When the story is told of this season's title race, Manchester United may look back on this victory and cherish it as one of the key assignments they completed. Sir Alex Ferguson's team have reminded Manchester City of their staying power and now have an obliging run of fixtures before the top two meet on 30 April in a coming together that may determine the final location of the Premier League trophy.
Seven of United's eight games before then are against teams from the bottom half of the league and Ferguson's men increasingly offer the sense of a side who have been here before, are building momentum and know exactly what has to be done.
They have played more cohesively at times this season, have passed the ball better and operated with a greater sense of control, but there was still something to admire about the way they could dismantle the team in third position, while always giving the impression they were a good notch or two below their best.
For long spells, particularly in the first half, they were actually pinned back and United were fortunate to be ahead at half-time. And when the lead stretched to 3-0 it was totally out of keeping with how much of the game had gone. Yet it is no fluke that this team are able to soak up so much pressure and then go to other end of the pitch and punish opponents for not making the most of their possession.
These are the qualities – perseverance, know-how, longevity – of serial champions. "We dominated them, we were better than them," Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager, said. "I've never seen Alex on his feet so much, out of the dugout, for years." Yet it was a familiar smile on Ferguson's face by the end, reflecting on a satisfying way to overtake Sir Matt Busby with his 986th league game in charge.
The game turned a minute before half-time, when Wayne Rooney headed in Ashley Young's corner. Until then Spurs had been pressing forward, with Louis Saha and Emmanuel Adebayor elusive opponents. Jake Livermore and Sandro were not letting Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick dictate the tempo in midfield, and there were few signs the home side were missing the suspended Scott Parker, the injured Rafael van der Vaart and the ill Gareth Bale.
Yet Kyle Walker, marking Rooney, let him go and at this level those lapses can be so telling. United made the most of their good fortune, David de Gea saved brilliantly when Livermore's 52nd-minute shot took a deflection off Adebayor and when they had their first spell of concerted pressure it was devastating, Young scoring with two right-foot finishes in the space of nine minutes.
The first was clinical, struck diagonally across the face of goal, left to right, after Walker had taken a chance off Rooney's toe. The second was even better, struck from almost 30 yards, curling, dipping and swerving into the top corner. Young had endured a poor half and his form for United has been erratic, but this should give him a new wave of confidence.
Once his second effort had arrowed beyond Brad Friedel there was never any real possibility that Spurs could prevent their winless sequence against United stretching to a 26th game. It is some run since that last victory, dating back to May 2001 when Willem Khorsten and Les Ferdinand were the scorers. Of greater importance to Redknapp, they have now taken only eight points from their last seven games. Arsenal, in fourth position, are now only four points below them.
Spurs will reflect on that moment, after 37 minutes, when Adebayor flicked the ball into an exposed net only for the referee, Martin Atkinson, to rule it out for handball. It was a marginal decision, but probably the correct one. Adebayor had been on the goal-line when Saha's effort struck him in the stomach and bounced into his left arm. Redknapp described it as "harsh" but did not dwell on it too long, talking more about the individual mistakes for United's goals. As well as Walker's culpability for the Rooney header, the Spurs manager felt Luka Modric had "gone to sleep" in the build-up to Young's first.
Ferguson will not be entirely satisfied when a careless pass from Ryan Giggs allowed Jermain Defoe to score with a powerful right-foot drive two minutes before the end. Yet, by then, the champions had already demonstrated how difficult it is going to be for City to shake them off.
Man of the match Jonny Evans (Manchester United)