Cracking clash fails to lift AVB’s dark mood

Tottenham 2 Man United 2
This was Premier League football at its visceral best, a game played at 100 miles-per-hour with stunning goals, woeful defending and a result that wouldn’t have pleased either side.

After being behind twice this was a slightly better result for Manchester United and David Moyes than their hosts, but they had chances to win this.

That said, they should have lost. Andre Villas-Boas needed a performance to cement his position as Tottenham manager, and in large spells he got just that.

But an inability to hang onto the lead darkened a demeanour which has been the wrong side of black all week.

That is hardly surprising, as 6-0 defeats tend to make managers — and boards — rather tetchy.

Yet this should have been an opportunity to rise above it all, praise his team and move on to rather easier fixtures against Fulham and Sunderland.

But the Portuguese is a man who likes to pick a fight. Here at White Hart Lane it was with a journalist he believes is fanning the flames with opinion pieces — crucially, he respects reporters who are on the news beat but is less conciliatory towards the feature writers — and then Alan Sugar, the club’s former chairman who has been sniping all week.

This was more ammunition for those who believe Villas-Boas is paranoid or struggling under the strain.

In the end, it led to the odd situation where Manchester United were far from the main story, a club who are at present going about their business quietly and relatively assuredly.

They were not at their best here but maintained their record of not losing at White Hart Lane since 2001, although it helps if you have Wayne Rooney in this sort of form.

The striker was outstanding, scoring twice — the latter from the penalty spot — and giving Vlad Chiriches and Michael Dawson a torrid afternoon.

If ever Villas-Boas needed Rooney to have an off-day it was here.

The trip to Tromso in midweek was dominated by talk of his future, and numerous managers have been linked with his job.

It can’t be easy being Andre Villas-Boas, either. He claims to be immune to criticism yet snaps at regular intervals, while his demeanour on the touchline is one of a man who is going through agonies.

Ultimately, he never seems to be enjoying himself at work, and judging by the amount of time he seems to spend on the job there isn’t much room for anything else.

To sack him just four months after the club spent €129m on new players would be a hasty decision, but only wins can change the narrative surrounding their 36-year-old manager.

It seemed for large parts they might get one here.

Villas-Boas made the bold decision to start Nacer Chadli instead of Andros Townsend while he left club-record signing Erik Lamela out of his squad. There was far more balance with Sandro, Paulinho and Mousa Dembele in midfield, though, with Roberto Soldado less isolated up front than in previous matches.

They made early inroads and were rewarded when Jonny Evans took down Paulinho and Walker went for the unsubtle approach of smashing the free-kick underneath the wall as it jumped, giving David De Gea little chance.

Tottenham were well on top now and should have scored more, Soldado missing the finest chance when he blazed over after fine interplay with Paulinho.

The Spaniard has just one goal from open play in the Premier League this season and seems desperately short on confidence.

One player who is at the top of his game is Rooney, however. The striker is normally inventive enough without assistance from the opposition, but he was given a helping hand here when Walker inexplicably flicked a heel at Antonio Valencia’s cross and succeeded only in teeing up Rooney for a tap-in.

The full-back was disconsolate but in a game of contrasting fortunes the lead and momentum swung back to Spurs. This was a goal worthy of winning any match, Sandro striding forward and unleashing a vicious shot into the top corner from 30 yards. It was his first goal in exactly a year and Tottenham’s first league goal from open play in their last 84 attempts on goal.

Yet if it has not been difficult to see where their problems have been in the past, new difficulties are arising all the time.

Now it was the turn of Hugo Lloris to demonstrate that being a sweeper-keeper is not without danger, the Frenchman clipping Danny Welbeck for a penalty that seemed controversial on first viewing but was actually an excellent decision by Mike Dean.

Rooney shot down the middle; Lloris dived to the left.

Both sides pushed for a winner but failed to create a really clear-cut chance, with a draw just about fair. It means they are now 10 and nine points behind leaders Arsenal respectively, which is hardly ideal.

Yet both could have looked at the positives — or would have done until Villas-Boas took out his frustrations at the end of a long, trying week.

TOTTENHAM: Lloris 5, Walker 6, Dawson 6, Chiriches 6, Vertonghen 6, Sandro 8, Dembele 7, Lennon 7 (Townsend, 65; 7), Paulinho 8, Chadli 5 (Sigurdsson, 85; 6), Soldado 6 (Defoe, 72; 6).

MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea 7, Evra 6, Vidic 7, Evans 6, Smalling 7, Cleverley 7, Jones 6, Welbeck 7 (Hernandez, 73; 6), Kagawa 6 (Young, 84; 6), Valencia 6 (Nani, 84; 6), Rooney 9.

Referee: Mike Deane.


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