Tottenham moved above Manchester United in the Premier League table as they staved off a late onslaught to win 2-1 at Old Trafford.
Emmanuel Adebayor had continued his recent fine vein of form by opening the scoring late in the first half, before Christian Eriksen capitalized on some poor defending from the home side to double Spurs’ advantage midway through the second period. United responded almost immediately though Danny Welbeck, but despite finally supplying some concerted pressure late on they couldn’t find an equalizer.
The result ends David Moyes’s side’s run of six-straight wins, four of them in the Premier League, and means that they have now lost more matches in the league this campaign, six, than they did in the whole of last season. The champions have now dropped down to seventh in the standings, just past the season’s halfway mark, 11 points off the top.
Incredibly, it is their fourth defeat already at Old Trafford alone, with Tottenham following up their ending of a 22-year winless run last term with another victory to kick off the new year in fine style. While United had the bulk of possession throughout, Tim Sherwood’s decision to again play with two strikers, along with the pace and width of Aaron Lennon, meant that Tottenham created chances on the break throughout. Sherwood, who amended his all-out attacking strategy somewhat by selecting Etienne Capoue alongside Mousa Dembele in the middle of midfield, has now overseen a return of 10 points from 12 in the Premier League, with his side working admirably toward a common cause.
United, meanwhile, struggled for creative inspiration. Moyes ended up playing Wayne Rooney for the full 90 minutes, despite admitting that his groin injury should be given a couple of weeks’ rest. Again United were clearly looking to Rooney to make the difference both in attack and midfield, but, lacking sharpness, this time he couldn’t oblige.
The home side had actually begun encouragingly. Chris Smalling did well to go past Lennon in the fifth minute and manufacture a shooting chance but his effort was turned wide by Hugo Lloris.
It was Tottenham, though, that created the game’s first clear chance. Roberto Soldado, while his struggles continue in front of goal, showed again that he offers more to the side with a superb through ball to get Lennon in behind Patrice Evra but the winger’s finish lacked conviction and David de Gea blocked.
But in the 34th minute, after another move down the right, Tottenham went in front. Soldado again played his part, linking up nicely with Eriksen, before the Danish playmaker chipped in a fine cross that allowed Adebayor to peel off of Smalling, who never even jumped, and rise high to head back across the goal and in off the far post with De Gea unmoved.
The visitors’ lead could have been doubled just five minutes later. Lennon was sent in behind the again dozing Evra and this time produced a superb ball across the face of goal that looked primed for Soldado to convert at the back post but instead the ball came off the misfiring Spaniard’s knee and went harmlessly wide.
United were denied a penalty at the start of the second half when Welbeck went to ground after Vlad Chriches stuck out then quickly withdrew his leg. Referee Howard Webb was right not to award the spot kick and the England forward was lucky not to avoid a caution for diving.
The champions’ attempts to get back on level terms saw Moyes make a double substitution just past the hour mark, with Shinji Kagawa and Javier Hernandez replacing Smalling and Michael Carrick, but the substitution would instead lead to a goal at the other end.
The switch meant Antonio Valencia being moved to right back, but not for the first time this season his lack of defensive instincts in that position were to cost a goal. On this occasion, Lennon’s cross deflected off of Nemanja Vidic across the face of goal and Valencia was painfully slow to react as Eriksen stooped to head past the despairing attempt of De Gea to keep it out.
To their credit, Manchester United produced an immediate response. Januzaj, who showed flashes of his quality throughout, played a superb pass to get Welbeck in behind Chiriches down the right of the box and he coolly dinked the ball over Lloris to score his fifth goal in his last six appearances and get his side right back into the contest.
Lloris was soon forced into action from Januzaj and Hernandez to keep Tottenham in front before being involved in the game’s most controversial moment. As Ashley Young went charging onto the ball down the left of the box, Lloris came racing out then tried to pull out of a challenge but still made contact high on the United winger. It was a tough call for the officials and it went against the home side.
Clearly furious by the decision, United’s pressure only increased in the closing minutes. Vidic had three chances in a matter of seconds in the 90th minute but it was a case of too little goo late as Tottenham held on with Lloris faultless in goal.