Tottenham Hotspur are an awful lot more than The Harry Kane Team but when they were given the opportunity to prove their point in the rain and the wind against Manchester United at Old Trafford, they blew it.
The chances were there for them. In an evenly contested, largely uninspiring game, they appeared to have timed their assault on Jose Mourinho’s side perfectly as the game entered its closing stages and United stared down the barrel of a third league game without a win.
In a game of few opportunities, the Danish magician Christian Eriksen crafted the best of all with a sweetly judged cross that was begging to be finished by Dele Alli. But Alli, who had once again failed to shine when it really mattered, somehow pulled his volley wide.
Anthony Martial scored the only goal of the game at Old Trafford as Manchester United narrowly beat Tottenham 1-0
The French winger wheels off to celebrate after netting the all-important goal during the cagey Premier League affair
Martial pictured firing home the winner with his left foot after latching on to Romelu Lukaku’s forward header
Lukaku hit the post for the Red Devils with a powerful header just moments before Martial’s late winner
Dele Alli had a golden opportunity to give Tottenham the lead in the 77th minute but he spurned the chance
Alli was brilliantly found by Christian Eriksen but the England midfielder was made to pay for his missed effort
PLAYER RATINGS, LEAGUE TABLE AND MATCH ZONE
Manchester United (3-4-1-2): De Gea; Bailly; Smalling; Jones; Valencia; Herrera; Matic; Young (Darmian 90+3); Mkhitaryan (Lingard 64); Lukaku; Rashford (Martial 69)
Subs not used: Mata; Blind; Romero; McTominay
Scorers: Martial 81
Tottenham (3-5-2): Lloris; Alderweireld; Dier; Vertonghen; Aurier; Sissoko (Dembele 62); Winks; Eriksen; Davies; Son (Llorente 62); Alli
Subs not used: Trippier; Rose; Sanchez; Vorm; Nkoudou
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This is how Anthony Martial won the game for Manchester United. The Frenchman latched onto Romelu Lukaku’s header following David de Gea’s goal kick. CLICK HERE to find out more from MATCH ZONE.
Maybe it is wrong to stress Kane’s absence too much but it is tempting to say he would have taken that chance in his sleep. United, of course, could counter that they would have been a far stronger side with Paul Pogba in their ranks.
It is a squad game now and the more we talk of Kane’s importance to Spurs, the more we stress that they are more reliant on him than they ought to be. Certainly, they seemed to lack a focal point when his replacement, Heung-min Son, was leading the line.
With 81 minutes gone, they paid for their failure to capitalise on their best chance when United hit them with a sucker punch. It was route one but no one cared. David de Gea’s long kick was headed on by Romelu Lukaku and finished clinically by Anthony Martial. It lifted them, temporarily, at least, to within two points of leaders Manchester City.
And so as the seconds ticked down, the United fans taunted the opposition supporters with chants of ‘have you ever seen Tottenham win the league’. They will feel that the momentum they lost with their drab 0-0 draw at Liverpool and last week’s defeat at Huddersfield has been regained.
Mourinho had condemned his players for their attitude at Huddersfield last weekend but there was no mistaking their hunger in the opening exchanges against Spurs. They were first to everything. They showed more attacking intent in the opening five minutes than they had in the entire game against Liverpool a fortnight ago.
United players react after they come close to scoring past Hugo Lloris during the cagey affair in the pouring rain
Ben Davies clears the danger as Lloris fumbles Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s shot at the Stretford End on Saturday
United striker Lukaku attempts an acrobatic volley at goal as the hosts ramp up the pressure early on in the second period
Belgian striker Lukaku failed to influence the match much as the two sides played out a tense top flight affair
But even though they exerted some early pressure on their opponents, United could not translate it into clear chances. Their only hint of an opening came after Lloris had failed to clear the ball properly and the Spurs defence had to clear hurriedly from Marcus Rashford as he tried to set up Lukaku.
Once Spurs had negated that brief spell of United dominance, they began to look like the more assured side. They were more confident on the ball and more able to put passing moves together that asked more and more questions of the United defence.
The first real alarm for United came midway through the first half when De Gea advanced to the edge of his six yard box to collect a harmless cross from Ben Davies. De Gea caught the ball but then collided with Phil Jones and spilled it at the feet of Moussa Sissoko but the Spurs midfielder could only lift his shot high over the bar.
The game burst into life now. Ashley Young and Alli became involved in a heated exchange of views that developed into a nose-to-nose confrontation before they were pulled apart by teammates and lectured by the referee. Alli sidefooted a shot too close to De Gea and the United keeper plucked a mishit shot from Eric Dier out of the air.
Spurs were the better team up to the interval but it was hardly a feast of football. They looked exactly like a team missing its best attacker and Alli, who has the potential to be their most influential player, once more struggled to impose himself on a game that was crying out for a moment of inspiration.
Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho walk towards the tunnel after the half-time whistle was blown at Old Trafford
Jan Vertonghen holds Nemanja Matic’s shirt as the Belgian defender looks to clear the danger in the Tottenham area
United goalkeeper David de Gea saves Eric Dier’s effort at goal during the closing stages of the opening period
United and Tottenham players try to get in the way as tempers flare between Alli and Ashley Young at Old Trafford
Alli and Young come face-to-face as the tempo rises during the top flight clash in Manchester on the weekend
Antonio Valencia and Son Heung-Min battle with each other for the ball during the early stages on Saturday afternoon
Marcus Rashford fires a stinging long range free-kick at goal that Tottenham goalkeeper Lloris does well to parry away
It finally came ten minutes after half time when Henrikh Mkhitaryan wriggled cleverly away from his marker and drilled a low shot at the Spurs goal. Lloris should have held it comfortably but the rain was falling in sheets by now and it squirmed from his grasp. Rashford was waiting to prod it in but Davies intervened with a superb clearance.
Less than a minute later, United went desperately close again. Once more, Mkhitaryan was the catalyst, sprinting on to a through ball and fizzing it across goal from the byline. Lukaku was there but he could not apply the finishing touch and Spurs cleared the danger.
United were playing more forcefully now and Antonio Valencia hit a blistering rising drive just over the bar from 25 yards. But then Pochettino reacted by bringing on Fernando Llorente for Heung-min Son and the dynamic of the game changed again.
There were other substitutions, too, but the introduction of Llorente gave Spurs a focal point they had been lacking and they began to force openings of their own. United’s warning came when the ball was worked to Eriksen in space on the edge of the area but he hit his shot high over the bar.
Then, after 77 minutes, Eriksen created the best chance of the game. Some neat approach play found the Denmark playmaker on the edge of the United area and he drifted a delicious ball into the six-yard box. Alli had timed his run beautifully but instead of ramming the ball past De Gea, he hooked it wide.
Spurs paid dearly for that. With nine minutes left, De Gea launched a long ball forward, Lukaku rose majestically to flick it on and Martial, who had come on for Rashford, proved that he was the most important substitute of all by driving his left foot shot into the ground and past the wrong-footed Lloris.
The hosts enjoyed the early spell of pressure during Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off at Old Trafford
United youngster Rashford runs at goal as fellow England international Dier attempts to tackle him on the edge of the box
United and Tottenham players observe a minute’s silence for Remembrance Day ahead of the Premier League encounter