Ten-man Manchester United claim battling draw at Tottenham
Manchester United returned to the top of the table after playing out an absorbing goalless draw with Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
Sir Alex Ferguson's men had been dislodged from the summit by local rivals Manchester City on Saturday and needed to extend their unbeaten record in the Premier League this season to reclaim first place.
Spurs may have felt they had to win to keep alive their faint title hopes but were unable to break down an organised Red Devils backline in an encounter which was captivating throughout but never really exploded into life.
A potentially pivotal moment arrived in the 74th minute when Rafael was sent off for a second bookable offence, with Harry Redknapp taking the opportunity to bring on Jermain Defoe for Wilson Palacios.
However, Tottenham still lacked a cutting edge in the closing stages as Edwin van der Sar remained relatively untested.
Heurelho Gomes had earlier been the busier goalkeeper when both sides had 11 men with a couple of fine saves, while Gareth Bale threatened sporadically for Spurs but was unusually wayward with much of his crossing.
Ryan Giggs was named in the starting line-up for his 600th league appearance for United, just six behind the record of Sir Bobby Charlton.
Ferguson was also boosted by the fact that Wayne Rooney returned from an ankle injury after missing two games while Nemanja Vidic and goalkeeper Van der Sar were also fit after recent absences.
Vidic's presence was crucial and he was instrumental in halting the forays of the pacey Aaron Lennon down Tottenham's right.
Due to injuries, Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have been in harness too infrequently in recent seasons. There is no doubt United look more solid when they are together.
It meant Peter Crouch, who had been preferred to Defoe, for the most part was contained and that has a knock-on consequence for Tottenham in that Rafael van der Vaart is starved of the knockdowns which he has been so quick to exploit this season.
As it was United might have taken the lead in the first two minutes, Rooney being neatly played in by Dimitar Berbatov but skewing his right-foot shot across the face of the goal.
A flake of rust in that effort, although there was no sign of it after 22 minutes when Rooney, once again smartly served by Berbatov, brought a stumbling save from Tottenham goalkeeper Gomes.
United had their moments but in that first half the attacking impetus came from Tottenham and especially Bale who was beginning to give Rafael a torrid time down the left.
One of his better whipped-in crosses was inches away from being dispatched into the net by Crouch.
Van der Vaart looked to have cashed in on another raking Bale cross but could only manage to send his downward header into the side-netting.
It was all fast and frantic, strewn with errors and with no time for midfield players to settle on the ball.
Not surprisingly, it was a 45 minutes in which referee Dean was busy, booking Rafael, Palacios, Darren Fletcher and Van der Vaart, the latter for kicking the ball away.
It needed someone like David Beckham, up in the stands and who has been training with Tottenham this past week, to put his foot on the ball and bring a measure of control.
United began the second half with more composure. They might have taken the lead after 50 minutes when a Giggs corner was flicked goalwards by Michael Carrick but sailed just wide of the post.
A minute later Rooney burst through the middle to unleash a right-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area, only to be denied by a full-length diving save from Gomes.
It was a match with lots of attacking endeavour from both sides but no-one seemed capable of creating the breakthrough.
There were claims for a penalty when Vidic blocked Van der Vaart's effort after clearly holding his shirt in the penalty area but the referee waved them away.
Then came Rafael's moment of madness, at which point United were happy with their point.
The young Brazilian raged at referee Mike Dean and kicked over a television sound boom as he left the pitch and the FA are likely to want to review the video. Rooney was also booked for his protests.
Yet while Tottenham showed how far they have come under Harry Redknapp it was United who also proved their resilience.