Enthralling drama

Wayne Rooney rides piggyback on Dimitar Berbatov after scoring against Tottenham. Carlos Tevez looks on.-AP

It was a demonstration of attacking, penetrative football at its highest level by Manchester United against Tottenham Hotspur, with two each for Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo and the fifth for Dimitar Berbatov, playing as though affronted by the criticisms of his recent performances, writes Daniel Taylor.

Before the match against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United's supporters might have wondered whether the defining moment of their season might be Federico Macheda's stoppage-time heroics against Aston Villa. But then Tottenham had the temerity to take a twogoal lead at Old Trafford and, once again, Sir Alex Ferguson's men demonstrated their ability to pull off the most astounding feats of escapology.

In the end, we were left to contemplate whether it was, in this match of unrelenting and enthralling drama, that the title race had its most significant moment to date. United deserve all the superlatives for the determination, drive and sheer guts of their fightback, even if Tottenham were possibly entitled to be aggrieved about the penalty that precipitated the cloudburst of five goals in 22 minutes. It was a demonstration of attacking, penetrative football at its highest level, with two each for Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo and the fifth for Dimitar Berbatov, playing as though affronted by the criticisms of his recent performances.

Rooney, in particular, bewitched the crowd on a day when United's attackers valiantly made up for the team's defensive shortcomings and their lead at the top of the Premier League was restored to three points. Ferguson's team have five games to play, as opposed to Liverpool's four, and when they can produce football this scintillating it is difficult to see how Rafael Benitez or anyone else at Anfield can hope to prise open United's vice-like grip on the championship trophy. There can surely be no more exhilarating sight in English football than United chasing a match. They were rattled at half-time, playing badly and trailing to goals from Darren Bent and Luca Modric, with Tottenham seemingly on their way to their first win at the venue since 1989. Yet Ferguson's tactics were immaculate at half-time, bringing on Carlos Tevez for Nani and moving Rooney to the left to cover the badly exposed Patrice Evra. This preceded a sustained, occasionally frantic, onslaught of the Tottenham goal, completely at odds with the way Redknapp's men had outplayed their hosts in the first-half. It was as if someone had flicked a switch. The volume was cranked up, the crowd were on their feet, refusing to give up and, from a point of despair, the players in red demonstrated the purpose and conviction that was needed to drag themselves back into the game.

And yet it was a highly debatable penalty that lifted Old Trafford's spirits. Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager, was so angry he waited for the referee, Howard Webb, in the tunnel after the final whistle and the television replays did little to exonerate the man who has just been chosen to officiate in the FA Cup final.

Webb ruled that Tottenham's goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes, had taken down Michael Carrick as he ran on to Rooney's pass when the goalkeeper appeared to get the ball before making contact with the opponent. The visiting players were incensed - and once Ronaldo had stroked in United's first goal there was a sense of inevitability about what would happen next.

Nonetheless, the alacrity with which the game was turned upside down was remarkable. Within 10 minutes Rooney made it 2-2 with a shot that deceived Gomes after going through Vedran Corluka's legs and a minute later it was 3-2, the England international crossing from the left and Ronaldo's header sparking some euphoric scenes of celebration.

Did tottenham collapse? Or was it just the weight of pressure from United? Probably a bit of both. Gomes had been excellent in the first-half, the highlight being a fingertip save to turn away a Ronaldo volley, but the goalkeeper lost his composure after the penalty and could have done much better with three of the following four goals.

Rooney made it 4-2 when he took down Ronaldo's cross and scuffed in a shot that Jonathan Woodgate could not quite keep out on the goalline and Berbatov, tormenting his former club, capitalised on some more dubious goalkeeping to complete the scoring.

It was difficult not to sympathise with Redknapp. Recently Portsmouth played the first hour as if they had already accepted they would be beaten and just hoped the damage would not be too painful. Tottenham, on the other hand, began with the confidence that comes from having won six of their previous eight games and plunged Old Trafford into a deep state of shock with barely half an hour played.

Redknapp had targeted United's left, knowing that Aaron Lennon had the measure of Evra, and the ploy worked a treat. Darren Bent was the first to capitalise, thumping in a shot from six yards after Rio Ferdinand had failed to clear Corluka's cross.

Then, three minutes later, Lennon beat Evra and crossed for Modric to score. United's defending was erratic at best, something that Arsenal will have noted ahead of their Champions League semi-final. United, however, will always have hope when they have Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez and Berbatov on the same pitch.

The Results

April 26: Arsenal 2 (Fabregas 26 & 67) bt Middlesbrough 0. Half-time: 1-0; Blackburn 2 (McCarthy 45+1, Nelsen 60) bt Wigan 0. Half-time: 1-0.

April 25: Bolton 1 (Cohen 60) drew with Aston Villa 1 (Young 43). Half-time: 0-1; Everton 1 (Gosling 90+4) lost to Manchester City 2 (Robinho 35, Ireland 54). Half-time: 0-1; Fulham 1 (Nevland 29) bt Stoke 0. Half-time: 1-0; Hull 1 (Geovanni 72) lost to Liverpool 3 (Alonso 45, Kuyt 63 & 89). Half-time: 0-1; Manchester United 5 (Ronaldo pen-57 & 68, Rooney 67 & 71, Berbatov 79) bt Tottenham 2 (Bent 29, Modric 32). Half-time: 0-2; West Brom 3 (Olsson 40, Brunt 58, Menseguez 88) bt Sunderland 0. Half-time: 1-0; West Ham 0 lost to Chelsea 1 (Kalou 55). Half-time: 0-0.

April 22: Chelsea 0 drew with Everton 0; Manchester United 2 (Rooney 9, Carrick 82) bt Portsmouth 0. Half-time: 1-0.

April 21: Liverpool 4 (Torres 49 & 72, Benayoun 56 & 90+3) drew with Arsenal 4 (Arshavin 36, 67, 70 & 90). Half-time: 0-1.

April 19: Manchester City 4 (Robinho 8, Onuoha 21, Elano pen-56, Sturridge 90+4) bt West Brom 2 (Brunt 37 & 54). Half-time: 2-1; Tottenham 1 (Bent 24) bt Newcastle 0. Half-time: 1-0.

April 18: Aston Villa 1 (Heskey 11) drew with West Ham 1 (Tristan 85). Half-time: 1-0; Middlesbrough 0 drew with Fulham 0; Portsmouth 1 (Kanu 78) bt Bolton 0. Half-time: 0-0; Stoke 1 (Lawrence 75) bt Blackburn 0. Half-time: 0-0; Sunderland 1 (Cisse 45+2) bt Hull 0. Half-time: 1-0.

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