FA BARCLAYS PREMIERSHIP
SATURDAY 25TH SEPTEMBER, 2004
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0 (0) MANCHESTER UNITED 1 (1)
Van Nistelrooy (pen), 42
Referee:- Mr. P. Walton
Spurs (4-1-3-2):- Robinson; Pamarot, Naybet, King, Edman; Mabizela (sub Jackson, 66); Redknapp (Capt.), Mendes, Keane; Kanoute (sub Davies, 29), Defoe
Subs not used:- Keller; Gardner; Brown
Man Utd (4-4-2):- Carroll; Brown, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Heinze; Ronaldo, Keane (Capt.), O'Shea, Giggs (sub Miller, 82); Smith, Van Nistelrooy (sub Bellion, 85)
Subs not used:- Ricardo; P. Neville; Kleberson
Not for the first time in recent years, it is fair to say that reports of the demise of Manchester United are preliminary. Spurs defended well, but were deprived of their unbeaten record, and sent a few notches down the table by the narrowest of margins, and that provided by the sort of penalty that many referees would not award. Edman was adjudged to have tugged O'Shea just before half-time, and that man Van Nistelrooy made no mistake to make the conversion. There had been little protest at the decision by the players. Spurs have slipped down to ninth place, and if Charlton and Portsmouth should win their games this week-end, then Spurs will be consigned to the bottom half. Such is the slender thread that holds a team between success and moderation, if not failure.
I said before the game, that with the injuries to Sean Davis, Carrick and Atouba, Spurs lacked the necessary flair to break down Manchester United, and so it proved, as the Reds fielded a commanding team, re-inforced of course by the return of Rio Ferdinand at the back. Jacques Santini changed his formation, and I am sure it was his intention to attack United, more than he has in several games so far. Mabizela was given a start in midfield, patrolling in front of the back four (and I thought he did well, too), leaving Redknapp, Mendes and Robbie Keane behind the front two of Kanoute and Defoe. Keane played on the left flank primarily, and Kanoute played well out on the right, supporting Defoe when he could. Sadly, Fredi had to be taken off through a leg injury after just half an hour, and from there on in, the persistent long-ball clearances were generally fodder for Ferdinand and Silvestre, although the latter was often susceptible to the wiles of Defoe and Robbie Keane.
Once Fredi went off, it became more a case of 4 players behind Defoe, being isolated again for too much of the time. United were balanced, with Keane back in the midfield, partnered by O'Shea, and genuine wing play from Giggs and Ronaldo, sometimes switching their positions. The Spurs defence was well-equipped to deal with them though, with our own pacy and effective Edman and Pamarot. King and Naybet carried on where they left off last week, and at times it was a delight to see their confidence in not just clearing, but sharing interplay whilst depriving Smith and Van Nistelrooy of the ball.
It is fair to say that United had the majority of possession in the first half, and the better of the chances, but genuine threats on goal were a rare commodity. Smith headed a Giggs free kick on target, but Robinson collected that with ease, and then Redknapp made poor contact with a header at Robbie Keane's long ball angled across the box. Mendes had a couple of shots, and the first of these followed a gift from Silvestre, but was hit well over the bar. A Van Nistelrooy low ball into the area from the right was deflected sharply to the left of Robinson who dived and held the ball.
Naybet made the occasional foray forward, and he started a Spurs counter-attack on 37 minutes. Keane could have made quicker use of the ball, but eventually did get it to Mendes, who found space for a shot from 20 yards, which Carroll scrambled at and just about managed to push the ball round the post for a corner. The equilibrium was upset, when Edman had some of O'Shea's shirt as a ball came over to the back post from the left. O'Shea seemed to make a meal of things, and it was the referee's assistant more than the referee who seemed to give the decision. Edman shrugged, dusted himself down, and Van Nistelrooy hit a rocket of a penalty that might have carried Robinson over the line had he got in the way.
After the break, Davies played on the left flank, and Keane partnered Defoe, who had looked sharp, but on the whole was well-policed by Ferdinand in particular. Smith got a speculative shot round Naybet two minutes after the re-start, but it was outside the target.
The officials started to frustrate the Spurs fans. Firstly Redknapp slid the ball to Defoe, whose shot seemed to be deflected, but no corner was awarded. Then the referee allowed Robbie Keane to be scythed down outside the box, but quickly blew up to give a free kick against Redknapp. Impartials and Man Utd fans, (and especially Mr. Ferguson!) will say it's sour grapes, but when I heard that the referee (Mr. Walton) spent some of the interval in the away dressing room, I wondered why he didn't have a red shirt on!
Van Nistelrooy turned to celebrate a close range finish of a cross from the left, but he was found to be offside on this occasion. Gabriel Heinze switched the play from left to right, and for once Ronaldo got round Edman, but was then thwarted by Paul Robinson's fine save at the near post. Mabizela was replaced by John Jackson, who to be honest had a rather ineffective time on the left. Most people felt that Michael Brown would have been a better choice. Simon Davies took up his natural position.
Spurs were getting forward, but too often, just failed to get that vital touch or stroke of luck in the run of the ball. Davies had a good left foot shot held by Carroll after Keane had pushed back Edman's cross, but Spurs were soon defending and it was Robbie Keane in front of his keeper, who blocked a short range effort by Silvestre from a corner. Once again, Naybet carried the ball forward and threaded a ball to Keane, who tried to place his shot to the left of the keeper, but hit it wide.
Paul Robinson made a vital close-range save from substitute Bellion, without knowing too much about it, and then in the closing stages, Keane muscled Silvestre out of a challenge and hit a shot on the turn from Edman's ball, but it was not struck well enough to pass Carroll.
Man Utd have now beaten Spurs for the seventh successive Premiership game, but we did compete well, with key players missing today. Despite that thread of success snapping today, we do have 10 points from our first 7 games which have included all the contenders for Champions League places (apart from the team down the road) which is probably more than we were entitled to expect. I do fell though that starting next week, Spurs must let the full backs get forward more, release the shackles and get some wins under their belts from more moderate opposition.
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