As a football fan, there are some matches you want forget about as soon as the final whistle goes; a scrappy win or a defeat of any sort the most obvious source of such desired amnesia. At the other extreme end are matches that will forever be etched in your memory due to the incredible turn of events that ensued. One such game was a visit to Tottenham by Man United early in the 2001-2002 season.

The date was 29th September 2001, the venue White Hart Lane, North London. Manchester United came into the match on the back of a poor away record that season, having registered no points on the board on their travels. Journeys to this part of London brought no joy for United having lost in each of their three previous visits to Spurs by the same 3-1 scoreline. As soon as the game got underway, a repeat of that scoreline seemed highly likely as Spurs sprinted off the blocks to establish a healthy lead over United.

Dean Richards opened the scoring after escaping the attentions of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, heading in a corner from the left boot of Christian Ziege at the near post. Soon Spurs were two up, a flowing move saw Les Ferdinand through one on one after a neat through ball by Uruguayan Gus Poyet. Ferdinand composed himself before firing in a crisp low shot past United keeper Fabien Barthez.

United were forced into a tactical change before halftime after Nicky Butt went off injured following a challenge by Mauricio Taricco. In came Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who played upfront with Van Nistelrooy and Andy Cole, with Beckham, Scholes and Veron completing the midfield three.

Just before the interval, Tottenham took advantage of the change in system by United, Christian Ziege scoring past the hapless Barthez to send the home fans into a frenzy. Steffen Freund fed Poyet down the right and his deep cross was met by the unmarked Ziege at the far post with a diving header.

Going into the break, United seemed dead and buried. Surely, there was no way out this hole. What Sir Alex said to his players only they will know but whatever he said transformed United. Less than a minute into the second half the fightback began as Beckham slipped the ball outside to an onrushing Neville and the right-back’s cross was headed in by Cole. Given United’s history of comebacks, the home fans must have feared for the worst when that first goal went in. Their worst fears would soon be confirmed.

Just before the hour mark Laurent Blanc rose to nod in a corner from Beckham and the sense of expectation from the away end was palpable. In the previous away match, United came from 3-1 at Newcastle to draw level at 3-3 before Newcastle scored the fourth and winning goal. There was no stopping the red juggernaut this time though and with 18 minutes to go, Silvestre’s centre found the obliging head of Ruud van Nistelrooy, completing a hatrick of headed goals by United and drawing level with Spurs.

There was going to be only one winner from that point, and four minutes later Paul Scholes and Solskjaer combined to send in man-of-the-match Veron for a low left footed finish and with three left Solskjaer dragged the ball across for Beckham to drive in the fifth.

United players celebrate Juan Veron's goal

The comeback kings had done it again. It would seem ridiculous to back a team for a comeback from three goals down but this was no ordinary team. The failure to accept anything but a win spurred United from the jaws of defeat to complete one of the greatest comebacks in premier league history. Years down the line, Sir Alex nominated this match as one of his all time favourites at the club and rightly so. United went on finish the season in third place in one of the few seasons to forget in the Fergie era. For those who witnessed this spectacle though, the memories won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Tottenham – Sullivan, Taricco, King, Perry, Richards, Ziege, Freund, Anderton (Rebrov 83), Poyet, Ferdinand, Sheringham – GOALS Richards 15, Ferdinand 25, Ziege 45.

Manchester United – Barthez, G. Neville, Blanc, Johnsen, Irwin (Silvestre 45), Beckham, Butt (Solskjaer 40), Scholes, Veron, Cole, van Nistelrooy – GOALS Cole 46, Blanc 58, van Nistelrooy 72, Veron 76, Beckham 87.




About the Author

Galimo Askumo
An explorer, an infomaniac and a hippie. I got tired of wanting to read detailed, long form articles on various topics that interest me so I decided to write about them. My username is an ode to the last two known members of my family tree which goes back 11 generations.

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  1. Maiko Ramires

    Never got to watch the match (was in class back in the day… Hehehe) and it sure feels bad missing out on such an epic. The match has been used as moment of inspiration when United found themselves 2-0 down against Tottenham at OT in 2009 and came back and won the match 5-2. Apparently SAF had shown the boys a highlight of that match during his half-time talk and it must have really charged up the boys.

