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Man Utd v Spurs, 24.04.10

BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
SATURDAY 24TH APRIL, 2010
MANCHESTER UNITED 3 (0) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (0)

United scorers:-
Giggs (2 pens), 58,86
Nani, 81

Spurs scorer:-
King, 70

Attendance:- 75,268

Referee:- Mr. A. Marriner
Assistants:- Mr. P. Keane & Mr. A. Watts
Fourth Official:- Mr. L. Mason

Teams:-
Man Utd (4-4-1-1):- Van Der Sar; Rafael (sub Macheda, 79), Evans, Vidic, Evra (sub O’Shea, 67); Valencia (sub Carrick, 59), Fletcher, Scholes, Nani; Giggs (Capt.); Berbatov

Subs not used:- Kuszczak; Brown; Hargreaves, Gibson

Booked:- Nani

Spurs (4-4-2):- Gomes; Ekotto, Dawson, King (Capt.), Bale; Bentley (sub Lennon, 66), Huddlestone, Palacios, Modric; Pavlyuchenko (sub Crouch, 75), Defoe (sub Gudjohnsen, 55)

Subs not used:- Alnwick; Kaboul, Bassong; Jenas

No Bookings

Harry messed up again

Spurs still have fourth place within their own grasp, but in the final analysis, I have to conclude that once again in a big game, manager Harry Redknapp messed up. I expected him to ring one or two changes to accommodate the return of Wilson Palacios and Ledley King, but the replacement of Younes Kaboul with Benoit Assou-Ekotto at right back was a real surprise. Both Kaboul and Ekotto are left footed, but if anything, Ekotto favours his left foot far more than Kaboul, who after all had successfully negotiated the Arsenal and Chelsea games in that position. By moving Ekotto to right back, and Gareth Bale to left back, surely surrendered some initiative to Manchester United at the outset. Spurs optimists will argue that we were level going into the last 10 minutes, but by that time we were already playing for a draw, when with nothing to lose, we could have attacked more vehemently.

My pre-match waves of optimism were buoyed by the news that United would be without Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand, and United fans were desperate for a win to stay in the Title race, whilst for Spurs defeat was never going to be disastrous. Spurs started the game positively, with Bale and Modric to the fore down that left flank, and got level with a great (possibly illegal) headed equaliser by skipper Ledley King, but my post match pessimism was not helped by the fact that after our equaliser, we let United come onto us too much, ultimately succumbing to two late goals.

Wilson Palacios looked a little ring rusty to say the least, giving away crucial possession in the early stages, when Michael Dawson rescued the situation for Spurs, and also – when standing in at right back – conceding United’s second penalty. Palacios’s form was an argument in favour of NOT changing the Spurs winning team that had performed so heroically against Arsenal and Chelsea.

United lined up with skipper Ryan Giggs in support of Berbatov, and Valencia and Nani on the flanks, with the experience of Fletcher and Scholes in the middle. Rafael was chosen rather than Gary Neville at right back, and as it happened, Bale was in a more withdrawn role anyway, thus neutralising some of Spurs potential. Modric played on the left of the Spurs midfield, with both Defoe and Pavlyuchenko up front. Aaron Lennon was on the bench, but was not introduced to replace Bentley until the 67th minute.

After Michael Dawson’s early rescuing of Palacios losing possession in crucial positions, Spurs did have a promising move through Modric, Pavlyuchenko and Defoe. Dawson was then having to block tackle Berbatov, who ended on his knees, after a second error by Palacios. In truth, the game did not fizz for a long time, and there was no direct shot on goal until well into the half. Bentley was proving a bit of a liability too in important areas, and one broken down move ended with a back pass from Dawson going a little short, but Gomes was out to claim the ball before Berbatov could reach it.

Pavlyuchenko did get a good effort on target after 28 minutes, following a ball from Huddlestone, but Van Der Sar saved with ease. Valencia was then afforded too much space on the United right flank, hitting a shot across Gomes, which the Spurs keeper also saved. Berbatov wasted a good opportunity with a wide shot too. Evra picked up a Gomes clearance and made a run ahead of Nani for the return ball, making it all the way to the Spurs area, where the United left back fired over the bar. Bentley did manage to get past Evra soon after that and was fouled on the edge of the United area by Nani, who got the only yellow card of the day for the foul. Bale hit the free kick over the target. Bentley also deserves credit for a bit of good defending backing up Ekotto, just before the end of the half, but sadly, Tom Huddlestone messed up in the middle – giving United a chance which led to a corner. At half-time we were quite happy to be level, and would of course have taken the draw after 90 minutes.

Spurs had a half chance at the start of the second half, playing towards their very vocal support. Bentley crossed and Defoe got a vital touch to feed Pavlyuchenko whose shot went wide. Following a Man United corner and a cross by Evra, Berbatov headed wide to the delight of his former fans. Wilson Palacios rode a foul or two making territorial gain in the middle, and then a shot was saved by Van Der Sar, diving to his left, without difficulty.

Spurs replaced Defoe with Gudjohnsen, who seemed to take up station within the midfield, indicating a degree of surrender of initiative by Spurs, in my opinion. Soon after that Ekotto committed a quite naďve foul on Evra in the Spurs area, and the referee had an easy decision to make with the penalty award. Giggs took the kick, scoring to the right of Gomes. In fairness to the referee, I thought he had a good game, resisting the usual Old Trafford pressure upon the officials, and upsetting the home fans more than those who followed Spurs.

After 62 minutes, Modric fed Bale, whose cross went deep for Ekotto to return it to the danger zone. Bentley couldn’t get the ball from under his feet, and United broke clear. Bentley was replaced by Lennon, and now Bale played in front of Ekotto, with Palacios acting as right back. Spurs got an equaliser through a Ledley King header from Gareth Bale’s 70th minute corner, and Spurs were back in the game. Lennon soon suffered at the feet of United’s own substitute O’Shea (who had replaced the ill Evra), but O’Shea got no card for a quite cynical foul. After the free kick, Lennon’s cross was held by Van Der Sar.

Now Pavlyuchenko was replaced by Crouch, but the traffic was going the other way, as Gomes had to make saves from a Fletcher cross and a Nani shot. United were clearly getting desperate as Fletcher took over at right back, as Rafael was replaced by a striker – Macheda. Soon after that, United’s adventure was rewarded when Macheda fed Nani for a superb chipped goal over Gomes. Spurs tried to respond through a Gudjohnsen cross from the left, and a Crouch header, before Huddlestone and Bale fed Crouch again, who fired wide.

The game was put well and truly beyond Spurs capabilities, when Palacios naively fouled Nani for a second penalty, which Giggs planted this time to the left of Gomes. Spurs responded with an attempt to feed Crouch, who failed with the chance presented to him by the work of Gudjohnsen and Modric.

Spurs next trip to Manchester on 5th May is looking more and more decisive. Let’s hope that Harry gets his selection and strategy right for that game!

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