LONDON (Reuters) - Manchester United received a taste of their own medicine as a last-gasp equaliser from Tottenham Hotspur’s Clint Dempsey deprived the Premier League leaders of a valuable win on Sunday.
A 1-1 draw in Arctic conditions in north London meant United’s lead over champions Manchester City at the top has been cut to five points with 15 matches remaining.
Third-placed Chelsea’s distant pursuit of the two Manchester clubs was boosted by a 2-1 victory over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge that helped thaw relations between the fans and interim manager Rafa Benitez.
Late goals have been a trademark of Alex Ferguson’s United title-winning sides down the years but Tottenham, seeking their first league double over United since 1988-89, turned the tables to salvage a deserved point
Robin van Persie’s 18th league goal of the season midway through the first half looked like being enough for United who, while lacking their normal potency in attack, had two towers of defensive strength in Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
Keeper David de Gea had also been magnificent for United but his weak punch in stoppage time only went to Tottenham winger Aaron Lennon and his quick pass inside allowed Dempsey to sweep the ball into the net from close-range.
While not denying Spurs deserved something from a match that had looked in jeopardy before kickoff, Ferguson was angry that his side had not been awarded a penalty to make it 2-0 when substitute Wayne Rooney was clipped by Steven Caulker.
“It was a clear penalty kick on Wayne Rooney but in no way was the linesman going to give that,” Ferguson whose, side have 56 points to City’s 51, told Sky Sports. “He had a shocking game today and I‘m disappointed in his performance.”
United had hardly threatened when Van Persie, who scored five goals in north London derbies for Arsenal against Tottenham, silenced the home fans in clinical fashion.
Tom Cleverley received the ball on the right after 25 minutes and hoisted a cross to the far post where Van Persie evaded Kyle Walker to crash a header past Hugo Lloris.
Tottenham, whose 3-2 win at Old Trafford in September was their first there since 1989, responded to the setback by dominating possession and testing United’s resolve.
De Gea saved a deflected Bale shot just before halftime with his legs and then denied Dempsey early in the second half.
Jermain Defoe squandered a couple of half chances for Spurs and Bale was agonisingly close to a leveller when his right-foot shot whistled past the post.
Ferguson was calmness personified on the touchline as he braved the elements but just when his side appeared to have weathered the storm Dempsey popped up to earn Spurs a point which kept them four points above fifth-placed Everton.
“Tottenham worked their socks off, you’ve got to give them credit for that,” Ferguson said.
Tottenham have suffered only one defeat in their last 11 league games and manager Andre Villas-Boas said his side were desperate to qualify for the Champions League after missing out last season despite finishing fourth.
”Hopefully at the end of the season we can reflect on this as a positive point,“ he told reporters. ”We played really well and played better than them and it’s a credit to the boys on the way they embrace the season and how much they want it.
“We had 61 percent possession against a quality team and they only had four chances.”
Chelsea remain four points ahead of Tottenham after goals from Juan Mata and Frank Lampard ensured a 2-1 win over Arsenal - Chelsea’s second win in six home league games since Benitez was hired as interim manager following the sacking of the popular Roberto Di Matteo.
The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge when Southampton held Chelsea to a 2-2 draw on Wednesday was hostile but the mood brightened for a while on Sunday as Chelsea dominated the Gunners before halftime.
Mata scored after six minutes following Cesar Azpilicueta’s lofted ball, although Arsenal were seething at the referee’s failure to award a free-kick in the initial stages of the move.
Lampard made it 2-0 from the penalty spot after 16 minutes after Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny escaped a red card for bringing down Ramires in the area.
The midfielder’s calm finish was his 195th goal for the club and he is now just seven behind Chelsea’s all-time record goalscorer Bobby Tambling.
Theo Walcott’s superb finish after a pass from Santi Cazorla just before the hour gave Arsenal hope and Chelsea endured a nervy final half hour as the Gunners pressed for an equaliser.
“We were creating a lot of chances at home but we weren’t winning,” Benitez told reporters.
“This game we were on top of them in the first half and even in the second half when they were pushing and pushing, we created a lot. We are doing well. We are progressing.”
The same cannot be said for Arsenal who are sixth, seven points behind Tottenham.
“We made some changes at halftime and came out with a different attitude with much more initiative. We had Chelsea on the back foot but could not get it back to 2-2,” manager Arsene Wenger told reporters.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Pritha Sarkar