Tottenham Hotspur Players Lose Their Nerve Again on the Big Stage

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Tottenham Hotspur Players Lose Their Nerve Again on the Big Stage
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Tottenham Hotspur remains without a victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford since 1989 after two clumsy errors allowed a subdued Red Devils team to take the lead in the race for the Premier League title.

The fourth-placed Londoners have now failed to secure an away victory against the 'Big Four' teams in the Premier League in their last 67 attempts—a staggering statistic given that the club has finished the majority of its 17 seasons in the league in the top half of the table.

This afternoon, on the back of two top-class victories over London rivals and title contenders Arsenal and Chelsea, Spurs fans had reason to be more optimistic than in previous seasons.

Moreover, they received a double boost before kick-off when it was announced that United striker Wayne Rooney had not sufficiently recovered from an injury sustained in training and their best defender Ledley King would start the match, after missing the win against Chelsea.

This optimism was tangible for the first 50 minutes of a game which was surprisingly short on quality and action—a consequence perhaps of a slippery surface which saw players continuously lose their footing.

Ultimately however, two lapses of concentration which sandwiched a wonderful finish from the home team's best player on the day, Luis Nani, meant that the defensive resolve Spurs displayed in the opening half came to nothing.

Firstly, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who Sky Sports guest pundit Glenn Hoddle labelled before the game as a defensive liability thoughtlessly scythed down the fleet-footed French full-back Patrice Evra. Secondly, Wilson Palacios barged Nani in the back with five minutes to play. These actions summed up the afternoon of both Tottenham players involved—off the pace, lackadaisical and unfocused.

As a result, Ryan Giggs scored his first ever Premier League penalty kicks.

After the match, manager Redknapp rued the errors, adding that he had pleaded with his players to "stay on their feet" in such situations.

Moments before Nani had dinked the ball over onrushing goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, it seemed that Ledley King had put Tottenham right back in the game with a towering header that Rafael should perhaps have blocked on the line. In fact, at that point Tottenham looked dangerous on the break, with newly introduced substitutes Aaron Lennon and Eidur Gudjohnsen using the ball intelligently and finding space well.

Nevertheless, Tottenham fans would have considered a draw very fortunate. Despite United's sloppy passing and slow tempo, it was a performance synonymous with Tottenham supporters expectations: nervous, timid, and unambitious. Audere est Facere? Not this bunch!

In midfield, Palacios and Huddlestone gave United defenders the ball back so easily, thus incurring the wrath of their manager Redknapp. Gareth Bale—tactically inept at left-back —and Benoit Assou-Ekotto were outplayed and out-thought by their counterparts. And Jermain Defoe cut a forlorn figure upfront again, as he continues to do his best to ruin his World Cup chances.

In fact, with Rooney, Owen Hargreaves and Rio Ferdinand all sidelined through injury, Lennon only making a brief cameo appearance and Crouch, Defoe and Huddlestone all mediocre on the day, only another fine defensive display from Tottenham duo King and Woodgate will have impressed watching England assistant Franco Baldini.

Many would argue that there are four key characteristics a team needs to display in such a challenging environment—ambition, concentration, discipline and luck. Unfortunately for Spurs fans, their players managed to achieve not one of these over the course of 90 minutes. In fact, the same could apply to most of their matches both home and away against top teams over an entire decade.

In 2005, Spurs should have broken their unenviable hoodoo when Pedro Mendes seemed to have scored a 60-yard injury-time winner at Old Trafford ruled out for offside. Two years ago, the team suffered more injury-time misery when Carlos Tevez headed an equaliser from a corner to earn his former team a 1-1 draw. These are just two of many occasions on which the Londoners have, for want of a better phrase, "bottled it".   

Spurs fans will hope that the players are starting to learn their lessons, and will not commit the same mistakes when they return to Manchester at the beginning of May. If they can manage this, it might be Tottenham Hotspur—not Manchester City—which will soon earn its prestigious status as one of the "Big Four" clubs.

Bring on 5 May!

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