricco (sub Dalmat, 46); Marney (sub Redknapp, 65), King, Brown, Ziege; Keane, Defoe (sub Kanoute, 78)

Subs not used:- Hirschfeld; Kelly

Booked:- Carr

I cannot honestly say that the scoreline flatters Manchester United, because they did have plenty of chances to score throughout the game. However, until two very late goals by substitutes Ronaldo and Bellion, it did look like Spurs would come away with a creditable 1-0 defeat. Indeed for much of the second half, Spurs did have a go, but struggled to get near goal. They did look candidates for a draw though, and hence the 3-0 scoreline was a cruel one.

Spurs had travelled without Davies, who only returned to training last Monday, and the injured Anderton and Richards. Being short of right sided players, Mr.. Pleat decided to give Dean Marney his first Premiership start on the right side of midfield, where he has been impressing in the reserves. Marney had a pretty good game too, at least going forward, although Giggs had a bit of a heyday attacking the Spurs right flank. It was only when Marney was switched to left midfield to accommodate half-time substitute Stephane Dalmat, that he looked less comfortable, being replaced by Jamie Redknapp with 25 minutes to go.

So this was the weakened Manchester United team, was it? Roy Keane took the field, and was not absent as feared or hoped, depending upon your allegiance, and despite a list of absentees including Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Louis Saha, Kleberson, and Djemba-Djemba, their line-up still looked formidable, and indeed they played with the usual Manchester United style and gusto, coping with the gale-like conditions far better than Spurs, who, if we are truthful, were always hopeful, rather than expectant.

Spurs reverted to a 4-4-2, with Marney for Kanoute being the only change to last week's starting line-up. Ziege took up a left side role in front of Taricco, and looked a little lazy at times, but on other occasions got in vital tackles. Keane and Defoe didn't see enough of the ball, which Spurs struggled to use intelligently, often enough. Michael Brown is a gutsy player, but often seems to let the ball run too far ahead of him, losing possession to the higher-class opponents. Spurs' defending was desperate, but effective for much of the time, although when the goal came, Keller had already been under siege to a great degree.

Marney showed what he was capable of, with a good deep cross from the right that was just in front of Defoe, before Giggs was ultimately deprived of the ball by Gary Doherty, as the Welsh Wizard made his way into the Spurs area. Spurs struggled to clear following their own throw, and Van Nistelrooy actually had a shot from outside the area, which whistled over Keller's bar. Van Nistelrooy has still never scored for Manchester United from outside the box in the Premiership. Another Marney cross reached Ziege at the back post, but he was always over-stretching, and his header was wide and high.

After 12 minutes, Brown miscued a clearing pass, and conceded possession. The ball was crossed from the left, and Scholes hit a curling shot just round the far post in front of the away fans, who, as usual out-sang the placid home crowd. Brown did some good work at the other end, soon after picking up a throw on the left, passing to Ledley King who hit a good low drive outside Carroll's left post.

A great ball by Giggs reached Van Nistelrooy who had beaten the offside flag, and looked like he had an easy task to score before he was suddenly swamped by three pairs of Spurs legs, with Anthony Gardner and Gary Doherty to the rescue. Brown took a shot himself after 20 minutes, and it took a slight deflection for a corner, having gone just past the post. It has to be said that the game was a good, end to end affair, with credit due to one of my favourite referees, Dermot Gallagher, who allowed the game to flow freely. Van Nistelrooy held off Taricco's challenge and set up Forlan, whose powerful shot from an angle on the right, hit the side netting.

From a central position, Dean Marney threaded a great ball through to Jermain Defoe, who seemed to get a shove in the back from Brown,for his trouble, without punishment by Mr. Gallagher. Van Nistelrooy again got behind the defence and into a good scoring position, before being forced off the ball by Taricco, which led to calls for an infringement from the Dutchman, to no avail. Having survived a good few scares already, the goal, when it came, was a bit of a soft one for Spurs, as Solskjaer got to the bye-line down the right side, and sent in a low cross which Giggs was allowed the room to nonchalantly back-heel into the net.

Spurs certainly did not give up, and good work by Defoe with a strong run from the left, teed a shot up for Marney, which was fodder for Carroll. Carroll had a harder job with a powerful driven shot from Carr in the 42nd minute, which the keeper could only parry and breathe a sigh of relief when Brown cleared. There was one more save for Kasey Keller to make before the break, when he parried and then held a Van Nistelrooy effort from the edge of the box.

On came Dalmat then, and for a while he had a great effect, as O'Shea took a time to work him out. There was an early ball from Dalmat for Defoe, which came to nought, and as the game wore on, once again, Dalmat disappointed with one trick too many. Keane took the ball down the left, before sending a deep cross for Forlan, who could do nothing but let the ball rebound off his knee out of harms' way.

Keller made a great save in the 52nd minute from Giggs, who had beaten King and Gardner en route to goal. The shot was not too strong, but to the left of Keller who had to stretch out his left hand behind his body to make the save. Giggs got booked for tugging Dalmat's shirt, and Dalmat set up what was probably Spurs best shot of the half, when Brown's low shot was saved by Carroll getting down to his nearside post. O'Shea made good ground down the left after 69 minutes, and Giggs grabbed the shooting chance with a curling shot that was only just over the bar.

Forlan brought another save out of Keller who tipped over the bar, and much as Spurs tried, it looked like the score would remain 1-0, and we could go home with at least some sense of honour. However, Brown lost the ball in dangerous territory with one of those over-runs of the ball. Keane, who won the challenge with Brown, sent Ronaldo away and would have beaten any keeper with his fantastic dipping shot from 25 yards. Bellion ensured a miserable end for Spurs, as he scored only his second league goal for the club, within a minute of his token substitution. Bellion was allowed the freedom to run in from the left and drill past Keller for that cruel but convincing scoreline. It was, after all, the worst of times to play Manchester United.

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