The brakes could not be put on Manchester United's title charge at White Hart Lane as a controversial penalty award just before the break handed the initiative to the visitors, who went on to record a 4-0 win.
The brakes could not be put on Manchester United's title charge at White Hart Lane as a controversial penalty award just before the break handed the initiative to the visitors, who went on to record a 4-0 win.It was pretty much level pegging in terms of chances and possession - as well as the score - up to the moment Cristiano Ronaldo went down and was adjudged to have been fouled by Steed Malbranque. The penalty was converted by the same player and United, with confidence fuelled, eased through the gears in the second half and registered an emphatic win.
There were four changes to the team which began against Arsenal in midweek and one of them, Lee Young-Pyo, got into several promising positions down the left flank early on but, frustratingly, failed to produce a quality delivery.
Dimitar Berbatov and Aaron Lennon sprang into life before the clock reached the 10 minute point but the combination did not yield reward straight away, but did enough to suggest that profit could be forthcoming later in the game.
Tom Huddlestone, Lennon and Berbatov linked up to create a reasonably pot-shot on goal after 16 minutes, with the Bulgarian not finding his range at this stage. On 23 minutes Paul Robinson pulled off the first big save of the game, reacting superbly to a Michael Carrick header before it was head in hands time for Ronaldo when he skyed the loose ball over the bar.
Neither side really got a grip on the game as we approached the half hour mark, there was plenty of good intent, but decent end product was at a premium and perhaps frustration over this was reflected is several rash challenges being piled into.
Berbatov then had Edwin Van der Sar literally scrambling with his low cross shot from a Huddlestone throughball, the Dutchman only just managing to apply fingertips.
The encounter creaked into life ahead of the break with a booking for Wayne Rooney increasing the edge and helping the crowd find their voice.
In one of those cruel twists that always seems to operate in the favour of teams at the top of the table, United took the lead just before half-time from the penalty spot. Ronaldo made his way into the area from the right and was the subject of an iffy challenge from Steed Malbranque, an incident that the referee took no time in deciding that it was a penalty - although replays suggested otherwise.
Ronaldo gave Robinson absolutely no chance. The England was equal to a swirling attempt from Nemanja Vidic just after the interval, athletically tipping over, but could do little when a Carrick corner found the head of the Serbian and the net was rattled at the Park Lane end on 48 minutes.
Five minutes later the deficit was increased when Ronaldo strode down the right flank and simply squared the ball across goal for Paul Scholes to apply the finishing touch.
The reaction was a double substitution, with Didier Zokora and Jermain Defoe replaced by Robbie Keane and Hossam Ghaly, but the next action was again at our end with Rooney's radar not far askew with a first time effort from 20-odd yards.
United were in complete control, the penalty provided a turning point in the contest that the league leaders used as a launch pad.
Berbatov perhaps should have cut the advantage when Huddlestone brilliantly picked out his run and it was striker vs keeper on 64 minutes. Unfortunately, striker lost his footing a little and his eventual shot did not particularly concern Van der Sar.
Satisfied that the points were heading to the north west, Sir Alex Ferguson withdrew his two best players - Rooney and Ronaldo - with over 20 minutes remaining. Van der Sar had to be sharp to deny Berbatov a headed goal from a Ghaly cross, before in the next move our defences were clinically unlocked and Ryan Giggs strode through and dispatched his shot past Robinson with ease on 77 minutes.
Keane galloped through and was denied by Van der Sar, but at a cost to the Dutchman, who was subsequently stretchered off. John O'Shea ended up going in goal but, bar a couple of late scares, the change did not ultimately affect the scoreline.