Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates with his United team-mates after scoring against Tottenham in 2009

United v Tottenham: Seven Old Trafford classics

Wednesday 22 August 2018 15:13

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur is a fixture that has historically delivered absorbing and enthralling contests.

Ahead of the North Londoners’ 82nd league visit to Old Trafford on Monday, we’ve homed in on one classic home encounter against them from each of the last seven decades – and we’ve not even included the 1998/99 final-day title-clincher…

United 2 Tottenham 0 | 26 January 1951 
Beaten at White Hart Lane earlier in the season, United were well aware that Arthur Rowe’s reigning champions were the First Division’s benchmarks. By the time the sides reconvened at Old Trafford on a frozen January afternoon, however, the visitors were down in fourth spot, three points behind the second-placed Reds. While leaders Portsmouth slipped to a shock defeat against Sunderland, however, Old Trafford bore witness to a thrilling encounter despite the capricious pitch. It took an own-goal from Alf Ramsey to break the deadlock, with the future England manager unable to avoid turning in the loose ball after Frank Clempson’s close-range effort. The game ebbed and flowed thereafter, before Stan Pearson turned home the clinching goal with three minutes remaining to send United to the top of the table, where Matt Busby’s Reds would remain for the rest of the season.

Busby's United thrash Spurs
Alan Hardacre, Football League secretary, 1965 says

“This is what the public wants. We saw the kind of football that would pull in crowds anywhere.”

United 5 Tottenham 1 | 18 December 1965
“If this had been a European Cup tie, people would have been hysterical about it,” gushed Alan Hardacre, secretary of the Football League, having watched United and Spurs serve up a football masterclass. Two months earlier, Busby’s side had suffered a 5-1 hammering at White Hart Lane but, on the back of seven wins in eight games, the resurgent Reds were eager for revenge. It wasn’t long coming, just a minute separating goals from Denis Law and Bobby Charlton, and Phil Beal’s own-goal seemingly had the hosts home and hosed by the interval. Spurs immediately hit back through Cliff Jones, and continued to press even after David Herd had restored the three-goal advantage. Only Law’s late fifth ended the visitors’ dogged resistance, prompting Hardacre to conclude: “This is what the public wants. We saw the kind of football that would pull in crowds anywhere.”

United 2 Tottenham 1 | 6 February 1971
George Best lavished countless gifts upon the Old Trafford gallery during his legendary career; few are more cherished than his sumptuous Stretford End lob over Pat Jennings. With the game goalless, Jennings contested a lofted cross with United winger Willie Morgan, from which the ball spun loose to Best, 15 yards out. The winger’s route to goal was blocked by Jennings on his six-yard line, two Tottenham defenders on the goal-line and another closing in fast. The Ulsterman needed just two touches: one for chest control, the other to arc a gentle lob over all his opponents, dipping just in time to comfortably sidle under the crossbar. Mere mortals would have struggled to get a shot off, but Best displayed the rarest serenity to simply bypass every obstacle. While a crowd of helpless players flapped and muddled around in vain attempts to stop the inevitable, George’s only subsequent movement was to lean around the melee to watch his shot drop into the net, before he raised an index finger skywards and walked away, smiling.

George Best scored a famous lobbed goal against Spurs in 1971.

United 3 Tottenham 3 | 7 December 1986
A mind-boggling afternoon which left few observers clear as to what they had witnessed, as brilliant goals, slapstick defending and brittle leads punctuated 90 madcap minutes. Things had started serenely enough when Norman Whiteside’s brilliantly-plotted free-kick routine opened the scoring and Peter Davenport established a two-goal interval lead for the hosts, but the second half provided one long, nightmarish twist for Alex Ferguson, just a month into his Reds tenure. Gary Mabbutt’s thunderous diving header and a calamitous Kevin Moran own-goal levelled the scores before Clive Allen put Spurs ahead. The final twist in the tale came, however, when Bryan Robson was emphatically bundled over by Danny Thomas, giving Davenport the chance to convert a last-minute penalty to ensure the spoils were shared, before all concerned presumably went for a lie-down and a good, hard think about what had just happened.

A madcap 3-3 draw
Steve Bartram, says

"Peter Davenport converted a last-minute penalty, before all concerned presumably went for a lie-down and a good, hard think about what had just happened."

United 4 Tottenham 1 | 9 January 1993
A breakthrough afternoon for Eric Cantona, who had scored three goals in his first six outings after crossing the Pennines, but was yet to treat United supporters to his full repertoire of magnificence. His fine header may have opened the scoring, but it was the Frenchman’s sublime chipped pass for United’s second goal – scored by Denis Irwin – which sent jaws tumbling. With Cantona waving the baton, Brian McClair and Paul Parker quickly scored superb goals to seal a sequence of three in five minutes before the hour-mark, prompting unanimous acclaim afterwards. "He's brought something extra to our team that we haven't had in my time here," warned Ferguson, while Reds legend George Best prophetically noted: “If I needed convincing about Cantona, this was as close as he could come to it. If he keeps doing it, United are going to win the title.” He did, and we did.

Watch Cantona's delicious chipped assist for Irwin's goal in 1993

United 5 Tottenham 2 | 25 April 2009
Poor Spurs. Just when the scars of 2001’s 5-3 thriller at White Hart Lane were starting to heal, Harry Redknapp’s side deemed it safe to move into a two-goal lead at Old Trafford during the 2008/09 title run-in. Big mistake, especially with fortune beaming on a particularly generous penalty award against Heurelho Gomes for sweeping both ball and Michael Carrick up with his huge frame. Nevertheless, Howard Webb merely lit the fuse on an explosive comeback; it was over to United – specifically substitute Carlos Tevez – to bring the dynamite. After Cristiano Ronaldo had converted the contentious penalty, Wayne Rooney levelled the score, then immediately crossed for Ronaldo to head a third. When the dust finally settled, both Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov had struck again, United had bagged five goals in 22 minutes and taken a huge step towards an 18th league title.

Old Trafford witnessed an astonishing second-half comeback from United in April 2009
United 3 Tottenham 0 | 15 March 2015
The 2014/15 campaign had been a slow-burner for United, meandering towards a make-or-break succession of sizeable hurdles in the late-season fixture list. Perched in fourth spot, on course for the Champions League qualification cited as Louis van Gaal’s primary target, the Reds began a rousing run with the season’s finest performance so far: a crushing first-half display to mercilessly swat aside Spurs at Old Trafford. As the Reds unexpectedly produced a masterclass in high-pressing, the stunned visitors folded, falling behind to Marouane Fellaini’s clinical opener and a Michael Carrick header. Wayne Rooney’s unerring finish shortly after the half-hour preceded his now-famous boxing celebration, a neat way to symbolise a knockout blow. “Particularly in the first half, that was probably the best 45 minutes we’ve had all season,” beamed the skipper.