The performance of officials has become a running theme of Spurs’ games in recent weeks and Howard Webb certainly kept it alive at Old Trafford. It now seems clear that he called a fairly tight decision the wrong way, but the man who will take charge of the Cup Final - and who has sent off both Ronaldo and Vidic this season - is also widely regarded as a competent and honest referee.
What is less than honest was Harry Redknapp’s reaction to Webb’s error:
”In my opinion, it changed the game completely. I'm not making excuses for conceding bad goals but at that stage of the game there was no way they were going to get back into the game. At half-time I felt confident we were going to score again. Every time we got the ball to Aaron Lennon they were afraid and I felt there were more goals there for us. The penalty gave them a massive lift. I felt they were giving the ball away, the crowd was a little edgy and the longer the game went on the more comfortable we were.”
Perhaps it has escaped Harry’s memory that, following Ronaldo’s penalty conversion, Spurs were still in front but then completely caved in. With the exception of Lennon and possibly Modric, none of the team will look back on this encounter - or at least the second half display - with any pleasure. Most culpable were the yet again subdued Keane; Gomes, who was at fault for two of the goals; and the ineffectual Jenas, whose most memorable contribution was to impede his own goalkeeper as Berbatov scored United’s fifth.
The former Spurs player was impressive and his manager, reflecting on the Bulgarian’s FA Cup semi-final penalty miss a week ago, noted that, ”It is only a missed penalty. We have to move on.” What a pity that Redknapp and Spurs could not adopt the same attitude after conceding one, instead of falling apart. Rather than blaming the penalty incident for changing the game, it might be more helpful for Harry to try to learn from Ferguson’s withdrawal of Nani for Tevez at the half and his subsequent introduction of Scholes with half an hour to go.
For Spurs’ part, Corluka, who pressed forward to great effect in the first half, was run ragged by Rooney and Ronaldo in the second. With the pacy Alan Hutton on the bench, Harry did eventually act - bringing on Bale and Huddlestone for Modric and Keane with less than five minutes to go. Hardly the most effective use of substitutes ever witnessed in the Premier League.
So Spurs maintained their abysmal record at Old Trafford and, in doing so, dented their slim hopes of European qualification. Another mid-table finish beckons, and frankly the fans would have been delighted at that prospect just a few short months ago. The fact that expectations have now been raised is surely a good thing, but the drubbing at the so-called Theatre of Dreams shows there’s still some way to go.