United dream of clean sweep

01 March 2009 02:17
Manchester United took another step towards an unprecedented quintuple following a penalty shoot-out victory over previous holders Tottenham Hotspur in the Carling Cup final at Wembley. Having lifted the Fifa Club World Cup in Japan before Christmas, United have been touted as potentially unstoppable in all competitions this season and, as 120 minutes of tense action ended in stalemate, Anderson scored a decisive spot-kick to defeat Spurs and allow Sir Alex Ferguson's squad to dream of glory on five fronts. Defence of the Premier League appears a certainty when a game in hand and seven-point lead is taken into account, while the reigning European kings are well placed against Inter Milan in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League and an FA Cup quarter-final with Fulham awaits on 8th March. The League Cup was perhaps the least glamorous of the accolades United had their eye on at the start of 2008/09 but the men from the North West will have been well aware that, in order to live up to their billing, the first piece of silverware available on the domestic calendar needed to be secured. Ferguson, already a two-time winner of the competition, was never going to allow varying priorities to breed an abject attitude among his players, but United did not have it all their own way in front of 88,217 spectators at the home of English football. Spurs battled United all the way but after a goalless 90 minutes and extra-time, Jamie O'Hara and David Bentley failed from the penalty spot to give United a dramatic 4-1 shoot-out victory. Ferguson kept his promise to offer Jonny Evans, Darron Gibson and Danny Welbeck their chance to write their names in United history, and bolstered the rookies with the experience of captain Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo as Wayne Rooney was absent with a virus and Dimitar Berbatov was omitted against his former club. Meanwhile, Spurs boss Harry Redknapp - who was without the cup-tied Robbie Keane, Carlo Cudicini, Pascal Chimbonda and Wilson Palacios - was missing Jonathan Woodgate after the centre-back failed a late fitness test on an Achilles problem, but he boldly opted for a front two of Darren Bent and Roman Pavlyuchenko. In a Saturday interview, Redknapp aired his opinion of a lack of hunger in modern, pampered players, reminiscing about manning the wheel of a hired minibus to drive his squad to bleak fixtures at Darlington and York during his days as Bournemouth boss. And from the opening blast on referee Chris Foy's whistle, the Spurs chief will have been concerned about the level of desire within his current camp as United posed the greatest threat, with Ronaldo dipping a trademark free-kick over the Tottenham crossbar. Welbeck then showed the Spurs defence a clean pair of heels as he latched onto a superb long-range pass from Scholes, however, the 18-year-old could not genuinely test Heurelho Gomes as United dominated early possession. In the 13th minute Gibson had Gomes diving as the Republic of Ireland midfielder sent a fizzing 25-yard effort narrowly wide of the far post, and soon after the Tottenham goalkeeper was forced to guide a low Nani drive behind for a corner. Tottenham, though, survived the storm and, as Aaron Lennon skipped past Patrice Evra and squared, Ferdinand - who began his career at West Ham under Redknapp after being plucked from a Peckham council estate - was forced to clear as Bent threatened. United were soon back on the front foot and Ferdinand almost came back to haunt his former boss as the England centre-back displayed all his characteristic composure, but at an unfamiliar end of the field, to control on a thigh before unleashing a volley which grazed the roof of the netting. As the half-hour mark arrived, Luka Modric - who is so highly rated by Redknapp but was a mere spectator in the opening 30 minutes - began to settle into the pace of the game an almost unleashed the lively Lennon as Spurs were denied by an offside flag.

Source: SKY_Sports