Substitute Anthony Martial’s 81st minute strike gave Manchester United a 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on Saturday to keep them in touch with Premier League leaders Manchester City.
After last week’s surprise defeat at Huddersfield Town, Jose Mourinho’s team could ill afford another slip-up and they had to battle hard against a resilient Spurs to take the points.
United move on to 23 points, two behind leaders City who are at West Bromwich Albion later on Saturday, while third-placed Spurs are on 20.
The impact from substitutes Jesse Lingard and French forward Martial proved decisive in the latter stages of a largely attritional battle in sweeping rain.
Tottenham, without their top scorer Harry Kane who was ruled out with a hamstring injury, played some tidy and progressive football in midfield.
But although South Korean winger Son Heung-min, playing in a central striking role, provided some intelligent movement and linked up well, the threatening presence of Kane, the league’s top scorer with eight goals, was not surprisingly missed.
Spurs have now lost 21 of their 26 trips to Old Trafford in the Premier League era – their worst away record against any club in the division.
Marcus Rashford provided an early test for Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris with a low-struck 25-yard free-kick which the Frenchman was able to turn past the post.
Chances were rare, however, with Spurs not asking a question of United keeper David De Gea until a hooked volley from Eric Dier, from inside a crowded area, three minutes before the break.
United made an aggressive start to the second half and Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Romelu Lukaku both forced Lloris into saves as Mourinho’s side threw themselves forward.
Spurs though could have gone in front themselves in the 76th minute when Christian Eriksen threaded a superb ball towards Dele Alli but the England midfielder’s left-footed effort from an awkward angle went the wrong side of the post. Had Alli chosen his right foot, and opened up more space for his shot, he may well have found the target.
Lingard’s deep cross towards the back post was headed firmly – but against the post – by Lukaku and it was beginning to feel like it might not be United’s day.
But then Mourinho’s side grabbed the win and in the most basic of manners.
A long ball from De Gea was flicked on by Lukaku into the path of the on-running Martial and the Frenchman confidently slotted past Lloris.