From The Archives: United’s Incredible White Hart Lane Comeback

From the Archives

Comebacks are much more exciting to watch than cakewalks, and as comebacks go, the one Manchester United pulled off at the Lane in September 2001 is still talked about today. This was the game that Spurs didn’t recover from until the last 3 to 4 seasons. It probably was Ferguson’s anti-hairdryer treatment that acted as the catalyst for the spectacular comeback.

This was the game that Spurs didn’t recover from until the last three or four seasons. It probably was Ferguson’s anti-hairdryer treatment that acted as the catalyst for the spectacular comeback.

Having welcomed the three-time defending Champions to the Lane, Glenn Hoddle’s Tottenham found themselves three goals ahead at the break, thanks to goals from the late Dean Richards on his debut, Les Ferdinand, and Christian Ziege. The Spurs were simply irresistible in the first half. Christian Ziege’s goal was probably the worst United conceded in a long time. Spurs leisurely walked the ball up the right flank, Gus Poyet retrieved it and whipped in a ball at the far post for Ziege. Gary Neville was nowhere to be seen and the Spurs man put a free header past Fabian Barthez.

The first and second goals United conceded were forgivable but, the third one just before half-time seem to have given United the jolt they so desperately needed. As Hoddle, later on, said that if we had scored 2 goals we would have probably won.

As revealed later on in his autobiography, Ferguson sat down his players, who were expecting the infamous hair-dryer treatment. But instead, he sat them down and said: “Right, I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to score the first goal in this second half and see where it takes us. We get at them right away, and we get the first goal.” Ferguson recalled his former player and Spurs Captain Teddy Sheringham warn his team against conceding an early goal. They ended up doing the exact opposite – Andy Cole scored in the first minute of the second half. It was then that Martin Tyler said his now prophetic words,” Could this be the start of a comeback?”

Ferguson recalled his former player and, Spurs Captain, Teddy Sheringham warned his team against conceding an early goal. They ended up doing the exact opposite – Andy Cole scored in the first minute of the second half. It was then that Martin Tyler said his now prophetic words, “Could this be the start of a comeback?”

That’s exactly what it was. Galvanized by Ferguson’s half-time talk and his introduction of Mikael Silvestre for Denis Irwin and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for Nicky Butt, United threw everything at the now vulnerable Spurs. It was Laurent Blanc’s turn to score next. Just before the hour mark, the Frenchman rose above all others and nodded home a corner from David Beckham. Ruud van Nistelrooy equalized for United with 18 minutes left. Half-time substitute Silvestre’s cross met Nistelrooy’s obliging head and it was all square. It was at this point that United fed on Spurs misery and put them to the sword.

Just before the hour mark, the Frenchman rose above all others and nodded home a corner from David Beckham, before Ruud van Nistelrooy equalized for United with 18 minutes left. Half-time substitute Silvestre’s cross met Nistelrooy’s obliging head and it was all square. It was at this point that United fed on Spurs misery and put them to the sword.

But, with over a quarter of an hour left, United were far from done. Four minutes after Nistelrooy’s goal, Scholes, and another introduced at half-time, Solskjaer, combined to set Juan Sebastian Veron on his way to score United’s fourth. Three minutes from time, Solskjaer pulled the ball back for David Beckham who found the back of the net and silenced the Spurs faithful who had booed him all afternoon.

Later on, referee Jeff Winter revealed that he sensed a comeback was on despite Spurs three-goal half-time lead. He even warned his assistants that at half-time that a Ferguson-inspired Hurricane was on its way. Matthew Etherington still recalls the extreme contrasting emotions that the Spurs felt in about an hour. They went from best-in-the-league to worst-in-the-league. Gus Poyet was right in describing the result as one of those difficult to explain.