Jamie O’Hara’s spot-kick was saved by Ben Foster and David Bentley missed his, while all four United takers converted – Anderson’s cool finish delivering the first part of a possible quadruple for Alex Ferguson’s men. United’s delight proved there is still a place for the League Cup in an increasingly congested football calendar. It may not have been the greatest game, or the most important prize, but football is above all about trophies and the two sides’ contrasting emotions demonstrated the great divide between joy and despair that comes with the penalty shoot-out.
Ferguson made good on his promise to stick with the players who helped United reach the final, as Danny Welbeck, Darron Gibson and Ben Foster all started. However, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Patrice Evra also featured from the outset, so one could hardly call it a reserve side. Wayne Rooney would also have started had he not been struck down by a virus.
Tottenham’s Jonathan Woodgate, who scored the winner in last year’s final against Chelsea, also missed out because of an Achilles injury. Roman Pavyluchenko and Darren Bent both played up front, albeit only in the loosest sense of the word. The Russian, in particular, was woeful and Harry Redknapp hauled him off just after the hour mark.
United started faster, with Ronaldo keen to make his presence felt. The world player of the year smashed an early free-kick just over, before bringing a save from Heurelho Gomes in the Tottenham goal.
Gibson flashed a superb 25-yard shot inches wide, while Scholes delivered some pinpoint passes that appeared too good for their startled recipients, Welbeck and the perennially frustrating Nani, who did at least test Gomes early on.
It seemed business as usual for United, but gradually Spurs came back courtesy of the electric Aaron Lennon on the right wing. Evra is one of the Premier League’s best, and fastest, full-backs, but he was repeatedly beaten by the nifty footwork and rapid acceleration of Lennon. Yet time and again, Lennon delivered his final ball and could only find United players.
Rio Ferdinand – captain in the absence of Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs – made several last-ditch interceptions and, at the other end, saw an ambitious dipping volley drop just over the crossbar.
On the hour mark, Carlos Tevez nearly broke the deadlock with an instinctive back flick from a wayward Jonny Evans shot, but sent the ball just wide. Then controversy reigned as Ledley King appeared to foul Ronaldo in the Spurs box, but the Manchester United man was instead booked for diving. If that was harsh on United, it perhaps offset Chris Foy’s decision not to show John O’Shea a second yellow card for a clumsy, late foul on Luka Modric.
Then Lennon squandered Tottenham’s best opportunity, collecting the ball on the right side of the box but seeing the impressive Foster push the ball to safety. From that point, extra time looked a certainty until Ronaldo – with 20 seconds of stoppage time left – jinked inside from the right and hit a savage left-foot shot. Wembley stood still, but the ball came back off the inside of the right-hand post and Nani sent the rebound wide.
The extra half-hour produced few moments of quality, with both sides sapped of energy. Only Bent’s shot at Foster troubled either keeper and penalties duly followed. Ryan Giggs, Tevez, Ronaldo and Anderson all converted for United – Vedran Corluka was Tottenham’s only successful taker.