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17 Jan 2011

Manchester United extended their unbeaten record in the Premier League this season to 21 games and returned to the top of the table with an important draw at Tottenham.

David Beckham was at White Hart Lane to see the club he hopes to play for face the one he graced for so long - but for all the effort and quality on show the encounter descended into a scrappy affair.

United were forced to play the last 16 minutes without young Brazilian defender Rafael, who received a second yellow card for a foul on Benoit Assou-Ekotto, but they survived as Spurs were unable to muster the attacking threat that has made them such an impressive force at home and abroad this season.

Wayne Rooney remains out of sorts but also produced two of United's real moments of danger when he wasted an early chance and forced a fine save from Spurs keeper Heurelho Gomes early in the second half.

The north Londoners had opportunities of their own, with both Peter Crouch and Rafael van der Vaart coming agonisingly close in the first period as they attempted to convert crosses from Alan Hutton and Gareth Bale.

It was a result that suited United's purposes more than Spurs' and Sir Alex Ferguson will be satisfied that they managed to contain one of their potential title rivals on home territory without ever threatening to hit the heights.

United moved back ahead of arch-rivals Manchester City on goal difference but crucially have two games in hand as they maintain their bid to win a record 19th title.

Tottenham had hoped to make a statement of real intent against the title pace-setters and while manager Harry Redknapp did not secure the victory he craved, he at least saw his side match United every stride of the way in a game that fizzled out after a bristling start.

Rooney was fit to return to United's line-up after missing two games with an ankle injury - and he was in the thick of the action right away as he raced on to Dimitar Berbatov's pass only to send a presentable finish wide from an acute angle.

The opening exchanges were rich in quality and a wonderful passage of build-up play from Spurs ended with Crouch meeting Hutton's right-wing cross but his effort was narrowly off-target.

As the early sparkle faded into a war of attrition, Rafael was fortunate to escape with only a booking for a late lunge on Wilson Palacios, who swiftly exacted revenge - although the Brazilian's demand that referee Mike Dean produce the yellow card did him no credit.

Spurs ended the half in the ascendancy and Van der Vaart was again inches away from giving them the lead when he met Bale's cross but his header flew wide.

It was United who started more impressively after the break as Michael Carrick headed Ryan Giggs' corner across the face of the goal and wide, while Rooney forced Gomes into a fine fingertip save to turn away his low drive from 20 yards.

Ferguson made a change on the hour when he sent on Anderson for the subdued Nani, moving Rooney out into a wider right-flank role in the process.

As Ferguson prepared to send Paul Scholes into the action, Rafael was sent off for his second yellow card after tripping Assou-Ekotto. He reacted furiously as he went down the tunnel and Rooney picked up a booking for a rant in the direction of referee Dean after the decision.

It prompted an exchange of substitutions as Jermain Defoe replaced Palacios and Javier Hernandez came on for Berbatov, who had failed to shine against his former club.

There was to be no dramatic ending, however, and both Redknapp and Ferguson were forced to settle for a share of the spoils.


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