Manchester United followed the “smash and grab” cliché to perfection as Ashley Young struck twice in the second half to seal a huge win for the Reds, which keeps them within two points of league leaders Manchester City.
Wayne Rooney had put United ahead on the stroke of half time – confirming his status as big game player – the only time they had looked dangerous in the first 45 minutes, while Jermain Defoe got a late consolation goal for Spurs.
Ferguson had described this fixture as the one to “survive” in order to keep his team’s title dreams alive and chose an attacking line-up with Rooney and Welbeck up-front, supported by Young, Nani, Scholes and Carrick in midfield while the back five were unchanged.
Spurs, who hadn’t won in their last 21 Premier League games against United, were without the suspended Parker, with the injured Bale and Van der Vaart also missing.
The home side were quickly on top though, with Sandro and Livermore chasing and pressing Scholes and Carrick in midfield, leaving the United duo no time on the ball, while Modric and Lennon were happy to drift inside from the wings as United seemed happy to sit back.
The first real opening of the game came after 19 minutes when, after a poor clearance by DeGea, Sandro headed in the path of Emmanuel Adebayor whose low shot was well parried by the young Spaniard.
Adebayor then had a goal ruled out for handball, as he was judged to have adjusted the ball with his left arm before flicking it in the back of the net after he had been struck by a Louis Saha’s shot, following an excellent run from Lennon.
Spurs enjoyed the better of the possession while United held on, superbly marshaled by the excellent Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans.
The duo have been in excellent form throughout the last few weeks and their performances will be pivotal to United’s fortunes for the rest of the campaign.
United would have been happy to go in level at half time but found themselves ahead when Wayne Rooney eluded Kyle Walker’s attention to head in a corner from Ashley Young just as the clock signaled 45 minutes.
The striker has now scored three goals against Arsenal and Chelsea and two against Liverpool, City and Spurs this season.
Spurs started the second half in the same attacking fashion and DeGea rescued United with a wonderful save, after Livermore’s shot had been deflected by Saha.
Redknapp’s men looked dangerous every time they had the ball, with Assou-Ekotto hitting the top of the crossbar with a sweetly struck free-kick, but United were to find solace on the break yet again.
Welbeck earned a throw on Tottenham’s left flank and the Spurs’ defence was caught napping as Nani was allowed to run unmark in the box before slipping the ball towards Rooney.
Walker’s attempted clearance sent the ball looping towards Ashley Young at the far post, and the former Villa man composed himself in time to hit a perfect volley to give United a 2-0 lead against the run of play.
The North Londoners couldn’t regroup and Defoe’s goal late following a misplaced pass from Ryan Giggs – who had replaced fellow veteran Paul Scholes while Park had come on for a largely below par Nani – was nothing more than a consolation.
United will be delighted with the result if not with the performance that was patchy for large spells of the game and have now no games left against top six opponents until they face City away on the 30th of April after registering away wins at Arsenal, Norwich and Tottenham, an away draw at Chelsea – after having been 3-0 down – and a home win against Liverpool.
Today’s result was the sign of a team that has got every chance of winning the league. Much like a cyclist who refuses to give in to the runaway leader in a mountain stage, United are firmly on City’s tail and will be buoyed by their recent results.
Furthermore, United have been there before. City have not.