THERE are a few matches which will follow Sir Alex Ferguson into retirement when he finally brings his glorious career to an end.
This won't be one of them. The Manchester United manager took charge of his 986th match with the club against Tottenham Hotspur yesterday, an afternoon which was not replete with memorable incidents.
The three points will have to do, then. Ashley Young's goal midway through the second half was a rare moment of true quality for either side, but it could prove pivotal if United are to overhaul Manchester City and retain their Barclays Premier League title.
The gap at the top was shaved to just two points and United, bidding for a 20th league trophy, will enter the remaining 11 fixtures of the season knowing they have been there and done it many times before, and will draw confidence of reeling in their city rivals.
Ferguson – who has won 12 league titles in 25 years at Old Trafford and has now edged ahead of Matt Busby in terms of league matches in charge – stood in the technical area for the entire first half at a dank White Hart Lane. His presence could not abate the steady rainfall but it was enough to spark his team into life moments before the break.
Wayne Rooney rose to nod his side ahead with United's first chance after 44 minutes, a goal which provoked a sense of inevitability about the outcome despite a spluttering display similar to the one that earned a last-gasp 2-1 win at Norwich City last week.
"We had a bit of luck to score just before half time with probably out first effort at goal," said Ferguson. "It was a nice finish by Wayne but that was a killer for Spurs because they would have sat there and wondered how they were losing 1-0 because they played very well. Today was a little bit disappointing but the one thing we did well was a determination to get the result, we dug in and defended magnificently."
Young's two goals after the break, the first a neat finish at the far post and the second an unstoppable swerving shot into the top corner allowed Ferguson the luxury of watching the rest of the game from his seat with the points safely secured.
"The smoothness didn't come until we got the second goal and we come away knowing we had some luck," said the United manager. "They are a very good side, this was only their second defeat at home since the start of he season. It was a massive result and a massive performance by our defenders."
It was a chastening defeat for Tottenham, although they remain in third place and four points ahead of Arsenal. The London side had been dismantled at the Emirates last week but Harry Redknapp was not inclined to criticise his side. "To go 1-0 down was unbelievable," said the Tottenham manager. "We dominated them. Then at the start of the second half we switch off at a throw and find ourselves 2-0 down and they had done nothing.
"I felt they were there to be beat today. I've not seen Alex on his feet so much for years. You don't always get what you deserve and we didn't get what we deserved today. United rode their luck. We gave them two gifts but our keeper hasn't had a shot to save."
While Redknapp rued his side's luck, he will hope his side can learn United's knack of grinding out wins in the run-in as they chase Champions League qualification. "We want third not fourth," said Redknapp, whose side were given something of a consolation goal through Jermain Defoe three minutes from the end. "I fancy we can still go on a run."
United have negotiated their way through a difficult series of fixtures since Christmas, winning at Arsenal and Tottenham, drawing 3-3 at Chelsea having trailed 3-0, and beating Liverpool at home. "We have had all the big teams since January and a busy spell but we've come through that and all credit to the players because they have dug in and played well most of the games," said Ferguson.
They can now look forward to home matches against West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, Queen's Park Rangers and Aston Villa. There are also a few less than daunting trips to relegation-haunted Wigan Athletic, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers before a potential title decider at Manchester City on April 30. That match could well be one which Ferguson will never forget.