‘Hoodoo’ is often a word thrown around with consummate ease in football circles, yet it is rarely more applicable than when describing Manchester United’s puppet-master control over Tottenham Hotspur.
Prior to the Spurs 3 – 2 victory at Old Trafford earlier this season, they hadn’t beaten United since May 2001 – a stretch of 26 matches equating to 20 defeats and six draws.
Perhaps even more remarkably, we are hardly discussing a football giant bullying a minnow here. While the Red Devils are certainly giants, their power and aura inextinguishable, Tottenham also possess their own fear-inducing qualities.
Two top-flight domestic titles, eight FA Cups, four League Cups and two UEFA Cups feature in the North-Londoners trophy cabinet. Impressively, Tottenham and Manchester United are the only English clubs to win silverware in each of the past six decades.
Add into the mix Spurs’ strong financial status - according to Forbes they are the 11th most valuable team in the world - along with their healthy crowd averages, and you begin to understand the enormity of United’s achievement in yielding such a stranglehold.
However, on the back of Sunday’s 1 – 1 draw at White Hart Lane, Tottenham have earned four out of six points against their bogey side this campaign and have taken another giant step towards establishing themselves as genuine title challengers going forward.
It was the dominant manner of their performance that was particularly eye-catching and no doubt pleasing for manager Andre Villas-Boas. Despite trailing for over an hour, Tottenham completely dictated terms and looked capable of raiding the scoresheet.
Heavy snowfall almost caused the much-anticipated fixture to be postponed, with seemingly valid doubts over the safety of the pitch discussed by officials pre-match. The decision to go ahead was resoundingly justified though, as the difficult conditions did little to hamper the tremendous standard and spectacle produced.
An absorbing battle for midfield supremacy largely characterized the opening stages, and ultimately proved to be a far cry from the Spurs second-half procession.
Tottenham’s Scott Parker, Mousa Dembele, Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale took on Manchester United’s Phil Jones, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Shinji Kagawa. Mouthwatering stuff, an abundance of brilliance.
The intense pressure being applied and weight of numbers in the centre-third made ball retention almost an exceptional deed. Suffice to say it was very hot in the kitchen.
Shooting chances were subsequently few and far between, which just added to the significance of the Red Devils 25th minute dagger. Cleverley’s wonderful delivery from the edge of the box to the back post allowed Robin van Persie to nod home his 18th league goal of the season.
It almost goes without saying who the scorer is when United are involved presently, such is the prolific nature of Van Persie’s goal poaching. He has registered in nine of his past 10 Premier League matches.
Given the weight of history on Tottenham’s shoulders, the imposing form of their opponents and having fallen 1 – 0 behind, a lesser side would have caved, succumbing to the mental demons. Instead, the Spurs showed resilience and class in asserting their authority.
Attacking trio Clint Dempsey, Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon, comfortably covering for Emmanuel Adebayor’s absence on African Nations Cup duty, posed never-ending danger to United’s defensive unit.
Defoe and Dempsey were dynamic, while Lennon was arguably best afield. He lowered Patrice Evra’s colours in a commanding wing display, utilizing his pace to facilitate numerous forward thrusts.
Incredibly accumulating 23 shots to six, Spurs battered Manchester in a way that has been fleetingly seen in 2012/13. The only missing piece was a clinical finish.
Huge credit must be directed at custodian David de Gea for maintaining United’s ascendency for so long. Central defenders Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand worked tirelessly in front of him – the latter’s 78th minute recovery to deny Defoe was a key moment - but they were under serious duress.
It meant de Gea was somewhat exposed and the young Spaniard handled it with aplomb. He was alert and assured, saving eight times and twice doing so with his legs on pure reflex – a technique that is fast becoming his trademark.
With mere seconds remaining in the match and United still one-goal to the good, another hard-fought win seemed to be all but assured. Then the Red Devils received a dose of their own medicine – a late, game-changing strike.
Fittingly Lennon was the provider, calmly finding Dempsey who slotted his fifth goal of the season to equalize the contest 1 – 1. Manchester could hardly complain. To say Tottenham deserved a point would be an understatement, and the table toppers ability to pinch late points is widely recognised and unmatched.
Unbeaten in seven straight matches, Tottenham sit clear in fourth position and are on track for Champions League qualification. Such a feat would be a much-desired and well-earned reward for a wonderful season.
But hoodoo defiant displays against the best England has to offer suggests that the Spurs are building towards something bigger. The pinnacle of English desires - an English Premier League title.