After the snow that had covered most of the country over the last few days and threatened to postponed the match, today’s fixture at White Hart Lane was always going to be about grit.
Plenty of it was spread across the northern corner of the capital to ensure the game could go on as normal, and United showed grit in abundance as they defended for their lives during a frantic second half.
Their defensive effort ultimately proved to be a few seconds too short, as Clint Dempsey tucked away Aaron Lennon’s pass in the last of three minutes of added time to deprive United of the chance of going seven points clear at the top.
The circumstances upon which the equaliser matured would have hurt the travelling fans as much as the players, but Spurs deserved to snatch a point for United sat back too deep and too soon.
A game that had started slowly, bursted into life after 25 minutes, when a lovely interchange of passes between Kagawa and Carrick freed Danny Welbeck out on the left, before the England international switched play for Cleverley who crossed for Van Persie to head home.
It was the Dutchman’s 18th league goal of the season, and one that highlighted how important Shinji Kagawa can be when played in the right position.
The Japanese was deployed just behind Van Persie, with Welbeck and Cleverley providing width ahead of a midfield that offered vision, in Carrick, and muscle – Phil Jones.
Both midfielders were superb throughout the 90 minutes, Carrick displaying the usual composure that has brought Sir Alex to describe this season as the Geordie’s best in a United shirt, while Jones staked a solid enough claim to be played as midfield destroyer more often.
Spurs that had so impressed at Old Trafford, were restricted to a wide shot by Defoe and an effort by Bale superbly saved by De Gea, after it had taken a deflection off Ferdinand.
Defoe went close again after the restart before Dempsey forced a fantastic instinct save from De Gea after Dembele had ghosted through the United back four.
With an hour gone Kagawa was replaced by Rooney and the United number 10 had almost an immediate impact on the proceedings, with a penalty shout against Steven Caulker turned down.
United were inviting Spurs on now, De Gea repelling another effort from Dempsey, before Welbeck failed to get on the end of a good cross from Rafael.
The fact that a player like Welbeck who works his socks off every game, plays where asked to and is wonderfully talented gets criticised by a section of the United fans, highlights how spoilt some supporters can be.
Ferdinand’s superb block on Defoe with little than 10 minutes to go seemed to have been enough for United to register their ninth win in the last 12 games at White Hart Lane but, just when Fergie was savouring a seven point gap, United’s defence finally gave way as Dempsey poked home a dramatic, but deserved, equaliser.
Different factors will provide United some solace tonight. Five points is still a decent, but by no means decisive, margin to have and the defensive performance was excellent for 92 minutes.
Furthermore, United have taken 10 points out of a possible 12 from the traditionally tricky fixtures v Liverpool, Chelsea, City and now Spurs, a trip to Arsenal remains the hardest challenge to navigate (on paper) between now and May.