Clint Dempsey’s equalizer in the final minute of stoppage-time denied Premier League leaders Manchester United victory as Tottenham Hotspur forced a 1-1 draw at a snowy White Hart Lane on Sunday.
The result meant United’s advantage at the top of the table over second-placed reigning champions Manchester City was reduced to five points after they had started the weekend seven in front of their local rivals.
It looked as if Robin van Persie’s 18th league goal of the season, a 25th-minute header from Tom Cleverley’s cross, was going to secure all three points for United in a fixture that survived a pre-match pitch inspection, but in the third and final minute of stoppage-time, Spurs pumped the ball forward.
United goalkeeper David de Gea, who had previously made several fine saves, could only punch weakly as the ball came into the box and, from Aaron Lennon’s cross, US international Dempsey rescued a point for the hosts.
Afterwards, United manager Alex Ferguson hit out at an assistant referee for not giving a penalty after Wayne Rooney went to ground in the penalty area.
“It was a clear penalty-kick on Wayne Rooney, but in no way was the the linesman going to give that,” Ferguson told the BBC. “He gave them [Tottenham] everything else. We have not had a good record with this linesman, against Chelsea a few years ago he gave onside to Didier Drogba, who was three yards offside, you remember those things.”
“We did so well at everything and we kept heading it out, the disappointment is not finishing them off,” Ferguson said. “We had a lot of opportunities on the counterattack, but our final ball let us down.”
Meanwhile, Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas said the draw would prove a real morale-booster for his team.
“We wanted to win, but it was an important point in the end due to the form United are in. A point can give us a lot of confidence,” Villas-Boas said.
Spurs are now just four points adrift of Chelsea after their London rivals beat Arsenal 2-1 at a snow-covered Stamford Bridge earlier on Sunday.
Juan Mata gave Chelsea a sixth-minute lead, before Frank Lampard, whose Chelsea future remains uncertain, made it 2-0 from the penalty spot 10 minutes later after Ramires was brought down by Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
However, Theo Walcott, fresh from signing a new contract last week, brought Arsenal back into the match in the 58th minute when he outpaced Branislav Ivanovic and then shot powerfully past Petr Cech.
Arsenal pressed for an equalizer, but European champions Chelsea clung on for only their second home league win under interim manager Rafael Benitez.
The Spaniard, repeatedly jeered by Chelsea supporters since replacing sacked fans’ favorite Roberto di Matteo, said the victory had been coming.
“We have been doing well, creating chances in all our games,” Benitez told Sky Sports. “In the games we didn’t win, we deserved to win. It was just a matter of time until we had a performance like this.”
The result saw Chelsea, booed off after squandering a 2-0 lead in a 2-2 draw at home to Southampton last week, remain third and Arsenal, who have won only one of their past five matches, stay sixth.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had doubts about both Chelsea goals.
“I thought [Arsenal’s] Francis Coquelin was injured for the first and I’m not convinced at all that it was a penalty on the second goal,” said Wenger, whose side ended the day seven points outside the top four.