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Manchester United v Spurs, 30.10.10

(5.30 p.m.)

Vidic, 31
Nani, 84

Attendance:- 75,223

Referee:- Mark Clattenburg
Assistants:- Mr. D. Cann & Mr. S. Beck
Fourth official:- Mr. M. Halsey

Man Utd (4-4-2):- Van der Sar; Rafael (sub Brown, 64), Ferdinand, Vidic (Capt.), Evra; Nani, Carrick, Fletcher, Park Ji-Sung; Hernandez (sub Obertan, 87), Berbatov (sub Scholes, 64)

Subs not used:- Kuszczak; Smalling, O’Shea; Bebe

No Bookings

Spurs (4-4-1-1):- Gomes; Hutton, Gallas, Kaboul, Ekotto; Lennon, Jenas (sub Palacios, 66), Modric, Bale; Van der Vaart (sub Crouch, 77); Keane (Capt.) (sub Pavlyuchenko, 62) (Armband to Modric)
Subs not used:- Cudicini; Bassong; Kranjcar, Sandro

Booked:- Gallas, Kaboul, Modric

Forget the farce. Spurs were second-best.

All the headlines and talk after the game has been about the farcical nature of Manchester United’s second match-clinching goal, and the relationship of referee Mark Clattenburg with Spurs. In truth, despite a mere one goal lead, the game had already been won by the home side, as Spurs looked less and less likely to score despite an increased amount of possession in the second half. What was very disappointing was the apparent lack of work ethic in too many areas of the Spurs side, and the selection of Keane as lone striker which suggested that Harry Redknapp had more than half an eye on Tuesday’s game with Inter. It’s no use prioritising Champions League football if you look less and less likely to qualify from this year’s Premier League competition.

Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a strong side, but in resting Scholes he too was perhaps thinking about his next game. Anticipating Spurs 4-4-1-1 formation, Sir Alex set out with a very attacking 4-4-2, which looked more like 4-2-4 in the opening stages as the “Red Devils” came out of the blocks very fast and surged forward with Nani and Park Ji-Sung causing the Spurs midfield and defence too many problems. United’s players always seemed to find that extra bit of space for themselves, and Spurs were just not quite keeping up with them, always on the back foot. That said, Spurs did play well in spasms, and both sides went close hitting the post in the early exchanges.

After only the first minute, Park picked up a weak defensive header by Kaboul, ran around his marker and hit a right foot shot low past Gomes’ right hand, hitting the outside of the post. Nani was diving very early as well, seeking a foul or a penalty at Gomes’ expense, but Mr Clattenburg waved that appeal away, without punishment of course to a red shirted player for cheating. In fact the referee showed blindness towards infringements by United players that were just as bad if not worse than those of Gallas and Kaboul that meant the Spurs central defenders did have the handicap of early bookings.

Van der Vaart responded well for Spurs after 5 minutes, robbing the ball in the midfield, nearly losing it back, but then unleashing a left foot shot that beat Van der Sar in the same way as Park had beaten Gomes. Van der Vaart’s shot also hit the United post. Touché! This was followed by a decent move when Jenas sent a good ball to Keane, who did well with his back to goal, passing to Lennon, whose cross was met by Van der Vaart, who fired over.

Park hit a shot over the target and Gomes was the busier of the two keepers throughout the game. He parried a shot by former Spur Michael Carrick, before Bale had the beating of Rafael getting to the line but seeing his cross/shot saved by Van der Sar. Gomes then made a save from Fletcher, before Kaboul was penalised and booked for a foul outside the angle of the Spurs area. Nani swung in a free kick from the United right and skipper Vidic beat any supposed markers heading into the corner of the net for a lead which never looked truly threatened. Modric did have a good shot saved well by Van der Sar after a Bale corner, but at the other end United got the ball out to Berbatov who ghosted in from the left side to threaten Gomes’ goal. The keeper made a solid save. Gomes had to make another save from the same player hitting a left foot shot from the left of the box. Spurs were defending quite desperately but ultimately successfully going into the break.

After the interval, Spurs did seem to control possession more without penetrating to any degree. However, their first move of note came after 59 minutes, when Modric led the break from defence and Bale made a run across the outside of the area from left to right, hitting a right foot shot wide across Van der Sar.

Keane was replaced by Pavlyuchenko, and the action continued with Jenas fouling Evra in a dangerous spot. The free kick was saved. In a round of more substitutions, Jenas was next off for Spurs, replaced by Palacios. After an error by Kaboul, Hernandez hit a good shot above Gomes, but the keeper simply plucked the ball out of the air with both hands. Lennon and Bale switched sides. Lennon had been getting no change out of Evra, but in truth, Hutton had been working harder down Lennon’s flank anyway. Bale got a ball in to Van der Vaart from the right flank, but the shot was held. Van der Vaart went off with a hamstring problem, which will cause anxiety for Tuesday’s game against Inter. That enforced the final substitution of Crouch, as Spurs reverted to 4-4-2.

The end of the game was dominated by an event you will all have seen and formed a view upon. I have yet to watch any TV replay, but what I recall is Nani going over in the area, after a penalty and having his appeal dismissed by Clattenburg. Gomes clearly thought a free kick had been given and rolled the ball out ahead of him to take a free kick. Nani was the alert opportunist (as Keane has been in the past) and crept around Gomes, simply taking a pot shot at goal. The goal was allowed by the referee to great clamour by Spurs, who pointed to the linesman whose flag was raised. Apparently he was waving for a handball by Nani after he had gone down. The referee seems to have said to the linesman that he had also seen that, and allowed play-on. Gomes had not understood that message. Hence the farce but technically correct decision. On the other hand, why did the referee not stop the game for diving and deliberate handball by Nani, which surely deserved a booking? The debate went on all night, but the figures will always show that Spurs lost 2-0, and we cannot argue about the defeat.

The bottom line is that Spurs are still a work in progress and have quite a way to go if they want to consistently challenge those top places. The 17 year quest for an away win on one of the “top four” grounds continues.

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