Sir Jim Ratcliffe sat in the heart of the Old Trafford directors’ box, next to Sir Alex Ferguson, obviously. Reflected glory is in short supply at Manchester United these days but Sir Alex still bestows on it on all who stray into his orbit so for United’s new minority owner, at least the optics were good.
There were other positives to his first visit to watch United since his £1.3bn purchase of a 25% share of the club he supported as a boy. It didn’t rain so the roof couldn’t leak on him. He saw Rasmus Hojlund score a stunning opening goal inside three minutes. And he heard the home fans begging to be rid of the Glazers, the loathed majority owners.
But there was plenty to concern him, too. Sir Jim had joked with the press earlier about hoping the authorities working to ratify his purchase ‘don’t find anything dodgy’ in his CV but as he saw United twice throw a lead away against Ange Postecoglou’s Spurs, he saw plenty that was dodgy about United’s defence.
United panicked every time Spurs forced a corner and the visitors might easily have scored more than once from set-pieces. And even though it was an entertaining match, Spurs were the more cohesive team, the side with an identity, the side that looked as if it on an upward curve, not stuck in neutral.
The result left United languishing in seventh place, eight points of adrift of Spurs, who are fifth, and eight points shy of the Champions League places, which should be a minimum requirement for Erik ten Hag and his players. United are nothing if not inconsistent and so this was a game that will have left Ratcliffe with far more questions than answers.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe sat alongside Manchester United’s legendary former manager Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford as he watched the Red Devils play out a thrilling 2-2 draw against Tottenham in what was his first live match since the takeover
Goal-shy Rasmus Hojlund opened the scoring for Manchester United with an excellent finish inside the opening three minutes
Richarlison replied for Tottenham with powerful header from Pedro Porro’s corner, making it six goals in six games for Spurs
The two bosses smiled as they shook hands at full-time, earning a share of the spoils after an attacking thriller in Manchester
The game was far more encouraging for Spurs. For a start, they were the better side even without Son Heung-min, their captain and best player, who is away at the Asian Cup. They are almost back to full strength after the injury crisis that beset them and look close to regaining the form that propelled them to the top of the table earlier this season.
United welcomed back a raft of players returning from injury on the bench and Spurs were able to field Micky van de Ven and Cristian Romero together in central defence for the first time since the apocalyptic defeat at home to Chelsea at the beginning of November when Romero was sent off and Van de Ven injured a hamstring.
Their defensive reunion could not prevent United taking the lead within three minutes. The move started with a throw out from Andre Onana and found its way to Marcus Rashford, who ran at the Spurs defence and danced past a couple of defenders as he tried to find space for a shot.
His run was stopped by a tackle from Destiny Udogie but the ball fell to Hojlund, who took a step to his left and then slammed an unstoppable left foot shot high past Guglielmo Vicario and into the roof of the Tottenham net.
No one expected Spurs to be cowed by their setback and they soon took the game to their opponents. New loan signing Timo Werner drifted a header just wide and then Rodrigo Bentancur rose highest at a corner and directed a powerful downward header past Onana only for Diogo Dalot to nod it off the line.
Dalot was on the line some minutes later, too, this time to defend a corner. But this time, he had no chance. This time, it was Richarlison rising highest at a corner and he glanced the ball past Onana and Dalot from six yards out and watched it nestle in the corner of the net. Spurs were level.
Your browser does not support iframes.
Marcus Rashford, who looks to be returning to form, fired home Manchester United’s second before the break at Old Trafford
Manchester United’s ‘Sirs’ appeared to thoroughly enjoy the contest – especially when the hosts were winning at half time
But midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur equalised for Tottenham shortly after the second half began, putting his side back on terms
Werner hit a shot into Row Z, which may have made some Chelsea fans smile after his difficult spell at Stamford Bridge and, seven minutes before the interval, United made Spurs pay for their failure to convert their growing assurance into more goals.
Spurs rode their luck once when Udogie headed the ball against his own post when he was trying to clear a cross from Rashford but there was no escape a minute later when Bruno Fernandes laid the ball out to the England forward on the left.
Rashford played a clever one-two with Hojlund and when Van de Ven tried to stop his shot by diving in to challenge him, Rashford’s effort went through his legs and curled beyond Vicario inside the far post.
United find it hard to make a lead stick, though, and they nearly conceded another equaliser deep into added time at the end of the first half. Once again, their marking at a corner was poor and Romero rose above Kobbie Mainoo and crashed his header against the underside of the bar from point blank range.
United did not learn their lesson. The second half was only 50 seconds old when Werner played a ball into the box for Bentancur to run on to. Bentancur took it in his stride and went round Jonny Evans far too easily before lashing his shot across Onana and high into the net.
Erik ten Hag (above) will be reasonably happy with a 2-2 draw despite his side looking dangerous on the counter, although his side were almost the victors deep into injury time, with Scott McTominay squandering a golden opportunity at the death
The Scottish midfielder had a free header in the final moments of the game but misdirected his effort over Spurs’ crossbar
Timo Werner played his first match for Tottenham since completing his loan move to the north London outfit earlier this week
Spurs were the better side for much of the rest of the game but even though the match was still fast and furious, the chances dried up. United looked nervous every time Spurs forced a corner – there were 13 for the visitors during the match – but the ball never quite fell for them in the box.
Postecoglou gave a debut to new signing Radu Dragusin in the closing minutes as Van de Ven began to struggle with cramp but he was powerless to intervene in the last minute of added time when United should have won the game.
Alejandro curled a fine cross into the Spurs box and substitute Scott McTominay rose in splendid isolation to meet it eight yards out. The goal beckoned but McTominay could not keep his header down and it flew just over the bar.
The crowd groaned, McTominay put his head in his hands and, in the directors’ box, Sir Jim started to get an idea of the scale of the task that awaits him.