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Manchester United v Spurs, 26.08.07


Nani, 68

Referee: - Howard Webb

Attendance: - 75,696

Man Utd (4-3-3):- Van Der Sar; Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Carrick (sub Eagles, 56), Scholes, Hargreaves; Nani, Tevez (sub Fletcher, 76), Giggs (Capt.)

Subs not used: - Kuszcak; O’Shea; Dong

Bookings: - Giggs, Brown

Spurs (4-4-2):- Robinson; Chimbonda, Rocha (sub Zokora, 82), Gardner, Lee (sub Taarabt, 74); Malbranque, Jenas, Huddlestone, Bale; Berbatov, Keane (Capt.) (sub Defoe, 74)
(Armband to Robinson)

Subs not used: - Cerny; Stalteri

Bookings: - Huddlestone, Berbatov, Gardner

Proud of my Spurs!

Yesterday at Old Trafford, I reverted to true fan mode, and despite feeling cheated out of a deserved point, I came away from the “Theatre of Dreams” feeling proud of my Spurs – from the manager down. I was proud to be part of the 3,000 strong sterling Spurs support that sang out their support for under siege Martin Jol, recognised by an early wave and post-match acknowledgement by the man himself. I was proud of every man jack in the team, and if we can reproduce the form, style and commitment of yesterday’s performance, Spurs will rise up the table as they did last season, after precisely the same 4-match start, including a narrow 1-0 defeat by Manchester United.

You’ve seen the game, read the press reports and watched the replays, but when those two penalty incidents occurred, I was convinced that Spurs had been cheated not once, but twice by referee Howard Webb, who turned down appeals for Vidic's challenge on Berbatov in the box, and then Wes Brown’s cunning handball to deflect Berbatov’s goal-bound shot out for a corner. Indeed, as I trotted away from the ground along Sir Matt Busby Way, and Warwick Road, I was constantly shouting “We’ve been cheated again. Twice!” amidst countless home supporters, none of whom challenged my assertion.

Now, having watched the TV replays, I confess doubt about the Vidic challenge amounting to a penalty, but still personally feel that Wes Brown handled the ball – cunningly and intentionally – to prevent a goal. Sadly, Spurs lost their discipline and composure after those failed appeals, and United firstly nearly scored when Robinson had to save from Nani, then sadly did score from Nani’s spectacular shot, touched over Robbo by Tevez’s deflection.

The sense of injustice remains, but the pride in the team is just as strong, and will burn through the difficult weeks to come, as Spurs must now secure much needed points at Craven Cottage, then at home to Arsenal.

Gareth Bale made a superb debut today, playing in front of Young-Pyo Lee. Jol’s strategy here worked a treat, with Bale able to support Lee when needed, but also having the confidence to battle for and win the ball against the midfield supremos of Old Trafford, making several great runs. Spurs fans rewarded Bale with gleeful “Yiddo” chants, and berated Ryan Giggs at times with “You’re just a s**t Gareth Bale”. It was quite a welcome for Bale, who was just about the man of the match from the Spurs perspective. Bale’s presence enabled the replacement of Lee with Taarabt in the late stages, and Bale – now imbued with all the confidence in the world – could take up the left back slot, from which he still made good runs, and might easily have delivered a late crucial cross.

Spurs also welcomed back Dimitar Berbatov, although he did not find his best form until the last quarter of the game. United kept faith with their three man midfield of Carrick, Hargreaves and Scholes, behind Nani, Tevez and Giggs. The three front men switched roles throughout the game, with any one of them turning up in the focal position, or either flank. Lee, supported by Bale and Chimbonda stood up to the test really well, protecting the central pairing of Gardner and Rocha to a certain degree, although no-one was testing either keeper much in the early stages. Scholes was the chief support for the strike force, whilst Carrick and Hargreaves were effective stoppers. Of course, when Carrick was replaced by young striker Chris Eagles, the away support gloated at their former player’s failure to finish a game for second time in a week.

