Premier League – United roar back to hammer Spurs
Manchester United staged a stunning comeback from two goals down to beat Tottenham 5-2 at Old Trafford and reclaim top spot in the Premier League.
But a dubious penalty award on 56 minutes sparked an incredible turnaround that saw United score five times in the second half.
Cristiano Ronaldo‘s expert penalty conversion was followed by a four-minute blitz that yielded a further three goals – another from Ronaldo and two from Wayne Rooney – before Dimitar Berbatov rounded off the scoring on 79 minutes.
The result sent United back to the summit, deposing Liverpool who had kept warm the position for a couple of hours, as the champions took a huge stride towards retaining their title for a third consecutive year. They are three points clear and have five matches remaining to Liverpool’s four.
But for all the deserved plaudits for a simply stunning comeback which saw some thrilling attacking football and a virtuoso display from Rooney, focus will inevitably turn on referee Howard Webb’s role in proceedings.
The official pointed to the spot after when Heurelho Gomes was adjudged to have brought down Michael Carrick in the box despite replays later showing the Brazilian to have touched the ball before the man.
The decision turned the game, which United appeared to on the verge of losing, totally on its head as Spurs capitulated amid some fine play from the hosts.
Ronaldo’s spot-kick seemed to instil belief in United while galvanising a team which had previously looked racked with nerves.
Rooney was the architect, firing through Vedran Corluka‘s legs to pull United level before playing a magnificent ball through for Ronaldo to register his second with a diving header a minute later.
Rooney then bagged his second of the day after Ronaldo repaid the compliment with a clipped ball through which the England international controlled before firing goalwards – Gomes got something on it, but the ball crept over the line before Jonathan Woodgate scrambled it away.
Berbatov completed the scoring, bundling the ball over the line after Gomes had spilled his initial header on 79 minutes, to repay his manager’s faith in him.
Ferguson sent out a strong side, with Berbatov recalled to the starting line-up despite United fans’ barracking of the player following his lacklustre penalty miss in last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final defeat to Everton.
The former Tottenham man was again targeted by some sections of the crowd, although it was not entirely clear whether he was being booed by Spurs fans or the home faithful.
But the Bulgarian was involved for United soon after kick-off, nearly getting on the end of a cute Darren Fletcher through pass in the second minute as the early exchanges offered plenty of open and entertaining football – from both sides.
Ronaldo provided United’s main threat going forward, his 21st-minute free-kick forcing a save out of Gomes before a header flashed wide of the post.
It was the tricky winger’s measured cross that led to the game’s first real chance, Bent forcing Edwin van der Sar to turn round the post with a back-stick header.
Lennon was again involved as Spurs took the lead on 29 minutes, his pass finding Corluka before the Croat sent a cross into the danger area. Rio Ferdinand failed to deal with it as he rose to challenge Bent and the ball dropped kindly to the Spurs striker, who gleefully lashed home from close range.
With United’s back line again looking shaky, despite the presence of both Ferdinand and his central defensive partner Nemanja Vidic, Spurs sensed blood.
And they tasted it again just three minutes later, Lennon again taking on Evra to the by-line before crossing to Modric who controlled on his chest and fired past Van der Sar.
Two-nil down and United started to pour forward in search of the goal that would get them back into the game. Again the hosts looked to Ronaldo for inspiration and the Ballon d’Or winner nearly provided it on 38 minutes.
Only a wonder save from Gomes denied the Portuguese from 25 yards after his initial free-kick had rebounded straight back to him off the wall.
Moments later Gomes was again forced into action, this time to deny Wayne Rooney a sharp turn and shot and there was to be no respite for the Brazilian after the break as United emerged with renewed vigour, and there was nothing he could do about the onslaught which followed.