Tottenham 1 Manchester United 1
In a strange way this single point feels as important as any three we've taken this season. Not in a patronising way. This was hardly little old Tottenham claiming a precious draw against the beastly might of Manchester. This was about validating the desire and determination on show, the persistent and relentless work ethic displayed to get the ball forward and to some how make that incisive break-through. This was about psychology as much as it was about the kicking of a ball.
There was a realisation half way through the second half that even with the players we have out injured, even with the players we continue to sought for to strengthen key areas and improve our ability to craft and create out of tight spots - we still possess the required spirit and desire to go toe to toe with the best. Although this wasn't quite toe to toe. Couldn't quite find their toes what with them standing a fair distance back waiting for yet another Spurs attack.
Games like this simply elevate that belief and build traits in character that will help gel the team further, for the long term. Capitulations, apologetic football and defensive calamities...usually synonymous with any given Spurs v Utd game. Time to box up the past and send a love letter to the future.
We didn't deserve to lose, the players didn't believe we would lose. How epically ironic that we would finally make that break-through deep into injury time. Absolutely deserved and considering how we continually took the game to United, we deserved a lot more long before the equalising goal. A Tottenham side with a never say die mentality? I guess all those past defeats against United and we've finally learnt something and figured it out.
It was all about that second half. The tempo was pulsating. First half, not so much, with us making it a little too comfortable for the visitors game-plan. We always looked a little too open at the back when United countered. I could see their goal coming a mile off, played out in my head seconds before it played out on the pitch. Not to take anything away from their punishing movement. Precise and penetrative, it was a paradox. A good goal on the one hand, not so great defending on the other.
What might have become an ominous moment in the game remained an isolated one.
United themselves were resolute at the back, defending with experience and power meaning we just couldn't get anything past them and when we did De Gea and body parts were there to stop the ball crossing the line. For the most part, shots were either blocked or ricocheting off defenders. Other efforts spinning past woodwork. Ferguson's men, soaking up the pressure and reliant on the break but never really convincing enough when in on Lloris goal.
That pulsating tempo arrived in the second forty-five and I then proceeded to spend the game with my head in my hands attempting to somehow force the ball into the net using telekinesis. The part of my brain that wasn't attempting the impossible was preparing the post-game rationalising of how superb our effort was and that we could count ourselves unfortunate not to get anything out of the game.
I was watching the game with headphones on whilst the missus and my daughter enjoyed an afternoon nap on the sofa. With every near shot and half chance I spat out in silence smacking the air in front of me with frustration.
Dempsey one on one, not going down for the penalty and seeing his effort saved by De Gae. Rio getting in the way of Defoe's shot after great build up play. Bale also searching for a way through with a first half effort and a deflected-off-Rio chance late on. Nothing ever clean and crisp. Perhaps because of the weather conditions, perhaps because of that lack of guile we always turn towards to excuse why we don't score enough from our untold shots on target. That subtle, clever, disguised, surprising pass not evident but there was still some wonderfully controlled and composed touch and passing movements in and around the box. Players aware of each others movement. The red sea of United defenders meaning it was never plain sailing.
But with every passing minute this became less and less about that missing subtly and more and more about us just somehow forcing that break-through simply by believing we could with pure aggression.
When it finally arrived deep into what usually passes for Fergie Time, I pulled the headphones out of my ears and fell to the floor screaming in a very deep controlled manner 'yes yes yes' punching the air with Villas-Boas panache whilst my now awake daughter asking her mother 'What's wrong with daddy?' to which she replied 'Don't be scared, that's what he looks like when he's happy'.
Benny (on for an astute tactical switch to give us assured balance on the left) crossed a ball in the lead up to the goal we could have done with being crossed all match long. De Gae punching it out as far as he could, which wasn't far enough. Lennon - who was brilliant in driving forward all game - controlled and showed sweet composure to pass to Dempsey who finished. That awareness complimented by Dempsey's movement. Maddening scenes followed.
Having had United on the back-foot for the entire second half this was deserved. Their game-plan, an up-market 'parking of the bus' almost rewarded them with the three points. The quality of their defending superb through-out and far more focused than their work in the final third, aside from their goal. Arguably, we had a similar problem although I wouldn't want to spend any time being critical of our forwards. We did carve out opportunities against the best side in England who decided they needed to come to the Lane and contain us. You're unlikely to carve out too many clear cut efforts and the goal it took to finally beat their backline is a testament to our resolve and our persistence and equally so theirs for lasting that long.
The likes of Defoe will hardly have the freedom of the park and with more telling crosses this game could have been perfect for someone of Adebayor's physicality (although such a scenario remains purely theoretically until he plays and delivers for us).
Aside from the vital point which means United have failed to beat us in the league for two and half thousand years, there were plenty more positives.
The amount of shots we had on goal. Battering ram.
The tempo. Something worthy of a separate discussion altogether. A question that's worth asking (one that has been discussed in the comments section of this blog time and time again) is...why can't we show that level of intensity against lesser sides that visit the Lane? If it's the case that we showed the level we did because it was Man Utd and not say a Stoke or a Wigan then if we really want to step up and compete with them across the season then we have to treat the necessity to win as if our life is dependent on it. All a work in progress, I'm certain of it. That extra push, that desire that encompasses a winning mentality is a labour of love. It's a slow birth, so share the epidural.
I've already cited Lennon's performance. Blistering thanks to United's preference to man mark Bale out of the flanks then congest his movement through the middle. Lennon with more freedom to run at defenders and his energy and pace was a catalyst for the rest of the team to follow. Dembele equally industrious during our second half resurgence after a quiet first half. Benny's impact very influential to allow for a more cohesive left flank and Dempsey once more showcasing that gritty willingness to never stop running. Parker was kept relatively busy with the ball at feet rather than biting at opposition ankles.
Rooney/Caulker incident a penalty? Probably. Looked it after a couple of replays. You win some you lose some. I think we're still several 'incidents in our favour' behind United's tally in the controversy stakes.
Ferguson slamming the official that 'missed' the pen incident. Always good to hear an opposing manager lay all the blame on a linesman rather than look closer to home. Boo hoo, the containment tactic didn't hold strong until the final whistle. Perhaps the blame for that should sit with him instructing his players to play the way they did.
If this was Spurs losing a 1-0 lead at Old Trafford we'd be called plucky for lasting that long a goal ahead. I mentioned (in my match preview) the 1-1 at Spurs from a few seasons back when Tevez stole in late to break our hearts. Perhaps not the payback Sky Sports wanted but revenge of sorts for that painful day for the Lilywhite faithful.
For United to set themselves up in the manner they did (defenders deep, focus on stopping the likes of Bale from being instrumental) in some ways it's a sign of respect. They couldn't risk taking the game to us. Instead they took a risk that we would fail to find a way through. They defended like Lionhearts, we attacked like Lionhearts. On that basis, if you wish to be kind, you could say a point shared was the right result.
Times are changing. We still have so much to work to do, so many things to fix and evolve. But for that canny missing link in the middle of the park that can give us that killer ball, we remain chasing a dream that is well within our grasp.
Andre Villas-Boas Tottenham is in it's infancy and yet here we are landing heavyweight punches. For now that knock-out still remains elusive. Four points taken off Manchester United is worthy of a smile or two. So I'll be damned if I'm not going to smile.