With United starting the game in the bottom three, the Theatre of Dreams nearly became a home for nightmares, as Malbranque fed Berbatov, whose clever flick to Keane was so nearly converted for a goal within 30 seconds. Keane’s shot from over 25 yards dipped and just clipped the top of Van Der Sar’s bar in front of the Stretford End. Such was Spurs confidence and early control of the game that it took United 11 minutes before they even had a half-chance. Nani crossed deep from the right, and Giggs, could not get a proper shot in from beyond the back post, giving Paul Robinson an easy save to restore some of his confidence in front of a demanding audience who had seen his mid-week mistake in an England shirt.

The first of Bale’s runs won us a corner, taken by Jenas, and headed towards the back post by Tom Huddlestone, but there were no takers to finish it off. Then a Huddlestone free kick (after Nani had fouled Jenas) ended with a shot by Ricardo Rocha, way over the goal. Spurs enjoyed more good pressure after 19 minutes, after more good work by Bale, who demonstrated determination, control and pace to carry the ball down the flank. Spurs pressure ended with a Keane shot being blocked and falling for Berbatov, whose shot was cleared by Vidic.

Now United responded, and Spurs were giving too much space to the attackers following a corner. The ball reached Rio Ferdinand on the left of the box, and Paul Robinson had to make a flying save from Rio’s shot. Malbranque was dwelling on the ball too long at times, and when he didn’t chase back enough after 23 minutes, Nani hit a low shot that must have had a slight touch from Robinson, as a corner was awarded. Five minutes later, Tevez did well to keep the ball in play deep down the left side. He passed to Giggs, who chipped a cross, where Scholes touched the ball onto the roof of the net.

As the half drew to a close, Giggs saw yellow for a foul on Lee, and Chimbonda got in a superbly timed tackle to deprive Evra of the ball in the Spurs area. Such was Pascal Chimbonda’s performance that he even drew praise from Lee Dixon on MOTD2 last night. Dixon has never been slow to lay into Spurs in the past, but rightly highlighted Chimbonda’s positioning, and the timing of his tackles.

Six minutes into the second half. Jenas, Bale and Lee were involved a good advance down the left, ending with Lee’s cross and a Huddlestone effort over the target. Brown saw yellow for a foul on Bale, illustrating the danger the 18 year old was presenting in the most testing Premier League stadium. Bale delivered a free kick after Chimbonda had been fouled by Nani, and Rocha’s header was off target, when he should have done better in front of the travelling fans.

The first penalty appeal came after Bale and Berbatov led a Spurs break. Bale lifted the ball into the area, and Berbatov and Vidic collided. The ball ran past Van Der Sar, and to his credit, Berbatov was chasing having had the last touch, only to see Ferdinand clear off the line. Berbatov had been too busy to appeal for the penalty. Spurs had broken so quickly that Webb was behind the play at this point, and could not respond to the baying of the Spurs fans for a penalty. When Berbatov drove Malbranque’s ball low towards goal, and Wes Brown dived down to his left, with his arm close to his shoulder, it was too much to bear to see the ball run out for a corner, and Mr Webb to clearly indicate “No Penalty!” United fans above us laughed, and we chanted “That’s why you’re Champions”

In those moments of indiscipline, United broke twice to devastating effect. First, Tevez threaded the ball to Nani on the left side of the box. Nani’s shot was parried away by Robinson, Tevez followed up, but Jenas was on site to clear the ball. Unfortunately no-one was going to stop Nani’s 68th minute 30 yarder, as the ball was fed to him from the right. Tevez might ultimately claim the goal, for his touch as the ball was on its way, but no-one was going to stop the goal. Old Trafford roared, and threw our chanted back in our faces with “That’s why we’re Champions”. Berbatov got a booking before the kick-off for his protests about Mr. Webb’s failure to award a penalty – particularly for the handball of Brown.

Taarabt got a late appearance, but struggled to pass the United barrier. There was one sublime piece of Berbatov skill, as he pulled down and controlled a ball from the right, beating Van Der Sar with his curling, dipping shot, that passed the top corner by only one foot. The Spurs crowd roared their team on to what would have been a deserved draw, but Bale’s delivery let him down for the first time, when he crossed low to a red-shirted player.

No Spurs fan in his right mind realistically expected anything from this game. We always hope for something of course, but we do at least expect a decent performance from our team. That was given emphatically, and we all know that we did deserve at least a point.

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