Paul Pogba made a pointed return to the Manchester United side to dig them out of a hole very much of their own making. The controversial midfielder had been left on the bench and told to win back his place when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named his team for the resumption of the season.
And he did precisely that with the tremendous trickery that lured Eric Dier into a clumsy foul in the area, enabling Bruno Fernandes to rescue them from defeat from the spot.
By the end, it was Spurs who had their hearts in their mouth when Serge Aurier lost the ball on the edge of this own area and referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot after Dier bundled dangerously close to Rashford – only for VAR to give Jose Mourinho’s side a reprieve.
Yet it had all seemed to be going so well for the Tottenham boss, as after so much talk of school dinners, United had seemed determined to serve up a dog’s one.
In the 27th minute, Luke Shaw headed a simple Lloris clearance straight up in the air, Harry Maguire was beaten soundly by Steven Bergwijn and then David De Gea virtually threw the Tottenham winger’s straight shot into the roof of his own net for the only goal.
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Even then, Rashford, the hero of the lockdown period for forcing a government u-turn over dinner vouchers, could have been United’s meal ticket to all three points with a series of chances.
Lloris, though, was proving a much harder to beat opponent that Boris Johnson to show the importance a decent final layer of protection can be in these times.
Rashford’s first glimpse of goal had come when Davinson Sanchez made a mess of clearing Fernandes’s clever flick and the France World Cup winning goalkeeper did well to stop the England striker’s instinctive shot with his outstretched boot.
But then Mourinho used a drinks break to have a long chat with Steve Bergwijn, to the accompaniment of a barrage of hand-flapping, and inspire him to put Spurs in front.
United had enjoyed more of the possession to that point and continued to press, only for Rashford to miss his second, even better chance.
Ben Davies failed to reach a free-kick, but Rashford also failed to connect from point-blank range with Lloris eventually clawed the ball behind for a corner.
At the other end, De Gea made partial amends for his howler when he tipped Heung-Min Son’s firm header from Bergwijn’s deep cross over the bar.
Lloris made another watchful save from Fernandes on the stroke of half-time, Spurs were able to take a narrow advantage into the giant NFL dressing room they are using during these socially-distanced fixtures.
In a new era for football, Mourinho had gone for a new-look defensive pairing in Dier and Sanchez, and this would be a measure of whether they were solid enough to lift the club back into Champions League contention.
Pogba provided the answer with that 80th minute sleight of foot.
Solskjaer had gone for the equally big selection call of leaving the fit-again France international on the bench and ultimately it pretty much paid off.
As for the other big-name star returning from injury? Harry Kane was still way short of match fitness and his only contribution was an injury-time free kick straight into the wall.
The lockdown had been touted as Mourinho’s chance belatedly to stamp his winning imprint on a full-strength side.
One game down and eight to go, there is still little sign of it yet.
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Published at Fri, 19 Jun 2020 23:00:00 +0000