Steely United show how to win ugly

London: Alex Ferguson has enjoyed plenty of eye-catching Manchester United performances during his glorious reign at Old Trafford but the Scot knows better than anybody the value of digging out victories when not firing on all cylinders.

Sunday`s 3-1 victory at Tottenham Hotspur in Ferguson`s 986th league match in charge was one of those occasions.

It will not linger long in Ferguson`s memory and apart from Ashley Young`s second goal contained precious little quality but it could prove pivotal if United are to overhaul Manchester City and retain their Premier League title.

The gap at the top was shaved to two points and United, bidding for a 20th English crown, will enter the remaining 11 games of the season knowing they have been there and done it many times before and confident of reeling in their local rivals.

Ferguson, who has won 12 league titles in 25 years at Old Trafford and has now edged ahead of Matt Busby in terms of league matches in charge, stood getting wet in the technical area for the entire first half at a dank White Hart Lane.

Apart from the odd show of annoyance as his side were pinned back deep in their own half, however, his was a calm presence, his body language that of a wily old master who knows the magic recipe to win titles.

Once Wayne Rooney had scored with United`s first chance after 44 minutes, there was an inevitability about the outcome despite a spluttering display similar to the one that earned a last-gasp 2-1 win at Norwich City last week.

Young`s two goals after the break, the first a neat finish at the far post and the second an unstoppable swerving shot into the top corner allowed Ferguson the luxury of watching the rest of the game from his seat with the points safely in the bag.

United have negotiated a dangerous series of fixtures since Christmas, winning at Arsenal and Tottenham, drawing 3-3 at Chelsea having trailed 3-0, and beating Liverpool at home.

They can now look forward to home games against West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, Queen`s Park Rangers and Aston Villa and less than daunting trips to relegation haunted Wigan Athletic, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers before a potential title decider at Manchester City on April 30.

No wonder Ferguson looked a happy man.

"We had a bit of luck to score just before halftime with probably out first effort at goal," Ferguson said of his side`s victory at Tottenham, a team United last tasted defeat against in 2001.

"It was a nice finish by Wayne but that was a killer for Spurs because they would have sat there and wondered how they were losing 1-0 because they played very well.

"We have had all the big teams since January and a busy spell but we`ve come through that and all credit to the players because they have dug in and played well most of the games.

"Today was a bit disappointing but the one thing we did well today was a determination to get the result, we dug in and defended magnificently.

"The smoothness didn`t come until we got the second goal and we come away knowing we had some luck. They are a very good side, this was only their second defeat at home since the start of the season. It was a massive result and a massive performance by our defenders."

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp praised his third-placed side, despite a second heavy defeat in eight days after last week`s 5-2 dismantling at Arsenal.

"To go 1-0 down was unbelievable," he said. "We dominated them. Then at the start of the second half we switch off at a throw and find ourselves 2-0 down and they had done nothing.

"I felt they were there to be beat today. I`ve not seen Alex on his feet so much for years. You don`t always get what you deserve and we didn`t get what we deserved today.

"United rode their luck. We gave them two gifts but our keeper hasn`t had a shot to save."

While Redknapp rued his side`s luck, he will hope his side can learn United`s knack of grinding out wins in the run-in as they chase Champions League qualification.

"We want third not fourth," said Redknapp, whose side are four points above Arsenal. "We are still in pole position and I fancy we can still go on a run."

Bureau Report

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