Manchester United 2 Tottenham 0
Darron Gibson led the charge of the youth brigade as Manchester United marched into the Carling Cup semi-finals.
Tottenham travelled north hopeful of recording their first Old Trafford victory since 1989 and avenging their shoot-out defeat by Sir Alex Ferguson’s men in last season’s final.
But, once Gibson had fired home the first of a brilliant brace, Spurs never looked like ending their hoodoo.
Since United started their trophy gathering at the start of the 1990s, there are not many clubs whose record against the Old Trafford outfit bears intense scrutiny.
However, there are some who might as well cross their meetings with United out with a black marker as soon as the fixture list comes out.
Aston Villa are one, Everton another. Then there is Tottenham.
It is so long since Spurs won an away game against United that Gary Lineker scored the winner.
That is the history Harry Redknapp wanted to be challenged when he called on his team to prove their worth by winning away from home at a top-four club.
But scoring nine against Wigan is one thing, beating United on their own patch, even with a healthy smattering of youngsters, is quite another.
Tottenham did create chances. But every time Robbie Keane or Jermain Defoe got a sight of goal, a red shirt was in the way, usually Nemanja Vidic but also Ritchie De Laet, a young Belgian recruited from Stoke on the advice of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who proved more than David Bentley’s equal at left-back.
That De Laet should impress against an England international would have come as no surprise to Ferguson, who launched an impassioned pre-match defence of his youngsters, not for the first time insinuating the people who pontificate about such matters do not know what they are talking about.
In the wake of last week’s Champions League defeat by Besiktas, from which there were eight survivors, it was said there was “no tomorrow” for this team.
Ferguson won the debate hands down.
Danny Welbeck’s languid style proved difficult for Tottenham to subdue, Gabriel Obertan was a real menace on the right and Anderson dictated play from central midfield.
Anderson was accompanied in that task by Gibson, who as recently as three years ago was being championed by his manager for a long international career with Northern Ireland without Ferguson being fully aware of the Derry-born 22-year-old’s background.
After quite a bit of wrangling, the involvement of FIFA and use of the Good Friday Agreement, Gibson got his wish to play for the Republic.
But the passion to play for what he regards as his homeland is matched by his desire to make the grade at United, the team he snubbed the Northern Ireland Under-16 team for, a decision that led to a complete severing of ties.
If spectacular goals were the currency by which such status was gained, Gibson would already be in post.
The one he scored to beat Hull on the final day of last season was pretty memorable. His latest two efforts were equally as good.
Only 16 minutes were on the clock when Anderson cut in from the left flank and rolled a pass invitingly into Gibson’s path 25 yards out.
The first-time shot was lethal, flying like an arrow in the top corner, giving Heurelho Gomes not a chance of keeping it out.
Gibson’s second was another gem.
Park Ji-sung started the move, Berbatov took it on. Then Gibson got involved, playing a smart one-two with Welbeck before curling another first-time shot into the opposite corner, Gomes comprehensively beaten once more.
There might have been 51 minutes to play but, effectively, the tie was over.
If Bentley had been able to get the better of Tomasz Kuszczak from close range or steered a far-post header into the net, rather than hit the side of it, Spurs might have had the experience required to complete the comeback.
But they did not, and by the time Peter Crouch failed to find the target from inside the six-yard box in stoppage time, it was too late to matter anyway, sending Redknapp back to the drawing board and allowing Ferguson to enjoy another emphatic success in that personal duel with his inquisitors.