Harry Redknapp had to pull himself back from the brink of combustion. He used words such as "scandalous" and "farcical" and for 10 minutes, as he took us through Manchester United's second goal, it felt as if little puffs of toxic smoke would start billowing from his ears. His audience looked back through sceptical eyes. One chap on the second row asked if he would have thought it was a goal if a Tottenham player had scored it. "You must be from Manchester?" Redknapp asked. "Carlisle, actually," came the reply.
After all the finger-pointing and mud-slinging, Redknapp had succeeded only in demonstrating that the post-match press conference is not always a good time to listen to managers if you want to hear common sense. Emotions are raw, especially when a team have lost. The Spurs manager, with a succession of pointed barbs and heavy sighs, went for the fallback option, of holding the referee responsible.
The problem for Redknapp is that when a manager is apportioning blame like this he has to make a sound case for the prosecution – cold logic, if you like, rather than hot air. Blaming the referee can otherwise be an awful cop out, the default setting of every riled manager and biased fan. These days there are enough television cameras and angles inside every Premier League stadium to see straight through it. The harsh reality for Tottenham is that, as unorthodox and complicated as it was, a simple breakdown of Nani's goal reveals that only one man was to blame: Heurelho Gomes. As Sir Alex Ferguson said: "This is an experienced goalkeeper and he made a total mess of it."
Gomes had assumed that a free-kick had been awarded because Nani, after tumbling in the penalty area, had stopped the ball with his hand as he landed on the floor. The Brazilian goalkeeper may not have known the old English saying about the word "assume" – it can make an ass out of u and me. When Gomes put the ball on the floor Nani appeared, pantomime-like, from behind him to knock it into an unguarded net.
So why did Mark Clattenburg not award a free-kick? Simple: the ball had run through to the goalkeeper so he let play continue on the basis that it would suit Gomes more to have it in his hands than as a dead-ball. The referee was, in short, playing the advantage rule.
"Roles reversed, I'd have reacted like Spurs but when the dust settles, Nani wasn't in the wrong if the ref never blew up," said the United defender Rio Ferdinand. "We're all taught to play to the whistle. The ref never blew his whistle ... so play on."
Tottenham's winless sequence away to United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal now stretches to 68 games. To put it another way, they have taken 20 points from 204 against the so-called Big Four. They have not won at Old Trafford for 21 years and amid all the protests it should not be overlooked that they were losing when Nani rolled the ball into the net, six minutes from the end of normal time.
By then Tottenham, who had been marginally the better side in an open first half, had started to run out of ideas. Aaron Lennon had stopped getting behind Patrice Evra on the right and Rafael van der Vaart had gone off with a hamstring strain, an injury that comes at the wrong time, with a Champions League tie against Internazionale at White Hart Lane tomorrow. Redknapp is blessed with creative players but Van der Vaart's absence is a significant setback when put in the context of the way he dictated long spells of this match.
Ferguson's men could regard themselves as lucky to have been ahead at half-time, Nemanja Vidic having flashed a 31st-minute header past Gomes from Nani's free-kick, but they were threatened only sporadically after the break. Nani has legitimate claims to be the best winger in the country, far removed from the player who used to bewilder the Old Trafford crowd. Michael Carrick and Park Ji-Sung played as though affronted by recent criticisms of their performances. Rafael da Silva was assigned a difficult job, subduing Gareth Bale, and he did so without any of the mistakes that have blighted previous performances.
But this was a game that will be remembered for only one moment. After the final whistle, Redknapp had to go on the pitch to direct his players away from Clattenburg. Footballers love the blame game and shifting responsibility from themselves, but the truth of the matter was completely different. Spurs lost this game because, in the second half, they did not pass the ball as well as they passed the buck.
This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.