Tottenham Hotspur held on to a thrilling 3-2 win at Manchester United, their first league victory at Old Trafford since 1989.
First-half goals from Jan Vertonghen and a Gareth Bale stunner gave Spurs a two-goal advantage at half-time, but United came out for the second period looking a different team.
Three goals marked a kamikaze three-minute period as Nani pulled one back for the hosts before Clint Dempsey and Shinji Kagawa traded blows for both sides.
United launched a late assault on the Spurs goal but a combination of backs-to-the-wall defending and weak finishing saw Andre Vilas-Boas’s side ride the match out to claim a scalp that could have great implications for the Portuguese’s nascent career in North London.
Despite boasting an enviable winning record over Spurs, the hosts were strangely subdued from the start and the visitors soon made them pay.
Vertonghen, getting forward from left-back, clumsily cut inside, and though he did not have the ball under greast control he was barely resisted by a stand-offish defence. His finish was not great either but it took a massive deflection off a sliding Jonny Evans, wrong-footing Anders Lindegaard to nestle in the bottom left.
Ordinarily such an early blow would spark United into action but they continued to look sluggish, the lively Dempsey firing just wide after good play from former Fulham team-mate Moussa Dembele. Aaron Lennon was also a threat, shooting just wide via a deflection from Rio Ferdinand.
Spurs were winning the midfield battle, although United were barely putting up a fight as Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick struggled to get on the ball.
Lone striker Robin Van Persie, meanwhile, was isolated up front from the start and barely in the game from the moment he was left hobbling by a crunching but fair William Gallas tackle.
Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck looked on from the bench and their concern was shared by Sir Alex Ferguson when Spurs doubled their lead in style.
Nothing should be taken away from Bale, who has scored similar goals against feted opposition in the past – most notably Internazionale – but he was allowed to run from halfway far too easily, with Ferdinand losing a five-yard head start as the Welshman fired across Lindegaard with his weaker right foot.
United were two down, at home, after just over half an hour, a status which appeared to finally spark them into action.
But for all their possession after Bale’s strike, Spurs only suffered one scare before half-time when Nani had his shirt pulled by Vertonghen in the box, an act missed by the referee.
No doubt spurred on by a blow-dry at Fergie’s barbershop, United were an entirely different proposition in the second half as they went for the jugular from the restart.
Rooney had come on for the ineffectual Ryan Giggs, while Scholes was spreading the ball and dictating the play as only he and Xavi can.
He started the move from which United pulled one back, allowing Rooney to play an inviting low cross that a late-arriving Nani prodded home, the Portugal winger acquitting himself well after press reports he had fought with a team-mate in training.
That sparked one of the more tumultuous 150 seconds in Premier League history as Spurs re-established a two-goal lead, United half-asleep at the back as Sandro fed Bale, whose shot was well-saved by Lindegaard only for an unchecked Dempsey to roll the ball into the net.
United responded immediately as, within seconds, it was back to 3-2 thanks to a fine ball from the otherwise disappointing Van Persie, Kagawa turning on a sixpence before sliding a cool finish in off the post.
With around 40 minutes left including stoppage time, United sensed one of their classic comebacks. But – for all their possession, for all Scholes’ wonderful crossfield passing, and for all the clever movement from Rooney, Kagawa and Nani – United could not break Spurs’ resolve.
They entertained in their attempts to do so. Rooney hit the post with a superb free-kick and wasted a few half-chances; Van Persie found the back of the net but was offside, also putting wide twice from good positions; in addition to his passing, Scholes forced a smart stop from Friedel with a piledriver from range; Carrick flicked a header against the frame of the goal; Patrice Evra headed straight at Friedel with a free-header.
United had several late penalty claims rejected, with Sandro accidentally handling in the box their best shout, while Kyle Walker seemed to get the ball when sliding in on Kagawa.
But they could not make a breakthrough and, despite the introductions of Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, Spurs were able to hold on for a triumph that was greeted with delight on the bench and with the travelling fans.
Ferguson’s side now lie third in the league, four points off leaders Chelsea and one shy of Everton, with Spurs a point behind in fifth.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham) – Got the ball rolling with an early goal and impressed both in attack and defence from left-back. A strong part of Spurs’ late resistance.
MAN UTD: Lindegaard 6, Rafael 6, Evra 5, Ferdinand 5, Evans 5, Scholes 7, Nani 7, Giggs 6, Carrick 6, Kagawa 7, van Persie 6; Subs: Rooney 7, Hernandez N/A, Welbeck 6
TOTTENHAM: Friedel 6, Verthongen 7, Gallas 6, Caulker 7, Walker 7, Dempsey 7, Lennon 6, Bale 7, Sandro 7, Dembele 7, Defoe 6; Subs: Dawson N/A, Huddlestone 6, Sigurdsson 7
- Jan Vertonghen
- Manchester United
- Shinji Kagawa