It certainly took a while, but finally, almost 23 years after Gary Lineker helped Spurs to a 1-0 victory in December 1989, Andre Villas-Boas led Spurs to the banishing of one of their biggest bugbears in the Premier League era – securing a near-mythical victory at Old Trafford. For those of us who can remember the 5-3 and 5-2 defeats in the past, from 3-0 and 2-0 leads at half-time, there was a nervous sense of the inevitable backlash after half time; however, whilst the second period made for a much rockier ride, Spurs showed some unexpected resolve by holding out and making a small piece of Premier League history.
It looks like AVB’s Spurs side is now well and truly coming together, albeit helped by a lethargic performance from United in the first half, and with the team now up to 5th place in the league, all those who were lambasting the Portuguese after the first two games are probably starting to feel, well, a bit silly…
Back to the game, and, in the first half, Spurs had United on the ropes from the start. Vertonghen blazed a stumbling trail through the Red Devils’ ranks, before a fortuitous deflection off Johnny Evans sent his shot into the bottom corner of the net. At the time, it felt too early to score – simply a case of waking a slumbering giant – but bizarrely United’s response was muted, and from there they had no answer for wave upon wave of Spurs attacks. Their attacking triumvirate of Van Persie, Giggs and Nani were hopelessly isolated for most of the half; it seemed as if Vertonghen at left-back had been identified as a possible weakness, with United’s rare forays forward tending to come on their right-hand side. If so, it was a colossal misjudgement of tactics from Ferguson.
Quite aside from the fact that Vertonghen regularly occupies the position for Belgium at international level, on account of them having an embarrassment of central defensive talent, his performance slotting in there in the second half against QPR showed he was in no way uncomfortable in that position. If anything, it seems to give him more licence for bombing forward – anyone who’s seen footage from Vertonghen’s time at Ajax will know that he’s more than happy to weigh in on the goalscoring front, and has outstanding composure on the ball for a defender. He might have perhaps been guilty of an unpunished push on Nani in the penalty area in the first half, but overall his performance set the tone.
Gareth Bale, too, had an excellent game, after the more humdrum offerings of the opening games of this season. He scored Spurs’ second goal, and his deflected shot fell to Clint Dempsey to slot in the third – his own goal, in particular, was characteristic of the Gareth Bale who terrorised defences during Spurs’ debut Champions League season. His positional discipline can still be called into question, but his driving runs forward give Spurs so much impetus when he’s on form, and if he can carry it into this weekend’s game as well then perhaps he can put together a run of goals after a slow start by his standards.
At centre-back, Stephen Caulker had a game that will have done little harm to the murmuring of future international distinction. In fact, with both Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Naughton still out for a short time, he has the perfect opportunity to stake his claim for a regular first team place, with Vertonghen shunted out wide in their stead. The issue of Gallas’s age can’t be avoided, and though in fairness to him he’s had a better start as a first team regular than many of us expected, Caulker must fancy his chances of leapfrogging the frenchman in the pecking order over the next few weeks.
The only negative from the performance was the way in which we were completely pinned in by United for the majority of the second half. It was to an extent to be expected after their insipid first half showing – there was no chance that they’d put in such a poor effort twice – but it emphasised that Jermain Defoe just isn’t capable of performing the holding up role as a lone striker. Had Emmanuel Adebayor been available, there’s little doubt he would have been deployed in the second half to try and give us a presence in the United half. This isn’t to belittle Defoe’s work; though he may still be chasing that elusive 200th league goal, it was his excellent movement that led to two of Spurs’ goals, and he proved that despite the fact he isn’t often directly involved in the build-up, he can still have an effect on the game.
Even up until the final second of the game, there was an expectation of crushed hopes that goes hand in hand with being a Spurs supporter. Especially following United’s second half dominance, any Spurs fan who claims they never doubted the win in the course of those final minutes is a plain-faced liar. Yet the final whistle came and went, much to Sir Alex Ferguson’s ridiculous chagrin, and Spurs finally brought to an end the seasonal mention of Gary Lineker’s goal at Old Trafford in 1989.
On Twitter: @AEFSpurs.