Classic matches revisited: Manchester United 5-2 Tottenham Hotspur - Ronaldo and Rooney sink Spurs and send United to title

When an article was suggested to pick a classic match involving a comeback and Manchester United it could have gone down many avenues as comebacks and United have gone hand in hand throughout the Premier League era.

There have been memorable matches across the years for The Red Devils but have seemingly dried up since the exit of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson; the late noughties saw the club at the height of their powers, especially in the 2008-09 season.

They went into the season off the back of the historic Champions League/Premier League double and were once again in contention for their third consecutive Premier League title but were been pushed all the way by bitter rivals Liverpool.

United’s Premier League clashes with Tottenham have always been special; whether the title-winning clash back 1999 or the iconic White Hart Lane comeback in 2001, but the 2009 Old Trafford victory effectively put one hand on the title.

April 25, 2009 was the stage for that great comeback and it all began with a sense tension surrounding the Theatre of Dreams before a ball had been kicked, with Liverpool’s win over Hull City earlier in the day having put their bitter rivals back at the summit on goal difference.

Ferguson’s side needed to come flying out of the traps against Harry Redknapp’s men, but Spurs were out to spoil the party and could have derailed United’s entire season inside the first 32 minutes.

Dealing two quickfire blows

Darren Bent was having a storming season for the North London club and it was hethat gave the away side the lead and silenced the majority of Old Trafford.

It was simple enough as Vedran Ćorluka whipped a ball in from right, and it was poor from the reliable duo of Nemanja Vidić and Rio Ferdinand. The Serbian stretched to get a touch but ultimately failed and Ferdinand got an awkward head on it as it bounced up.

That faint touch from Ferdinand's head left the ball up for grabs and having already scored 16 goals Bent wasn't going to let the chance pass him by as he put his foot through the ball, swerving past the diving Edwin van der Sar.

United barely had time to catch their breath as Tottenham continued to fight for their first league win in M16 in twenty years, and they took another big leap towards that with their second just three minutes after their first blow.

The move started with Wilson Palacios around the centre who sent striker Robbie Keane running towards the area. It was good build-up play from Spurs to short circuit the United defence before the ball was given to Aaron Lennon out on the wing.

The winger did well to beat Patrice Evra on the right and whip the ball into the area, Bent leaped highest to get a touch which did enough to take Ferdinand's attention off the unmarked Modric.

The Croatian did well to take down on his chest and had all the time in the world to set himself up and hit it into the near corner despite United's best efforts to block on the line. Modric's run to the small Spurs contingent inside the ground was watched on by a clearly agitated Ferguson and it was clear that something had to give for United.

If there was any many that could reignite the fire in their bellies it was FIFA Ballon d'Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo. The winger had risen to the top over the last few years for The Red Devils and it was clear they needed him more than ever.

He kicked the comeback into gear somewhat with the home side's only real chance of the first period as he stood over a free-kick in a relatively good position, it came back off the wall but he had a second bite of the cherry and the dipping effort look destined for the top corner of Gomes' goal.

The keeper however was equal to it as he pulled off a great save to keep it out, but that chance was enough to reinvigorate both the fans and the players for what has become one of the great Premier League comebacks.

Starting it off in controversy

It wouldn't be a comeback of the Barclays Premier League era if it wasn't shrouded in some controversy and this game wasn't without that as many Spurs fans to this day will say the goal that started it all shouldn't have been.

Carlos Tevez' early effort really upped the ante and noise around the place and in the 57th minute the comeback got underway, as Wayne Rooney played a sublime ball from the centre which carved through the entire Spurs side and into the feet of Michael Carrick.

The midfielder looked to get one over his former club as he attempted to round Gomes but hit the hallowed turf, referee Howard Webb had no hesitation of pointing to the spot much to the anger of Redknapp and the players on the pitch.

Given the gift of a replay it does seem that Gomes got a touch on the ball as Carrick tumbles, but that didn't help the keeper as he was both booked and looking down the barrel of a Ronaldo spot kick. The winger stepped up and coolly slotted down the middle with Gomes diving to his left, Ronaldo had more pace on his run to collect the ball and restart the game than his effort but showed the eagerness for the club to keep their title hopes alive.

Turning it on his head

That opening goal for United really reignited the fire in all 11 bellies, and it was only 11 minutes after finding a way back into the clash that they had turned Spurs on their heads and taken the lead for the first time.

Their second goal in the 67th minute was one that was scored with deadly dominance as they powered their way up the field through the likes of Ronaldo, Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov with their cross-field advance ending with Rooney.

Corluka was always in trouble as the ball landed at the feet of the Scouser, he made a steady advancement to the edge of the area before sticking it between the legs of the full-back which Gomes could only help on its way into the bottom corner.

Fans were only given seconds to catch their breath before Ronaldo sent them into mass hysteria by rounding off one of the great comebacks of the modern era.

Rooney and Ronaldo combined once again as the striker played an excellent ball in from the left, it was falling to earth with some pace but nothing Ronaldo couldn't handle as he dived in as his header bounced into the top corner.

Ronaldo produced a fitting celebration as he threw himself into the Old Trafford atmosphere. As the number seven fell back to earth the delirious commentator stated: "Nobody. Nobody does it better than Manchester United" and on this evidence it is a statement that is hard to argue with.

Putting on a show

Spurs look deflated beyond repair after that stellar ten minute period, which meant that United could turn the screw further and push that goal difference and space between themselves and Liverpool further.

Ronaldo and Rooney continued to polish their already iconic performances, the Portuguese winger turned provider as he floated a great ball over the Spurs defence to Rooney at the far post. The striker took a touch before hitting his effort, Jonathan Woodgate looked like he had done enough but the power of Rooney's effort and the Old Trafford pushed it over the line.

It only had been less than a season since Berbatov had swapped North London for the North West, and it seemed only fitting that the Bulgarian would round off the performance of the season.

The striker made it look so easy as he started the move to send Rooney down the left, his strike partner made his way into the area to get onto the end of the floated cross. Berbatov's initial header was blocked by Gomes but he could do nothing to stop the Bulgarian stabbing home the follow-up.

The aftermath

That excellent comeback proved to be catalyst for United to round up their third consecutive Premier League title, but it ended as a so-so campaign for The Red Devils.

In terms of the league they failed to lose another of their five remaining matches, finishing four points above Rafael Benitez's side despite them also remaining undefeated in their final four league matches.

Once one the league was wrapped up Ferguson looked to become the first manager to retain the European Cup in two seasons in the Champions League era, and they were handed the opportunity when they clashed with Barcelona in Rome.

It wasn't meant to be however as they lost out 2-0 to Pep Guardiola's men which was the start of what became one of the greatest football dynasties in recent memory. The Stadio Olimpico was also the host of Ronaldo's final game as a United player; the winger did go out on a whimper before his then world-record move to Real Madrid but has built upon his form at United to become one of, if not the greatest player of the modern era.

Tottenham's season didn't suffer too badly with that comeback, as they finished the season in a strong eighth position which was the platform that Redknapp built upon to get them into the Champions League the following campaign.


This article is the third in its series, 'Classic Matches Revisited'. Check out last week's entry, as Michael Ballack put Liverpool to the sword with one of the Champions League's great goals, here.