A stirring performance for the final half-hour wasn't enough to prevent United taking top spot for Christmas.
United, who started with Rio Ferdinand, were in total control for the first hour and deservedly 2-0 up through John O'Shea and Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
There was a strange, subdued atmosphere around the Lane, almost an air of inevitability about procedings.
But that changed after 63 minutes when Gus Poyet got us back in the game.
Suddenly the crowd were up for it, we stepped up a gear and United were on the back foot for the first time in the game.
Unfortunately the switch in territorial advantage didn't result in clear-cut chances but the lads will be lifted for forthcoming games against Portsmouth and Charlton.
The opening exchanges were somewhat placid, play very measured and United's ability to break the obvious threat.
Giggs went close inside two minutes, Kanoute couldn't convert Dalmat's drilled low cross after 10 and Van Nistelrooy might have done better after breaking the offside trap three minutes later.
United's first goal followed with 15 minutes on the clock. Fletcher swung in a corner met by O'Shea on the volley and the ball flew into the top right corner.
Keane had a half-chance to hit straight back but we then lost Anderton, clearly struggling with injury. Poyet came on in midfield.
Howard then produced the save of the half, unsighted, a magnificent effort low to his left to keep out Poyet's thunderous drive from 20 yards.
The champions struck again after 26 minutes. Scholes and Giggs combined to release Van Nistelrooy and Gardner's valiant attempt to get back proved in vain as the Dutchman's shot flicked off his boot to leave Keller stranded.
Giggs twice took off on runs as the front three of Van Nistelrooy, Scholes and Giggs looked a constant threat.
The second half started in a similar way - Giggs releasing Van Nistelrooy - but everting changed just after the hour.
Konchesky's deep cross was volleyed back across goal by Dalmat for Poyet to flick home from close range.
We shifted up a gear but couldn't quite carve out a clear-cut chance to go with our possession. Keane just failed to turn his volley towards goal from Dalmat's dink, Neville flicked the ball away as Richards prepared to head at goal and Howard palmed away Ricketts shot.
MINUTE BY MINUTE
2mins: CLOSE: Giggs flick from G Neville cross inches wide with Keller struggling.
10mins: Keane break, low cross from Dalmat, Kanoute missed kick in front of goal.
13mins: Van Nistelrooy broke offside trap, rasper straight at Keller, saved at second attempt.
15mins: GOAL. Fletcher corner flicked by O'Shea into top corner. 0-1.
16mins: CHANCE. Carr ball over the top found Keane beyond defence and through on Howard, tried to flick header over the keeper who was able to gather.
18mins: SUB. Poyet for Anderton.
22mins: SAVE. Fantastic stop from Howard to keep out Poyet's strike from 20 yards.
26mins: GOAL. Scholes and Giggs combined to released Van Nistelrooy, one-on-one, Gardner back but last-ditch tackle only deflected ball past Keller. 0-2.
30mins: Poyet inches away from pinpoint Dalmat cross.
35mins: Giggs took off from midfield, cut through four players, Keller stood strong to beat out shot.
45mins: YELLOW. Taricco for foul on G Neville.
Half-time: Spurs 0-2 Manchester United
53mins: YELLOW. Konchesky for foul on Keane.
56mins: Giggs played through Van Nistelrooy, always a tricky angle, fired across goal and a foot wide.
63mins: GOAL. Konchesky's deep cross hooked back by Dalmat and flicked home by Poyet. 1-2.
63mins: SUB. Ricketts for Taricco.
66mins: Dalmat quick feet and dink in to Keane who couldn't quite reach volley in front of goal.
76mins: SUB. Postiga for Dalmat.
78mins: SUB. Ronaldo for Fletcher.
79mins: YELLOW. Giggs for foul on Keane.
80mins: Great defending from G Neville to flick ball away from Richards.
82mins: SUB. Butt for Keane.
88mins: Ricketts shot palmed away byy Howard.
Injury time: YELLOW. Scholes for foul on Carr.
Injury time: Kanoute snap shot flew wide.
Final score: Spurs 1-2 Manchester United
Line-ups: Spurs: Keller, Carr, Taricco (Ricketts, 63), Richards, Gardner, King, Anderton (Poyet, 18), Dalmat (Postiga, 76), Konchesky, Keane, Kanoute. Subs: Hirschfeld, Doherty.
United: Howard, G Neville, Silvestre, Ferdinand, O'Shea, P Neville, Keane (Butt, 82), Scholes, Giggs, Van Nistelrooy, Fletcher (Ronaldo, 78). Subs: Carroll, Forlan, Fortune.
Referee: Rob Styles.