Perhaps this result had been coming – for a creaky Manchester United and for Tottenham Hotspur, who ended 23 years without a league win here thanks to a pacy, muscular performance that punched holes in Sir Alex Ferguson's side.
When Shinji Kagawa scored the third of three goals in three minutes at the start of a breathless second half, Spurs put on the tin helmet for the remaining 37, plus four that would cause Ferguson to continue a favourite theme in his post-match briefing. After André Villas-Boas's vibrant side had survived, the Scot complained that the extra 240 seconds were an "insult". It was before the added time that Ferguson witnessed the true reason his side lost.
Spurs were too big and too fast for United. In Sandro and Mousa Dembélé, Villas-Boas has midfield heft and speed, with the latter's heels possessing a turbo booster that glides him away from opponents. The Belgian creates as well as destroys, as he did on 32 minutes when taking Sandro's pass just outside the area, shifting into top gear to leave Paul Scholes watching, then finding Gareth Bale.
The Welshman is the prime speedster in this Spurs side. The way he tore through United's non-existent midfield and left Rio Ferdinand flailing in a different postcode before finishing right-footed beyond Anders Lindegaard terrified the home team.
That was Tottenham's second. Their opener also derived from pace. This time Jan Vertonghen sped down the left and the hapless Ferdinand could not stop him unloading a finish that was deflected past Lindegaard. In front of Roy Hodgson and his assistant Gary Neville, Ferdinand was having an afternoon to prove the England manager correct all along.
"Football reasons" was Hodgson's explanation for leaving Ferdinand out of the Euro 2012 squad, rather than his being unable to share a dressing room with John Terry. On this evidence Hodgson is prudent. Spurs' third came when Jermain Defoe barged Ferdinand aside down the left and, after Bale received and shot, Lindegaard's save went straight to Clint Dempsey, who scored.
On Thursday Hodgson announces his next England squad for the World Cup qualifiers with San Marino and Poland. After Ferguson stated he wants Ferdinand to concentrate on his club career, this display means the 33-year-old may not have a decision to make.
Wayne Rooney, who came on for the ineffective Ryan Giggs at half-time, will be chosen by Hodgson. The striker created Nani's 51st-minute strike that began the three-in-three-minutes goal rush, and he also hit the frame with a free-kick.
But Spurs hung on, and Villas-Boas said: "This is just the beginning for us. It's an away win, which means so much to our fans, our staff and our players. We spoke during the week and felt we could get a result: we came for the win. That's why we played so well in the first half because the players believed they could come and upset United. We just felt it was our day because of the confidence we have had on the training ground."
Villas-Boas and his band deserve the victory for the refreshing decision to fight United on their home turf. Pace and retaining the ball were key, he said. "I think [so] because, yes, we broke a couple of times, but in the first half it was more about our possession."
Before this second defeat in six league outings, United had endured some narrow escapes. Fulham and Southampton were both squeezed past, with 3-2 wins, while even Ferguson admitted United had not played at their best in the 2-1 victory at Liverpool in the previous match.
This defeat had been coming. A team-sheet featuring the 38-year-old Giggs and 37-year-old Scholes against a formidable opponent is a rarity. So when it dropped for this one, the alarm sounded among the home congregation.
Dembélé, a summer target for United to bolster their sagging midfield, had bullied the Reds earlier in the season here, when still at Fulham. Asked why many sides have scared United already this campaign, Villas-Boas played it straight. "It's not for me to comment," he said.
Patrice Evra was more open. "We had the winning mentality in the second half. But we have to start to play like this from the first minute," the left-back said. "Instead we'd already conceded two goals. That's why I say that the problem was inside our heads. It looked like we stayed in the hotel. Maybe I'm being hard on myself and the team but today we put on the Man United face only in the second half – and that is not enough if you want to win the title."
Of the two defeats already in the league, Evra said: "It's too much if you want to win the title. Two losses is too many but we have to try to be positive as well."
Man of the match Mousa Dembélé (Tottenham Hotspur)
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