As farewells go, it was precisely the kind of send-off that Tottenham Hotspur must have craved bar that one small, annoying detail about Chelsea’s position squatting defiantly at the top of the Premier League. The title is gone now and the same will soon apply to White Hart Lane – 1899 to 2017 – but it was some way to go and one final happy memory from the stadium that gave us The Game Is About Glory.
Unfortunately for Spurs, it did not turn out to be the glory they wanted after that long, hard chase when Mauricio Pochettino’s team were threatening at one stage to catch and overhaul Chelsea. This is, however, their first second-place finish – and the only time they have gone an entire season without losing at home – since Bill Nicholson was manager in the 1960s. A small thing, perhaps, but the people who cherish this old stadium should embrace the fact it has reached its endgame with the best statistics of any ground in the country.
That, of course, told only part of the story on a day when the acoustics inside White Hart Lane have rarely sounded so good and, thankfully, the Spurs fans who cavorted on the pitch after the final whistle were eventually persuaded to make their way back to the stands.
The volume was turned high as the crowd fluttered their flags and serenaded their former heroes and it would all have felt terribly out of place if the current side had not risen to the occasion. Pochettino’s team ensured there was no sense of anticlimax. Yes, it was a melancholic day for the supporters who have headed down Seven Sisters Road all those years but, hell, those people made some noise turning it into a celebration. Spurs are on their way to Wembley, as the old song goes, and when Chas and Dave made a guest appearance at half‑time they did make the point that the new stadium will actually be closer, geographically, to White Hart Lane when it opens for business in August 2018.
More than anything, it was a victory that felt fitting for this kind of goodbye. Spurs inflicted the damage with early goals in each half, courtesy of Victor Wanyama and Harry Kane, and came through an awkward period after Wayne Rooney’s goal had given Manchester United 20 minutes to save themselves. In a different era, the team from Old Trafford came back from 3-0 down here to win 5-3 and create their own piece of White Hart Lane history. Sixteen years on, the modern-day United do not have the same precious magic. This scoreline flattered José Mourinho’s side and, barring an almost implausible set of results in the final week, United will have finished outside the top four for the third time in four seasons.
United have not trailed Manchester City for four years running since the early 1970s. Mourinho’s talk of going for the title feels a faint memory when they are 22 points off the top and it almost came as a shock when Rooney turned in Anthony Martial’s pass to change the complexion of the second half. United had failed to score in all their previous away fixtures against teams in the top six. It was the same when they played at Chelsea in the FA Cup and, for a club with United’s ambitions, it is little consolation that Rooney’s goal made it a nervous finale for the home crowd.
By the time Rooney prodded the ball past Hugo Lloris – quite possibly, the last goal he will ever score in United’s colours – Mourinho had decided to abandon his tactic of using Axel Tuanzebe in a man‑marking role on Christian Eriksen. Tuanzebe chased his man all over the pitch before being substituted on the hour but the problem for the 20-year-old, starting only his second top-division fixture, was he could not stop Eriksen taking corners and free-kicks.
After five minutes, Eriksen had the chance to swing over a corner from the left. He played it short to Ben Davies and United’s marking was generous, to say the least, when the Spurs left-back clipped his cross into the middle. Wanyama was unchallenged in the space between Rooney and Phil Jones and directed his header beyond David de Gea.
Eriksen was also involved when Spurs doubled their lead three minutes into the second half, this time whipping a free-kick into the six-yard area at just the height and speed that goalkeepers dread. Eric Dier could not reach the cross but as the ball came down Kane jutted out his right boot. Chris Smalling was slow to react and De Gea was beaten for a second time.
By that stage Spurs would have been in a far more comfortable position but for De Gea’s goalkeeping and a collection of first-half saves when it quickly became clear that Jones and Smalling were having one of their sporadic off-days. Kane struck the crossbar with a close‑range header and for long spells there was the clear suspicion that United might simply be going through the motions, with the Europa League final uppermost in Mourinho’s thoughts.
They did at least threaten a comeback once Anthony Martial had beaten Kieran Trippier to set up Rooney’s goal – a poor moment for the Spurs right-back on a day when he kept Kyle Walker out of the team – and when the electronic board flashed up five minutes of stoppage-time the substitute Marcus Rashford might have added one late twist, but he was let down by a poor finish. An equaliser would have been unwarranted and game 2,533 at White Hart Lane had its happy ending.