MANCHESTER // Tottenham Hotspur's long wait for a victory at Old Trafford will run into a 22nd year, but this latest defeat will have had a more bitter taste than most after the controversial Nani goal that sealed their fate with six minutes remaining.
With United leading through Nemanja Vidic's first half-header, Nani struck in circumstances that Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager, described as "scandalous".
When the Portuguese winger went down in the Tottenham penalty area, referee Mark Clattenburg ignored his penalty claims and Heurelho Gomes, the Spurs keeper, thought instead he had awarded a free kick for Nani's handball as he fell to the ground.
Yet the referee had done neither, hence Gomes put the ball down to take a free kick, Nani nipped in to roll the ball into an empty net. Although the assistant referee flagged, Clattenburg overruled him, sparking furious protests from the Spurs players that continued after the final whistle.
"How can you give a goal? He has handled the ball, if he's handled the ball he should be booked to start with and it's a free kick, so Gomes put the ball down for a free kick," said Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager.
His counterpart, Sir Alex Ferguson, said: "The referee didn't blow his whistle at all. Nani went back and looked at the referee and he said 'Play on', so what can you do? He put the ball in the net.
"The goalkeeper should know better."
Perhaps Tottenham should have expected the worst at a ground where they have not won since 1989 - and where in January 2005 referee Clattenburg missed a Pedro Mendes shot that crossed the goalline by about a metre.
The promise of their first-half performance eventually evaporated and the loss of Rafael van der Vaart with a hamstring injury worry that looks set to rule him out of Tuesday's Champions League showdown with Inter Milan provided an additional blow.
Spurs survived an early scare inside 90 seconds when Ji-sung Park beat Gomes with a 25-yard effort but saw his shot hit the post.
Yet the visitors went just as close themselves after eight minutes when Van der Vaart spun away from Michael Carrick on the edge of the box and drilled a left-foot shot past compatriot Van der Sar but not the post.
On the half-hour, Vidic made the breakthrough for United. After Younes Kaboul was penalised for fouling Javier Hernandez on the United right, Nani swung the ball in and Vidic got in front of Benoit Assou-Ekotto and powered a header into the far corner. It was Nani's eighth assist in the Premier League this season.
Van der Sar, a day after his 40th birthday, then kept the lead intact before the break when he palmed away Luka Modric's drive from the edge of the box.
Ferguson felt the first half was "too open" and that United "gave Van der Vaart far too much room". His team had the better of the openings after the break though Gareth Bale provided a scare with a diagonal run in the 59th minute that ended with a right-foot shot that flew just the wrong side of Van der Sar's post.
After chances at both ends, Nani ensured the game ended under a shroud of controversy and then almost salted the wound with an injury-time chip off the crossbar.
United will not mind after their fourth straight win in all competitions.