Neither side took complete control early on as possession see-sawed and clear openings in front of goal were few; a glancing header from van Persie after ten minutes failed to trouble Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris and at the other end the lively Aaron Lennon forced a parried save from David De Gea, who smothered a rebound effort from Defoe but he was offside.
It was the home side, for whom Lennon was a constant threat, who looked like finding a foothold in the game just as United scored on 25 minutes. Welbeck neatly worked the ball out to Cleverley on the right and, with a delivery reminiscent of his idol David Beckham, the Reds midfielder crossed perfectly for van Persie to head home from a tight angle at the far post - the Dutchman’s 22nd goal of a remarkable debut season with United.
The goal galvanised the visitors for a strong finish to the half, but Tottenham too appeared incentivised and gave a reminder of the danger they pose five minutes before half time when De Gea had to improvise to save with his legs from Gareth Bale’s right-foot shot on the edge of the area. Andre Villas-Boas’ side then piled on the pressure in the second half; just 30 seconds after the restart Defoe engineered space for a shot but fired wide, then Bale curled a shot just over the bar, before Dempsey forced a world-class close-range save, again with his feet, from De Gea.
Tottenham looked lively and dangerous on the break while United’s use of the ball was not as sharp as it could have been. So it was a timely change to call on Wayne Rooney in place of Kagawa after an hour, and the Reds striker had been on the pitch seconds when he had a strong claim for a penalty turned down after tangling with Spurs defender Steven Caulker in the area. The substitution added a little more purpose to United’s play and for a while it put the Reds back on the front