LONDON – Clint Dempsey’s equaliser in the final minute of stoppage-time denied Premier League leaders Manchester United victory as Tottenham Hotspur forced a 1-1 draw at a snowy White Hart Lane on Sunday.
The result meant United’s advantage at the top of the table over second-placed reigning champions Manchester City was reduced to five points after they had started the weekend seven in front of their local rivals.
It looked as if Robin van Persie’s 18th league goal of the season, a 25th-minute header from Tom Cleverley’s cross, was going to secure all three points for United in a fixture that survived a pre-match pitch inspection.
But in the third and final minute of stoppage time, Spurs pumped the ball forward.
United keeper David de Gea, who had previously made several fine saves, could only punch weakly as the ball came into the box and, from Aaron Lennon’s cross, United States striker Dempsey rescued a point for the hosts.
“We wanted to win, but it was an important point in the end due to the form United are in. A point can give us a lot of confidence,” said Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas.
Spurs are now just four points adrift of Chelsea after their London rivals beat Arsenal 2-1 in an all-capital clash at a snow-covered Stamford Bridge earlier on Sunday.
Juan Mata gave Chelsea a sixth minute lead before Frank Lampard, whose Chelsea future remains uncertain, made it 2-0 from the penalty spot 10 minutes later after Ramires was brought down by Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
But Theo Walcott, fresh from signing a new contract in midweek, brought Arsenal back into the match in the 58th minute when he outpaced Branislav Ivanovic and then shot powerfully past Petr Cech.
Arsenal pressed for an equaliser but European champions Chelsea clung on to all three points and only their second home league win under interim manager Rafael Benitez.
The Spaniard, repeatedly jeered by Chelsea supporters since replacing sacked fans’ favourite Roberto di Matteo, said victory had been coming.
“We have been doing well, creating chances in all our games,” Benitez told Sky Sports. “In the games we didn’t win we deserved to win. It was just a matter of time until we had a performance like this.”
This result saw Chelsea, booed off after squandering a 2-0 lead in a 2-2 draw at home to Southampton in midweek, remain third and Arsenal, who have won only one of their last five matches, stay sixth.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had doubts about both Chelsea goals.
“I thought (Arsenal’s) Francis Coquelin was injured for the first, and I’m not convinced at all that it was a penalty on the second goal,” he said.
A frustrated Wenger, whose side ended the day seven points outside the Champions League places, added: “We made some changes at half-time 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.”
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