    Great piece and more of the same please.

    • panoramicdon

      I was just finishing primary school Mike and luckily, STV (a now defunct tv station) made it possible for me to watch the game. I almost stopped watching the match at half time but thankfully I stayed till the end. Incredible how we never accept defeat. Didn’t know Fergie used this match to inspire yet another amazing comeback versus Spurs. Interesting. Anyway, thanks for the feedback. Will keep them coming.

  2. Joe

    Ok, i need to revisit my definition of classic matches to include the year 2000 to 2010! I used to look forward to watching Veron play that time waiting for him to replicate his Lazio form.. I remember that great match like it was definition is from 1999 going back!

    • panoramicdon

      Joe, I share your sentiments regarding Veron. For such a talented player its amazing how he didn’t get going at United. As for the definition of classic..well, the age difference between us means our views on times gone by might differ. Great game nonetheless.

  3. caliph

    when I read the title, I was thinking the Devil’s comeback against Tottenham, 2009/10…. 5-2, scoreline! The resurgence that was began with cristiano scoring a penalty. just as the second half was underway …remember spurs crying foul. But this one sounds more dramatic..good one.

    • panoramicdon

      @Caliph..Both were as exciting. The more recent match had so much riding on it since it was at the tail end of the season. The 01-02 match was incredible in the sense that the scoreline seemed irreversible to all but the most optimistic of fans.

  4. loso blue

    great memories don
    do you think our current squad can do that now?
    its also a shame that ruud never really won alot while at old trafford but he def is one of the best strikers av ever seen

    • panoramicdon

      Nostalgia Loso. The squad at present would struggle to replicate such a fete though its a work in progress. We are keeping up well, season still has many more twists awaiting.

      As for Ruud, its one regret I always have. For a striker so good, he won only one league title in 5 years despite averaging 30 goals per season during his time at United.

  5. Maiko Ramires

    @Caliph, Haha… Redknapp hiyo siku angevunja record pole vault. Guy was seething with anger when the penalty was given, which was very legitimate.

    @Moha, That day, i.e 5-2, I knew we were going to win the league. I pitied guys who sat at Strteford End on that day, 7 goals were scored na hakuna hata mmoja yeye ilifungwa hiyo side.

    • panoramicdon

      The 5-2 confirmed we were winning the league. Ronaldo gave a brilliant individual performance. Might write about it in future.

  6. BrainlessBull

    Excelent piece mate. Honestly didn’t watch the game live; rewatched it later. It’s those matches that you lose your seat in a pub. Classic.

    • panoramicdon

      A memorable occasion it was @BrainlessBull, the kind that gets you on your feet many times over. Thanks for the feedback

  7. Nnaemeka

    I remember seeing this match on ESPNClassic. Beckham was on fire that day too, no?

    • panoramicdon

      Yeah Nnaemeka, Beckham had a great game too. He was involved in everything good United did. Look out for the cross field pass that started the move for Veron’s goal. Or the accuracy of his powerful shot for the last goal. Spurs vs United produces thrilling open games. How many thrillers have we had between the two teams? Even goalless draws are usually entertaining which is not something you often see.

  8. Dutch Dutchinho

    NO ORDINARY TEAM INDEED! seems we like we had the dominance that Barcelona have right now. good memories of watching football in those cramped spaces kwa hood but it all paid off.

    • panoramicdon

      Not by any chance Dutch. From hood bars to Old Trafford one day soon

  9. solo

    hahaha good one i remember that incredible game which left me arguing with guys in highie….was a mono then

    • panoramicdon

      @Solo, good ol’ days huh? You think we will be following United when we have kids our age?

  10. solo

    good old days indeed. For sure i know we will forever support man u and i live to see that day Inshaallah. good write

    • panoramicdon

      @Solo, I wonder what will happen when Fergie retires. If the fortunes of the team dwindle and say we’re relegated fifteen years from now, will we still be as loyal? Food for thought

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