London // It is the comfort of the stalemate that should concern Manchester United's rivals. Unfairly reduced to 10 men on the ground of a team that fancy themselves to outscore anyone, the Premier League leaders simply rolled down the shutters.
In 20 minutes of numerical superiority, Tottenham Hotspur did not draw a save of note from Edwin van der Sar. At the other end, Heurelho Gomes sprinted sharply from his line to prevent Ryan Giggs netting the winner on his 600th League appearance. When the whistle blew, United were back atop the table, six goals better off than Manchester City with two postponed matches in hand.
As untroubled in his post-match comments as his team had been in preserving their unbeaten season, Sir Alex Ferguson could talk of "a fair result" and emphasise the openness of the division. The Scot only does this when advantage is in his own possession.
"It could be a real thrilling end to the season," Ferguson said. "All five are claiming their chances. Tottenham are not out of it, it's about winning games and keeping your nerve and defensively we kept our nerve today, they never really troubled us.
"When you consider the goals they've scored at home and particularly the performances they've shown at home I think we take great credit for that."
Harry Redknapp concurred on the fairness, claiming his team had been "open as a barn door" in attacking the 10 men before arguing that a point against United was a fine outcome.
"No one has beaten them this year and maybe no one will beat them all year," he said. "It's not impossible. Any point you take off them is a good point."
Victory for United, declared Redknapp ahead of kick off, would have guaranteed them the title.
If the statement was overly grand it would certainly end of his ambitions in that department. Prone to conservatism in such fixtures, Redknapp veered towards the negative in his line-up. Wilson Palacios was used as a midfield destroyer with Peter Crouch - a superior defender of set pieces - preferred to Jermain Defoe.
The drawback of such relative caution became quickly evident. From the right wing, Alan Hutton delivered an almost perfect centre to the fringe of the six-yard box from where Crouch half-volleyed off target. From the left, Gareth Bale outsprinted Rafael and boomed a cross to the back post. Having stalled his run, Crouch watched it sail across the area a couple of feet from his forehead.
Against United's 4-4-2, Tottenham's advantage in midfield granted them more first-half possession but limited clear-cut chances. When the visitors broke, the threat was more direct.
In the opening minutes, Wayne Rooney skipped over a William Gallas slide tackle to shoot across the face of goal. From three further opportunities the striker twice stretched Gomes and once cleared the crossbar.
Slaloming down the heart of the pitch, Rooney opened the second half with a sweet, low shot that Gomes did well to cajole past the post.
As the minutes progressed, United exerted more control, Ferguson adding midfield presence by reshaping with Anderson to a 4-2-3-1.
As if bored by the stalemate, the referee then opened the game up for Tottenham with a terribly misjudged red card. Correctly booked for a ragged block tackle on Palacios before the break, Rafael collected a second caution for accidentally clipping Benoit Assou-Ekotto's heals. The Brazilian protested furiously. Rooney received another yellow for his own protests to Mike Dean.
Redknapp felt the decision was wrong, Ferguson knew it was. "I don't need to discuss that," said United's manager. "You can see that for yourself, I'll leave you to discuss the referee. He's out of my bounds now, thank God."
Still, a win that Tottenham have awaited for a decade refused to come. This United are in the mood for ceding nothing.