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Spurs v Manchester United, 28.12.14

(12 noon)

Attendance:- 35,711

Referee: -Jonathan Moss
Assistants:- S Bennett, S Long
Fourth Official:- L Mason

Spurs (4-2-3-1):- Lloris (Capt.); Chiriches, Fazio, Vertonghen, Davies; Stambouli, Mason; Townsend (sub Dembele, 79), Eriksen, Chadli (sub Lamela, 79); Kane

Subs not used:- Vorm; Walker, Dier; Paulinho; Soldado

Booked:- Stambouli (foul), Townsend (foul on Young)

Man Utd (3-5-2):- De Gea; Jones; McNair (sub Shaw, 76), Evans (sub Smalling, 72); Valencia (sub Rafael, 46), Mata, Carrick, Rooney (Capt.), Young; Van Persie, Falcao

Subs not used;- Lindegaard; Fletcher, Pereira; Wilson

Booked:- Young (foul on Chadli), McNair (foul on Kane), Falcao (foul on Lamela), Rafael (foul on Eriksen)

A good point, well won

The year ended as it had begun, with a game against Manchester United. On New Year’s Day we had gained our second successive away win at Old Trafford. Today, we gained our third consecutive home point against a team that, historically, has dominated us in the Premier League. However, currently, they have not managed a win against us in five games. It could so easily have been a win for the visitors today, because, after a bright start by Spurs, United were all over us like a rash, taking advantage of the space being found by their wing men, particularly Ashley Young. Then there was Mata, who was very influential in a central midfield spot. One of Mata’s midfield colleagues, captain Wayne Rooney, was almost quiet by comparison.

There was a goal-line clearance or two by Spurs in the first half, and Mata’s free kick rebounded off the post. Robin van Persie was also somewhat profligate in front of goal, taking three touches before testing Lloris, who actually was not tested by this effort. Hugo was kept busy in the first half.

It was a classic game of two halves though, as United tired in the second half (their team was unchanged from Boxing Day), whereas Spurs did have some fresh legs, and clearly had a game plan in the second half to get stuck in, close down the opposition and break up their flow of play. This they succeeded in doing, with Stambouli and Mason to the fore in this regard. None of the players could be criticised for effort though, and whilst we didn’t forge as many chances as United had in the first half, we did look the more likely side to win. The point was well deserved.

Louis van Gaal’s 3-5-2 has variety. Whilst both Ashley Young and Valencia were wing-backs, it was Young who was given more freedom to go forward, whilst the right wing-back (Rafael in the second half) would support the back three, and make a virtual back four. Michael Carrick played at the back of midfield, with Mata and Rooney in front of him, and van Persie and Falcao up front. The United players did not like the physical battle, and individuals such as Falcao and Young would often seek to make a meal of strong challenges.

Mauricio Pochettino made four changes, with the full backs fresh, and Ryan Mason starting beside Stambouli. Andros Townsend was presumably deployed to try and keep Ashley Young busy at the United end, but this strategy did not work much of the time in the first half, Our “own” players such as Kane, Townsend and Mason did often show they had plenty of understanding of each other’s play, to good effect.

The game was played in bright sunshine, and I believe that United chose to kick towards their fans in the first half, with the intention presumably for Lloris to disadvantaged more than De Gea by the sun after the break.

There was a generous tribute to our recently deceased club historian Andy Porter in the programme, written by United’s club statistician Cliff Butler. When you recall the banner tribute offered at Anfield last Spring, after the loss of Darren Alexander, you are reminded that there is class among fans of all persuasions. The United fans present were very vocal, but quietened in the second half.

The game was preceded with a one minute applause for Spurs Double legend Ron Henry, who passed away this week, at the age of 80.

Spurs did make a bright start with passing play including clever touches. A Townsend cross from the right was met at the back post by Chadli, but his header was easy for De Gea. After 6 minutes, Harry Kane retained the ball after some good battling play, giving the ball to the advancing Ryan Mason, whose powerful shot was half blocked, before De Gea saved low at his left post.

Mata was fouled on 9 minutes, and from his free kick, Lloris was happy to push the ball around his back post. Mata then hit a good cross field ball to Ashley Young, who hit a good cross, which was headed clear by Jan Vertonghen. Mata then put Falcao through, but the defender just managed to do enough to take the sting out of Falcao’s shot, which was fielded by Lloris.

Chadli crossed from the left and the ball reached Townsend beyond the back post. Andros clipped the ball to Harry Kane, but his shot was held by De Gea. The game was living up to the traditional reputation of a Spurs-United match. Kane again won the ball in the middle and gave Townsend a chance. Andros hit a good low powerful shot held by the keeper.

After 21 minutes, Van Persie was fouled by Vertonghen. Mata took the kick, which was deflected through the wall, and rebounded off Lloris’s left post. There was another goal-line clearance, which I thought was by Vertonghen, but the officials had spotted an offside.

Kane found Mason with a ball, which Mason got a header on, but De Gea claimed the ball. After an error by Ben Davies, the ball ran United’s way and Falcao got through, but Hugo held his effort. Carrick clipped a long ball into the Spurs are where Van Persie must have taken three touches, trying to beat Lloris to his right with his final attempt. This was easy meat for our heroic goalkeeper, who was our man of the match today. Lloris also held Rooney’s header from Young’s cross.

Young had a great attempt on goal after 44 minutes, after another great cross field pass from the right. Young hit a shot towards Lloris’s left corner, but the keeper dived and pushed the ball around with his right (upper) hand. This was his best save of the game.

After the break, Van Gaal replaced the injured Valencia with Rafael. It wasn’t long before United players started getting niggly, with young booked for a foul on Chadli. Spurs had a little early pressure, winning two or three corners.

United did have a rare second half chance, which Van Persie hit over with his first time shot from Mata’s cross. Van Persie clattered Vertonghen deep in the Spurs half, but received no punishment whatsoever. Townsend hit a good right footed effort, which was held by De Gea, before at the other end, Rafael crossed and this time Mata scooped over. Again, Spurs got nothing for an apparent foul on Townsend advancing down the right channel, after good work by Eriksen and Chadli.

After a Spurs free kick, Fazio, who had obviously advanced for the dead ball situation, was still in the area, and got a shot on goal, saved by De Gea in the corner. Van Gaal made two more substitutions, both of which were defenders. He seems to be short on manpower with injuries to the likes of Di Maria, Fellaini, Rojo, and Blind, to name just four.

Eriksen was fouled just outside the box, and took the free kick himself, with De Gea saving with a dive to his right. Dembele and Lamela joined the fray, and I thought Dembele in particular applied himself fully to the ethos of breaking up the opposition play. After 81 minutes, Harry Kane fought off three opponents, before feeding the ball to Mason, advancing again down the left channel. Mason hit a powerful shot, but it passed just over the target. This had arguably been our best chance.

In my view, it was once again Spurs who looked the more likely winners in the closing stages, with most of the play in the United half. There was an incident in the second half when harry Kane went down and had a possible penalty, but he gets up so quickly (unlike others on the field!) and gets on with the game, rather than consciously appealing. In any event, this was a referee who ignored several tough challenges upon Spurs players today.

Here’s hoping we can manage at least a similar result on New Year’s Day against Chelsea. Whatever happens, let’s all have a Happy New Year!

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