GILES SMITH: ONE KNEW

Our game against Spurs isn't the lead story in most football media today, but it remains so in Giles Smith's latest column, although he does give that other subject a mention too…


There was, of course, no way that Tottenham were going to win last night. That hasn't happened at Stamford Bridge since the age of steam - so long ago, in fact, that old black and white photographs from the day show the celebrating Spurs fans throwing their top hats in the air and twizzling the ends of their moustaches.

So a point was the minimum that one could expect, barring a major historical upset, or a throwback to distant times, akin to the Thames freezing over and children returning to the streets to play with sticks and hoops.

Unfortunately, a point was all we got, leaving a slight tang of disappointment, given that most of us had hoped for all three, and a timely end to all this top-four-place agony. Still, we should take consolation from the fact that the point in question brings us to within just three points of next season's Champions League.

And given that, on Saturday, we face a team we beat 8-0 last time we met, we can probably find room, even in the grip of last night's dejection, for a cheering little glimmer of optimism that the job can be done then. And, if not, then at home to Everton a week later. Assuming Spurs and Arsenal don't slip up somewhere, and that's a fairly generous assumption, on recent evidence.

Also, in fairness to our opponents, I think Spurs went quite a long way last night to putting to bed this idea that they are a one-player side. Even when a well-organised opposition comprehensively prevents Gareth Bale from contributing anything beyond a couple of classic dives, they still look like a team that can snatch the odd point here and there, if they get lucky with a few refereeing decisions.

Mind you, also on last night's evidence, they'll clearly have to depend on that opposition also failing to make anything of a whole bunch of clear chances. (The wisdom of watering the pitch so heavily at half time was starting to look in question even before Ramires slid over onto his hip when clean through on goal. To pick out only one of those clear chances.)

But that's the way it breaks sometimes, of course. And on we go with, at least, our destiny in our own hands.

One knew at the time, of course, that our magnificent and utterly vital victory at Old Trafford last Sunday afternoon had been a bit of an irritation for Sir Alex Ferguson.

Like any manager, the United boss hates to lose at home and has historically done his best to avoid it whenever possible.

Plus, as he openly said immediately afterwards, there was a lack of intensity in United's play in certain portions of the game which he was disappointed to see - partly, I'm sure, because you hope your team of champions will continue to perform like champions, even after the championship has been decided.

(In this respect, I think back to that time in 2005 when we won the title at Bolton, celebrated at home with a 1-0 victory over Charlton and then had to go to Old Trafford. In the circumstances, with the job done, a little easing back would have been understandable, and one braced oneself for that accordingly. But we won 3-1, with goals from Tiago, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Joe Cole. I always took that as a fairly good measure of Jose Mourinho's ability to keep a team's eyes on what matters.)

Something else one clearly knew about Ferguson: losing at home to a side managed by Rafa Benitez was never likely to make him happy in the short term. So our victory there was definitely going to nag at him to a certain extent. There was (to use a phrase the United manager is fond of) no question about that.

But what one didn't realise was that it would be enough for him to say, 'Right, that's it. I've had enough' and retire.

Man U away

Quite a surprise, wasn't it? Who knew that our humble little victory had got to him quite so deeply? One almost feels guilty.

Can we urge him to reconsider? It was just the one goal, after all (though, admittedly it could have been two or three). It wasn't a total humiliation - although the sending off for Rafael was a little bit tawdry. And all that dancing around and jabbing people that Ryan Giggs did while Howard Webb was making up his mind about the red card was enough, plausibly, to make a person who had been in the game a long time think, 'I could live without having to watch this every week.'

Nevertheless, United were still champions. That didn't change in those 90 minutes. (96, including the inevitable Fergie time.) I don't know for sure - and none of us do: but I think that, if Ferguson had allowed himself time in the summer, he'd have got over it eventually.

Too late now, it seems.

The time is running out, clearly, when we can take issue with Sir Alex Ferguson's always intriguing post-match remarks, and that will leave a sad hole for so many of us who love football and the art of reasoned debate.

So it almost feels like a memorial act to be pulling up the United manager one last time - specifically on his view, widely disseminated by the press, that David Luiz 'rolled around like a dying swan' last Sunday and thereby persuaded Howard Webb to send off.

For one thing, I'm not sure that Webb (a trained policeman, let's not forget) is quite so easily persuaded and that Rafael's raking kick down the back of David Luiz's legs might have had quite a bit to do with the red card decision, all things considered.

Also, let's be clear, David Luiz didn't do any rolling at all, let alone of the kind that a dying swan goes in for. He adopted a stationary position on the pitch and held his wounded calf for a moment. And I speak as someone who has seen 'Swan Lake'. I took my daughter once and, let me tell you, that swan was dying for about 45 minutes, all told. Howard Webb would never have stood for that.

Everybody dwelt on the picture of David Luiz lying on the ground, apparently smiling, and everybody laid a dark interpretation on that scene. And until David Luiz mentioned them a day later, nobody dwelt on the people that he was smiling at - namely the United fans adjacent to the pitch at that point.

Look at the replays and you'll see them clearly enough, offering our gifted Brazilian their kindest regards from the front few rows of the stand. In this circumstances, rather than vilifying him, I think the critics should be commending him for the sobriety and good humour of his reaction. It takes a pretty big man to smile in the face of those who would abuse him. Especially when that man has just been kicked up in the air by an angry Manchester United player.

I don't know whether you've noticed, but on Saturday night (Cup Final Day) we get BBC's 'Match of the Day' to ourselves - or at least in a 50/50 timeshare with Aston Villa. It's the only game that's on. I can't think that this has ever happened to us on a Saturday night before (discounting the times that Match of the Day was itself a recap of the FA Cup Final.) I'm not sure how much the programme is going to offer the neutrals. But it'll keep some of us happy. And who cares about the neutrals, anyway?