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Spurs v Manchester United, 13.12.08

BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
SATURDAY 13TH DECEMBER, 2008
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0 (0) MANCHESTER UNITED 0 (0)

Attendance: - 35,882

Referee: - Mike Dean

Teams:-
Spurs (4-4-1-1):- Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, Woodgate (Capt.) (sub Huddlestone, 10), Ekotto; Bentley, Jenas (sub O’Hara, 61), Zokora, Lennon; Modric; Pavlyuchenko (sub Bent, 54)
(Armband to Jenas, then to Dawson)
Subs not used: - Cesar; Gunter, Bale; Boateng

Booked: - Huddlestone

Man Utd (4-4-2):- Van Der Sar; Rafael, Ferdinand (Capt.), Vidic, O’Shea; Park, Fletcher (sub Scholes, 68), Carrick, Ronaldo; Berbatov, Tevez (sub Giggs, 68)

Subs not used: - Kusczak; Neville, Anderson, Nani; Evans

Booked: - Rafael

Gomes the hero

The fact that Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes was the undoubted man of the match does indicate that United had the better of the game overall. The award was more than justified because of his reflex saves throughout, improved handling, and two quite spectacular saves late in the second half to preserve Spurs’ fourth clean sheet in 6 games. Spurs have now played each of the traditional “top four” (Arsenal have been overtaken by Villa), and not lost. Spurs also remain the only team to have beaten league leaders Liverpool this season, so there is plenty for us to crow about.

Spurs did take the game to United at times, and tested Van Der Sar, particularly in the first half, when we had the better of the chances. There were also plenty of performances to savour in the Spurs side, not least the defending of Michael Dawson, who ran Gomes close for that Man of the Match award. Spurs lost Jonathan Woodgate early on (with what appeared to be a back problem), and Corluka moved inside next to Dawson, whilst another hero of the day, Didier Zokora, moved to right back where for most of the game he had the task of keeping Ronaldo quiet. Zokora succeeded for the better part of the 90 minutes too! Lennon was never allowed access to the right side, but still dazzled at times, whilst Modric showed his sublime skills, with a few goal attempts, but some mis-placed passes.

Former Spur, Dimitar Berbatov was booed throughout, and policed well, although in the second half, he withdrew to a deeper role, and often provided telling balls for the likes of Tevez. Ledley King failed the late fitness test, but was the only major absentee for the home side, whilst United fielded a strong unit, missing the suspended Rooney and Evra.

The United fans were confined to the lower south-west corner, where their allocation had been reduced due to their persistent standing. Such a move must be considered a warning shot for all fans. As an away supporter, I tend to be on my feet throughout most of our away games. With the current furore over Spurs chants, the abuse of Berbatov was restricted to acceptable levels.

It was United who had the early pressure, without causing real danger, before Modric slipped the ball to Bentley, who crossed, when Pavlyuchenko slipped in the box as the ball neared him. Bentley then had a terrific left footed shot across Van Der Sar, who flew to save well. Woodgate was lost to that early injury and replaced by Tom Huddlestone who played beside Jenas, whilst Zokora moved to right back, and Corluka partnered Dawson. There were several occasions in this early phase when Jenas and Modric were combining well, without offering a penetrative final ball.

Huddlestone sent Lennon away after 28 minutes, and Aaron cut in from the left before letting loose a decent shot to the right of Van Der Sar, who did not save cleanly. United were awarded an offside decision as Spurs tried to follow up the Lennon shot. Spurs then defended a 31st minute Unite corner well, with Jenas blocking a dangerous shot by Vidic. After a poor free kick by Bentley (sadly a trait in this game, as so often so far this season), United broke forward and Tevez got the better of the covering defenders, before hitting a cross that Gomes seemed to touch clear, despite the fact Spurs were awarded the throw when the ball passed safely out of play.

Zokora hit a terrific near post cross from the right, and Luka Modric ghosted in to head outside the keeper’s left post. There was some more good defending by Spurs as Ronaldo managed to get inside the area. Huddlestone hit a pile-driver of a shot that was on target, but blocked by the unfortunate (and hurt!) Pavlyuchenko. In added time Gomes was down well to a low shot by Rio Ferdinand.

One of the problems for Spurs, I think, was the fact that for a lot of the game they were playing with the psychology of an away side. Sadly the ball was returned to their own half after clearances were not collected and held up by the lone front man, be it Pavlyuchenko or his replacement Bent. In this sense, the player we missed most was on the other side, pulling the strings more and more after having been well and truly stemmed in the first half.

Berbatov tried to put in Tevez within a minute of the re-start, but Gomes was alert and collected on the edge of his area. Berbatov had started this move from his own half, where he found more space. Dawson made a great recovery against his former team-mate to chase him and deprive him of the ball with a supremely timed tackle to concede a corner. United did have the ball in the net after the corner through Ronaldo, but he had handled it, although he got no punishment. Later in the game he got away with taking a kick at Dawson too!

On the hour, Berbatov fed Tevez again and the Argentinean hit a right footed rising shot which was grabbed cleanly by Gomes. Rafael got booked for a cynical foul on Lennon who was breaking clear, but the free kick was wasted. Jenas was replaced by Jamie O’Hara, who continued his good form from Monday night. Bentley did hit a dangerous free kick after 62 minutes that was tipped over for a corner.

Sir Alex Ferguson made a double substitution of Fletcher and Tevez for Scholes and Giggs respectively. Thereafter Giggs took the United corners, of which there were too many, causing pressure for the defence. Gomes made a good save low to his left from a Vidic header, and soon after Ferdinand had a header that skimmed the top of the bar. Gomes then made a good reflex save from Carrick, against whom Corluka’s attempted clearance had really bounced back towards goal.

Park was the next to test Gomes, with a powerful shot from the left that the keeper tipped over. Modric forged a chance after winning the ball in the midfield and making a run into the area, where his goal-bound shot was deflected wide for a Spurs corner. Bent had a header over the bar after a Spurs throw on the left, but it was fittingly Gomes who had the last word, with a fantastic flying save as he dived to his left to punch Giggs’ free kick wide with his right hand. It was the sort of performance by the Spurs keeper that he gave against us when playing for PSV last season, and ultimately one that ensured Spurs took a share of the points to climb one further place up the table.

Spurs can travel to Newcastle next Sunday with confidence, but first we have the final UEFA Cup group game against Spartak Moscow. See you there!

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