Paul Pogba returned to action for first time since 26 December to win the late penalty that earned Manchester United a crucial point at Tottenham Hotspur.
Pogba, who had not played for almost six months because of an ankle injury that needed surgery, emerged as a second-half substitute and demonstrated he has the creativity to make a difference as United battle for a place in the top four.
United keeper David de Gea was badly at fault when he failed to stop Steven Bergwijn’s powerful 27th-minute drive, so there was relief all-round for the visitors when Pogba surged into the area before he was hauled down clumsily by Eric Dier.
In the cavernous spaces of the deserted Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – as the match was played behind closed doors – Fernandes equalised with an emphatic penalty.
Spurs survived a last-minute scare as referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot again when Dier collided with Fernandes but the video assistant referee correctly reversed a poor decision.
De Gea made a measure of amends with a superb save from Son Heung-min shortly after his error, while Hugo Lloris made a magnificent flying save from Anthony Martial as United chased an equaliser.
It finally arrived via that Fernandes spot-kick nine minutes from time to leave United in fifth place, four points ahead of Spurs.
Pogba shows Solskjaer his class
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer kept faith with the side that went 11 games unbeaten in all competitions as their season restarted here in north London – which meant no place for Pogba, despite his recovery from injury.
It was no surprise, however, when he was called into action just after the hour to inject some zest into what had been a lifeless United performance up to that point.
Pogba was right in the fray, having a shot instantly – but he made his most significant contribution when he tricked Dier in the area and drew a foul from the Spurs defender to win that point-saving penalty.
It was a timely reminder to Solskjaer, should he even need one, of the rare talent he has at his disposal if Pogba could only show consistency and put the speculation about his future behind him.
De Gea did not have such a good night. There were already questions about his form before this game and he produced another error here – all with Dean Henderson’s reputation growing in his loan spell at Sheffield United.
Frustration for Mourinho
Spurs will be bitterly disappointed to concede a goal so late on, and in such needless fashion, although it could have been worse when referee Moss erroneously awarded that second penalty – before VAR put matters right.
Lloris had produced that outstanding save from Martial but Spurs were hardly under siege and manager Jose Mourinho, who stalked the touchline in fury when United were originally awarded that injury-time penalty, will feel an important two points have been cast aside.
Mourinho will take some solace in the return of Harry Kane after hamstring surgery and Son after he broke his arm, as well as goalscorer Bergwijn.
Spurs, however, need wins, and this result leaves them in eighth place, six points behind fourth-placed Chelsea in the chase for Champions League places.
Man of the Match – Bruno Fernandes
‘A strange penalty’
Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho, speaking to BBC Radio 5 live: “I think difficult to find the word, I have to try to find a nice word – a strange penalty because the team was so compact, so well organised.
“The players did fantastic work defensively – they had two dangerous shots that Hugo Lloris saved and nothing else. Everything else was under control. I have to admit for the last 15 minutes I would love to have had Lucas Moura here, Dele Alli here. The last 15 minutes were difficult for us.
“Lucas and Dele are players we need and we could feel that today. when you look to their bench and then to ours the difference in attacking options. Hopefully they will be back for West Ham because in this moment it is very, very important to change players.
On the penalty for Manchester United: “Paul Pogba did his job. That is it. I think Jonathan Moss was also trying to do his job the best he could. I think the VAR is a different situation.”
Manchester United on the spot again – the stats
- Manchester United are unbeaten in 12 games in all competitions (W8 D4), scoring 30 goals and conceding just three in that run.
- Steven Bergwijn became only the second player to score in his first three home Premier League appearances for Spurs, after Rafael van der Vaart in 2010.
- Since the start of last season, Manchester United have both taken (23) and scored (16) more penalties than any other Premier League side.
- Only Trent Alexander-Arnold (14) has more assists among Premier League defenders in all competitions than Spurs full-back Serge Aurier this season (eight).
- Jose Mourinho has won none of his past six matches against his former clubs in all competitions (D2 L4), taking just one point from four Premier League matches against Chelsea and Man Utd this season (D1 L3).
- Spurs are winless in seven games in all competitions (D3 L4), their worst run since November 2016 (also seven without a win).
Tottenham host West Ham in the Premier League on Tuesday, 23 June (20:15 BST) while Manchester United are at home to Sheffield United on Wednesday, 24 June (18:00 BST).