Every title race has a decisive moment and it was hard to escape the feeling that those at White Hart Lane may well have witnessed this year’s turning point.
With 11 games remaining and Manchester City still two points clear at the head of the table, not even Alex Ferguson would confidently declare the momentum had shifted emphatically in his Manchester United side’s favour.
But the title more often than not goes to the team that is most able to secure victory when they least deserve it and on that count alone, United offered a compelling case to retain the title.
Overwhelmed for the first hour of this game, Ferguson’s side were forced onto the back foot and grateful for the performance of David De Gea together with the decision-making of referee Martin Atkinson.
But having withstood intense home pressure, United had the nous and the quality to capitalise on two Tottenham mistakes before Ashley Young produced a moment of outstanding individual ability to wrap up the game with the 69th minute third.
It was Young’s second impressive finish of the game — he had put United two up on the hour — and, together with Wayne Rooney’s header on the stroke of half time, ensured the visitors returned to the north-west with three valuable points while Jermain Defoe’s 86th minute effort was scant reward for the home side’s impressive efforts.
Young, then, took the plaudits and quite rightly given the eye-catching qualities of his two goals. With chances few and far between for United, it was vital they made the most of every opportunity that came their way and the England winger played his role tom perfection when he caught sight of goal.
The more telling, less noticeable, elements of United’s performance, though, was the resilience they showed when put under the cosh by a Tottenham side that had been revived by Redknapp in the wake of last weekend’s defeat at Arsenal.
Tottenham’s response yesterday was admirable, particularly so after Gareth Bale was forced to withdraw after an overnight virus, and evident from the opening stages when Emmanuel Adebayor and Louis Saha both tested De Gea.
The United keeper has come in for plenty of criticism this season but he demonstrated his qualities as a shot-stopper throughout the game, although his tendency to flap at crosses resurfaced in the second half.
Overall though, he provided a much needed safety net and when he was beaten in the 37th minute, United were reprieved by Atkinson who decided Adebayor had handled the ball before backheeling into the net.
A Tottenham goal then may have changed the complexion of the match, but instead it was United who went ahead when Rooney evaded the attentions of Kyle Walker to find enough space to head home from Young’s corner just before half-time.
If Spurs were deflated, they didn’t show it, quickly laying siege to De Gea’s goal with Jake Livermore this time testing the goalkeeper. But poor marking at a throw in allowed Nani to advance to the byline before pulling back a low cross found its way past Walker and to Young who volleyed spectacularly into the far corner.
Worse was to come for the home side when Young picked up the ball in space, advanced towards the edge of the box and curled a fine shot beyond Brad Friedel.
Defoe capitalised on Ryan Giggs’ wayward pass four minutes from time to end De Gea’s hopes of clean sheet but by then the game was well and truly over.
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