Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was left to rue his side’s unusual late generosity and a controversial refereeing decision as his side’s Premier League title charge was slowed by a snowy 1-1 draw at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
So often seen celebrating last-gasp goals like a schoolboy, Ferguson watched as Clint Dempsey swept in Tottenham’s equalizer three minutes into stoppage time after Robin van Persie had given United the lead midway through the first half.
Ferguson appeared happy enough with a point after testing afternoon in freezing north London, although he offered an icy blast towards the match officials after United had not been awarded a penalty when substitute Wayne Rooney was tripped in the area by Steven Caulker.
Demonstrating a photographic memory when it comes to match officials, the 71-year-old picked on assistant referee Simon Beck for not awarding United the spot kick that could have sealed the victory.
“It was a clear penalty kick on Wayne Rooney but in no way was the linesman going to give that,” he told Sky Sports.
“He gave them everything else. We have not had a good record with this linesman, against Chelsea a few years ago he gave onside to Didier Drogba who was three yards offside, you remember those things.”
United appeared to be heading for the kind of 1-0 victory they say title-winners grind out.
Rock solid at the back where Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were magnificent and dogged in midfield with former Spurs player Michael Carrick breaking up attack after attack, United appeared to have weathered the storm until Dempsey found a chink in the armour to snatch a deserved point for the home side.
“We did so well at everything and we kept heading it out, the disappointment is not finishing them off,” said Ferguson, whose side begin the final 15 games of the season with a five-point lead over Manchester City.
“We had a lot of opportunities on the counter attack but our final ball let us down.
“Tottenham were very committed and aggressive. They worked their socks off and you’ve got to credit them for that. They kept pumping the ball in the box and got their reward.”
United have been free-scoring this season, netting 56 in 22 games before the trip to White Hart Lane. But this was a rugged defensive display after Van Persie’s 18th league goal of the season had given United a 25th minute lead.
David De Gea denied Gareth Bale and Dempsey with his legs and Vidic nicked the ball from Jermain Defoe seemed poised to shoot in the second half.
United forced Bale to drop deeper and deeper to try and get the ball and while Tottenham enjoyed 61 per cent of possession they appeared to have run out of steam.
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas’ side have lost only once in 11 league games and Sunday’s draw, following up on the 3-2 win they achieved at Old Trafford in September, will fuel confidence that they can finish in the top four.
“It was a big relief. I thought we dominated the complete game,” the Portuguese, who has impressed in his first season at White Hart Lane, said.
“We could not get in behind them a lot but had 15 opportunities. We have talented players and we gave them different problems, the team came out very strong in the second half.
“I think the boys have embraced the spirit that we want to be in the Champions League next year, and you need to amass as many points as possible.
“We wanted to win, but it was an important point in the end due to the form United are in. A point can give us a lot of confidence.”