When Sir Alex Ferguson was asked to nominate his favourite Manchester United game during his 24 years at Old Trafford he had no hesitation in telling the Red News magazine “The one that sticks out in my mind was when we were at Tottenham in September 2001 and were 3-0 down at half time but then we went on to beat them 5-3. It was such an amazing turnaround and the fans played their part too. It was a great game.” United go back to White Hart Lane on Sunday and while it would be unreasonable to expect that sort of drama again, Ferguson will be more than happy to grab all three points once more. This is how Bill Pierce from PA Sport reported on that dramatic afternoon nearly a decade ago.
Tottenham 3 v Manchester United 5
Manchester United produced one of the most remarkable comebacks in the history of the Premiership as they came from three goals behind at half-time to complete an astonishing victory. In an amazing tale of two halves, Spurs blitzed United with goals from Dean Richards, Les Ferdinand and Christian Ziege.
But the champions hit back after the break in equally devastating fashion, with goals from Andy Cole, Laurent Blanc, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Juan Sebastian Veron and David Beckham to secure their first win at White Hart Lane for four years.
This was Premiership football at its most exciting, and the three goals scored by Spurs in the first half were a joy to watch. Richards, who must have pinched himself to believe such an immaculate debut in the first half following his £8.1million move from Southampton set the ball rolling after 14 minutes when Denis Irwin sliced a Ziege free kick behind for a corner. Ziege curled in the right-wing corner with his left foot and Richards slipped his marker to head the ball into the opposite corner.
The second goal arrived after 24 minutes. Ferdinand, who had been continually pulled up for offside beat the flag as he latched on to Gus Poyet’s neat through-ball. The former England striker steadied himself inside the right edge of the penalty area before beating Fabien Barthez with a powerful low drive into the opposite corner.
United’s midfield opened up when Butt was forced to depart after 39 minutes thanks to a painful blow in the ribs from Mauricio Taricco, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came on as a third striker. It gave Spurs time on the ball and they worked a neat third goal after three minutes of stoppage time. Steffen Freund fed Poyet down the right and his deep cross was met by unmarked Ziege at the far post with a powerful diving header.
The home fans – and probably both sets of players, were almost numb in disbelief, not that it stopped them celebrating as the half time whistle sounded. However, it was to be a totally different story in the second half as spectacular Spurs collapsed in equally astonishing fashion.
United’s fightback began after just 48 seconds of the restart. Gary Neville charged down the right and delivered a cross which Cole buried with a header inside the near post. Spurs were exposed again after 57 minutes when Beckham – keen as ever to impress in front of England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson – sent over a corner from the right and Blanc rose highest to head home. United were level after 71 minutes when a flowing move down the left ended with Mikael Silvestre, a half-time replacement for Irwin crossing from the left and van Nistelrooy scoring with a cool header.
There was going to be only one winner from that point, and man-of-the-match Veron again exposed Tottenham when he found space on the left edge of the area and drilled his shot into the bottom far corner. There was time for Beckham to rub salt into Tottenham’s wounds after 86 minutes. A cross from the left was half cleared to the England skipper just outside the box and he sealed the memorable comeback with an unstoppable drive past helpless Neil Sullivan.
United’s second half comeback might have been even more painful for Spurs but Beckham sent one free-kick over the bar, Blanc headed wide from a corner and Sullivan saved well from van Nistelrooy.
The only worrying statistic for United is the fact they have now leaked 13 goals in seven Premiership games. Ferguson claims not to mind when his team are capable of scoring so many at the other end, but first half displays like this one will not do his nerves any good at all”
By the end of that season Pierces’s observation proved to be correct as United finished in third position, a full ten points from champions Arsenal and even behind Liverpool for the only time since the introduction of the Premier League.
Tottenham – Sullivan, Taricco, King, Perry, Richards, Ziege, Freund, Anderton (Rebrov 83), Poyet, Ferdinand, Sheringham – GOALS Richards 15, Ferdinand 25, Ziege 45.
Manchester United – Barthez, G. Neville, Blanc, Johnsen, Irwin (Silvestre 45), Beckham, Butt (Solskjaer 40), Scholes, Veron, Cole, van Nistelrooy – GOALS Cole 46, Blanc 58, van Nistelrooy 72, Veron 76, Beckham 87.
What is YOUR most memorable game during the Ferguson era?