An exhibition of a first half was followed by a controversial end – Nani was prominent once more, scoring and providing as Manchester United’s recent surge in results continued against a formidable Tottenham Hotspur side.
The first half was as open as it was entertaining, with both sides creating numerous opportunities thanks to the space on offer; none more spectacular than a chance a piece in the first ten minutes that rattled each others woodwork. After Park Ji-Sung had lashed a 25 yard effort against the post, in-form Spurs midfielder Rafael van der Vaart beat Michael Carrick but not United’s upright from a similar distance.
In the 13th minute, Park had another chance after flowing football between Nani and Berbatov, but the South Korean’s finish was lacking in purpose or direction – Rafael, 5 minutes later, found himself in a similar position following a mazy run but he dragged his own left foot effort at the near post and easily wide. Michael Carrick forced Gomes into a save from 25 yards; the Spurs keeper recovering from spilling it with Chicharito pouncing, as United began to flex their muscles.
The breakthrough came on the half hour – Kaboul flattened Chicharito, earning him a yellow card, and Nani’s delivery from the free kick was exceptional. Nemanja Vidic met it with a header that owed more to sensational precision than brute power from 12 yards out, and United were ahead. Spurs’ best chance to level before the break came from Modric, whose chest and volley from a corner was remiscent of Scholes, but Edwin van der Sar was equal to it, albeit at full stretch.
The second half was a procession until the last 10 minutes; a Bale run and shot and a Chicharito effort were the only efforts of note until the 83rd minute, when Nani – not the first time – became the centre of a moment of controversy that sealed the game. Racing onto a clipped pass from substitute Wes Brown, Nani got goalside of Kaboul, who was all hands. The winger delayed his reaction and went down when no penalty could rightly be given; Gomes picked the ball up and rolled it down, assuming Spurs had won a free kick for a dive. Referee Mark Clattenburg clearly gestured to play on, and Nani crept around the keeper and slide the ball into the net.
Tottenham players surrounded the ref and linesman, who appeared to flag against the goal. Referee and assistant discussed; Clattenburg overruled his colleague, sealing the result.
United kept up their recent good run to see off their London opponents but not for the first time, Tottenham will feel aggrieved at their bad luck with officiating at Old Trafford.
Ratings : van der Sar 7, Rafael 8 (Brown 7), Ferdinand 7, Vidic 8, Evra 7, *Nani 9, Carrick 7, Fletcher 7, Park 7, Berbatov 6 (Scholes 7), Chicharito 7 (Obertan)