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Spurs v Man Utd, 01.03.09
Carling Cup Final

(a.e.t. – Man Utd won 4-1 on penalties)

Referee: - Chris Foy

Attendance: - 88,217

Spurs (4-4-2):- Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, King (Capt.), Ekotto; Lennon (sub Bentley, 101), Jenas (sub Bale, 98), Zokora, Modric; Pavlyuchenko (sub O’Hara, 64), Bent

Subs not used: - Alnwick; Gunter; Huddlestone, Taarabt

No Bookings

Man Utd (4-4-2):- Foster; Evans, Ferdinand (Capt.), O’Shea (sub Vidic, 76), Evra; Ronaldo, Gibson (sub Giggs, 91), Scholes, Nani; Tevez, Welbeck (sub Anderson, 56)

Subs not used: - Kuszczak; Park, Possebon, Eckersley

Booked; - O’Shea, Ronaldo, Scholes

Honourable defeat

Manchester United remain on target for a remarkable five-trophy haul, after beating Spurs in a penalty shoot-out after extra-time. It is a mark of respect for Spurs that Sir Alex Ferguson started with the strongest team he has fielded in the tournament this season; that he replaced Gibson and Welbeck with “big guns”, and that United keeper Ben Foster was awarded the man of the match trophy. Foster probably earnt that on the back of his remarkable save from Aaron Lennon after 70 minutes, and then his save of Spurs’ first penalty by substitute Jamie O’Hara.

Spurs had been on the back foot for much of the first 20 or 25 minutes, before gradually establishing a foothold in the game to the point that had they managed a goal, they would not have been judged lucky winners. United too had good chances, not least when Ronaldo struck a post near the end of normal time, but the bottom line is that Spurs simply lost the lottery of the penalty shoot-out. Regarding that shoot-out, I do feel that it was wrong for a 22 year old substitute to be asked to step up to take our first kick. Why didn’t top scoring striker Darren Bent set us on the scoring path? Where were the more experienced players to take the responsibility that was placed upon O’Hara’s shoulders? As for David Bentley, who pulled his kick horribly wide, the less said the better.

It would be wrong to dwell on the penalties though, but to focus on a good team performance against the World Club Champions. As expected, Van Der Sar and Berbatov were not in the squad, but Rooney was also missing due to a virus. Rio Ferdinand was present to Captain the side, and Ronaldo started. Gibson and Welbeck got their promised starts and Welbeck partnered Tevez, but made little impression. Gibson fared better though and was only replaced by Giggs at the start of extra time. Spurs were missing Jonathan Woodgate not because of his stitched wound, but because he has an Achilles tendon injury. Michael Dawson thus got a deserved Carling Cup Final start and excelled beside the stalwart Ledley King.

Spurs had an early scare when Zokora fouled the advancing Tevez after 4 minutes, and Ronaldo stepped up, putting his free kick over the centre of the goal. A poor ball out by Ekotto was nearly punished when Nani put the ball in from the left, Tevez passed back for Ronaldo, whose shot was held by Gomes. After 12 minutes, Tevez’s shot was blocked and Gibson followed up with a dipping shot that worried Gomes, but just passed his left stanchion. Nani cut in from the left and Gomes saved this shot for a corner. At this stage, I felt that we might just as well have been at Old Trafford for all the possession Spurs allowed their opponents, and for all the concession of ground.

However, at last Spurs sharpened up, with Luka Modric’s long ball to Corluka, who sent Lennon away. Lennon’s cross led to a Spurs corner.

Mid-way through the half, following a United corner, Ferdinand tried a shot from outside the area, which landed on the net but was always missing and did not worry Gomes. Modric picked up a Gomes clearance and sent Bent away with an excellent pass. Bent was on thee right side of the box, and his shot was parried then held by Foster. Lennon was on the left and picked up a long Spurs free kick, putting a cross to the near post, where Pavlyuchenko met the ball but headed it far too wide. This was the closest that the Russian came to achieving a goal in every game of the competition. Jenas, Modric and Lennon were involved in a Spurs move near half-time that led to another corner.

Two minutes after the break, Modric fouled Ronaldo, who missed another free kick in front of his own fans. Welbeck was replaced by Anderson, and I noticed that O’Shea seemed to have moved to right back, with Evans moving inside. O’Shea got a booking for a foul on Modric and was lucky not to see a second yellow for a similar foul. Perhaps that is why Sir Alex replaced him with Vidic before the end of the half.

Zokora raced down the middle from his own half, and there was space opening up for him to take a shot. However, he chose to pass to Pavlyuchenko who skied a poor effort on goal. Evans had an effort blocked after a corner, and Tevez fired wide following up. After being fouled by O’Shea again, Modric put in a good ball, and Darren Bent’s header was saved. Bent had a good game, which included consistent harrying of the keeper and defenders when in possession. O’Hara replaced Pavlyuchenko and Modric moved in the hole behind Bent.

Ronaldo got a yellow card for simulation as he went down under Ledley King’s challenge. The word is that Ronaldo might have been a little unlucky, as there was contact.

Then came Lennon’s chance after 70 minutes. There was surely never a better chance for him to score and for Spurs to take the spoils. Ekotto had put in a great cross from the left, which reached Lennon beyond the back post. Aaron took a step, shaped up, but probably put the shot too close to Foster who made a great reaction diving save. Lennon had time to pick a better spot, and score with certainty, in my view.

At the other end, Gomes was down to an Anderson shot, before O’Shea was replaced by Vidic who moved to the middle whilst Evans returned to right back. As full time approached Ronaldo unleashed a shot from the inside right position, and it hit the post, rebounding to Nani who fired wide.

Spurs had a long spell of possession at the start of extra time, but made nothing of it, before Ekotto gave the ball away to Scholes, who fed Nani, whose shot was saved. Jenas was replaced by Gareth Bale, who had watched last years game on crutches. Bale took up the left midfield spot, and O’Hara moved inside. Lennon tired out and had to be replaced by Bentley Tevez had a chance with a header as half-time approached in added time, but it went outside the target, with Gomes paying attention.

Two minutes into the final fifteen, Bentley did make a great clearance from his half with a curling ball down the line that Bent chased. The ball got to Jamie O’Hara, whose first shot was blocked, then his second went over. Bentley disappointed with a long free kick that went just over the net, when his target really should have been his team-mates assembling near the 6 yard line. Michael Dawson went down injured – possibly with cramp, but after a short spell off the pitch battled on. Spurs had another great chance to win the game. It was another Modric ball from the left which reached the back of the United area, and Bent’s shot was blocked. Evra had a shot way over at the other end and the final whistle was blown, leading to that dreaded shoot-out.

The penalties were taken at the United end, with Giggs stepping up first, scoring off the post to the left of Gomes. Then came O’Hara’s moment that could have been a touch of glory, but turned into disaster as Foster saved. Tevez scored despite a touch by Gomes, before Corluka fired home with confidence. Ronaldo did his usual stop-start trick before scoring with aplomb, and Bentley gave Spurs a mountain to climb with an appalling effort that went miles wide. Anderson made it 4-1 and went off to celebrate in front of his fans.

I am proud of my team, and pleased with their performance in a match they could quite easily have won. Apart from the defeat on the day, the biggest disappointment now is that Spurs will not play in Europe next season, where we have had some great trips and memories over the last three years. Now we have to ensure Premier League status, starting on Wednesday night against Middlesbrough, when Cudicini, Chimbonda, Palacios and Robbie Keane will be available. However, there might still be some tired and weary legs after this sterling performance.

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