Sheffield United: 3
Tottenham Hotspur: 1
Games turn on fine margins, managers often say, and Jose Mourinho had no doubt what was the turning point in a highly controversial match that brought Sheffield United back into contention for a top four finish, while effectively ending Tottenham's hopes of Champions League football.
Mourinho was livid that Harry Kane had an equaliser ruled out by VAR in the 33rd minute, shortly after United had taken the lead. He had some justification, after a decision by Video Assistant Referee Michal Oliver that was widely criticised.
When football's lawmakers sit down to review what a mess they have made of a relatively simple game, there is one clip from this game they need to watch.
When Harry Kane put the ball in the Sheffield United net to equalise Sander Berge's opening goal two minutes earlier, it looked like a fine piece of refereeing by Chris Kavanagh, who had spotted a foul on Lucas Moura in the build-up, but held back from whistling and allowed Spurs the advantage to play on. It looked a good decision as the ball cannoned off the prone Moura into the path of Kane, who cut inside and drilled the ball home.
But Oliver, watching a screen in Stockley Park 175 miles away, decided to intervene. Replays showed Moura had been tripped by Berge but once he had fallen to the ground, the ball hit him on the shoulder as a defender tried to clear. That, under current rules, was enough for Oliver to overturn Kavanagh's decision. What was baffling – and ridiculous – was that the referee then awarded Sheffield United a free-kick for handball instead of giving Spurs a free-kick for the foul that he had originally spotted. Tottenham's players were incensed and so was Mourinho, who laid into Oliver but also criticised his players for letting the injustice get to them.
Instead of drawing level in a game Spurs needed to win, they went backwards and were 3-0 behind by the time Kane finally scored a legitimate 89th minute goal, after having three ruled out.
“We have to be better, mentally stronger, to cope with what happened,” he said.
“We cannot mentally die after Michael Oliver's decision. I know it was very difficult to take, a kick in the teeth, but with 50 minutes to go we have to be mentally stronger.” And defensively stronger too, he might have added. Tottenham's defending was awful and allowed United, who had fallen off the pace since football resumed with two defeats and a draw, scoring none and conceding six.
But Tottenham's feeble defending allowed the Blades to change tack and take the lead in the 30th minute. Ireland defender John Egan started the move with a smart ball into Berge on the edge of Tottenham's penalty area. The Norwegian swept the ball to the right, and when Chris Basham cut the ball back to him, Berge took a touch unchallenged inside the penalty area before scuffing a shot into the far corner of goal. It was Berge's first goal since he became the club's record signing in January, but it was all too easy for him to find the time and space to shoot.
United deserved to be ahead as Spurs hardly managed an attack until Kane shot high and wide halfway through the first half. The England captain also put a free-kick over the bar just before Berge scored, and it was not to be his night, as Oliver's controversial intervention proved.
United started the second-half stronger, too, and Ireland striker David McGoldrick hit a half-volley into the sidenetting before being replaced by Lys Mousset, who soon doubled United's lead with a tap-in from three yards, in what was a mirror image of Berge's goal. This time the build-up was on the left, as Ben Osborn combined with Enda Stevens. The Irishman cut to the byline and cut the ball back for a simple finish by Mousset, who was unmarked in the middle of goal.
And it was another defensive disaster from Tottenham that allowed Oli Mcburnie to score the goal he deserved. The Scotland international had run his rolled down socks off, and got his just desserts when he clipped home Berge's low cross at the near post six minutes from time.
Kane had two more efforts disallowed – for offside and then a foul - before he finally got his 199th club goal, in the closing minutes, but it was of little consolation for him or Tottenham, who are now ninth and way off the pace.
But for Chris Wilder and his super sharp Blades, the race is back on for a place in the Champions League. And having had plenty of contentious decisions go against his side, Wilder had limited sympathy for Mourinho. “We are the unofficial champions of Europe when it comes to VAR decisions going against us, so I understand the manager's frustration,” he said with a wry smile.
Sheffield United 3-5-2
Henderson 6; Basham 7, Egan 7, Robinson 7; Baldock 7, Berge 8, Norwood 6, Osborn 6, Stevens 7; McBurnie 8 Freeman (90), McGoldrick 6 (Mousset 63)
Tottenham Hotspur 4-2-3-1
Lloris 6; Aurier 6, Sanchez 5, Dier 5, Davies 5 (Vertonghen 81); Sissoko 6 (Alli 71), Lo Celso 4; Moura 6, Son 5, Bergwijn 6 (Lamela 56); Kane 6
Ref Chris Kavanagh