A six-minute flurry from Tottenham left Manchester United stunned as Spurs triumphed 3-0 at White Hart Lane to ensure they have not completely lost sight of Leicester in the race for the Premier League title.
Claudio Ranieri’s remarkable side ratcheted up the pressure with victory at embattled Sunderland on Sunday – a result Mauricio Pochettino’s men responded to manfully in the delayed kick-off at White Hart Lane.
Just as it looked like Champions League hopefuls United would frustrate Spurs, Dele Alli, Toby Alderweireld and Erik Lamela netted in six frantic second-half minutes to secure a memorable 3-0 win.
Clawing back Leicester with five matches left remains a formidable challenge, but the manner of victory in the wake of their rivals opening up a 10-point lead offers hope.
It had looked like a run of two wins in five remier League matches would extend at home to Louis van Gaal’s men, only for a collapse to follow impressive defender Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s injury.
White Hart Lane erupted as United unravelled spectacularly. Alli turned home Christian Eriksen’s cross in the 70th minute, before Alderweireld’s powerful header and Lamela swept in a third goal to seriously dent the visitors’ hopes of a top-four finish and raising fresh questions over Van Gaal’s future.
Spurs still need Leicester to slip up if they are to win the title, but the second-half display underlines Pochettino’s belief that it is “impossible” to set a limit on just what his “group of players could achieve in the long-term”.
There was plenty of time to read the Tottenham head coach’s programme notes after United’s bus got caught in traffic, leading to the kick-off being put back 30 minutes.
The visitors started much brighter than you might expect from a side cooped up on a bus until 15 minutes before the scheduled kick-off, with Anthony Martial and Fosu-Mensah having early efforts blocked.
It was a sloppy, cumbersome start from Spurs, but David de Gea’s save from a close-range – and offside – Harry Kane snapped them out of it.
Eriksen bent a hopeful strike wide as the home side kicked into gear, with De Gea and Fosu-Mensah combining to thwart Kane as Pochettino’s men pushed for a breakthrough that Lamela should have given them in the 28th minute.
A lovely clipped ball to the back post found the Argentinian in space, yet he inexplicably guided the ball wide.
Spurs soon had another chance as Kyle Walker drifted past the statuesque Marcos Rojo and cut into the box, only for Fosu-Mensah to bring a robust end the right-back’s marauding run.
It was the last chance of a spell of Tottenham dominance, with play more even and controlled before half-time was called.
The hosts started the second half much better than the opening period, with De Gea twice called into action during the opening stages to deny Eriksen and Eric Dier.
Kane’s swivel and strike on the edge of the box was the next effort to call the United goalkeeper into action, with United mustering their first effort on target in the 62nd minute as Martial ended a fine run by stinging the palms of Hugo Lloris.
Pochettino’s side continued to pose the biggest threat, though, and Danny Rose’s deflected cross called De Gea into action once more, before injury brought the impressive Fosu-Mensah’s afternoon to a premature end.
That defensive reshuffle soon had consequences.
Kane won the ball and played the ball wide to Eriksen, who sent in a wonderfully-weighted cross for Alli to slot home.
It did not stop there as United added to the 70th minute opener with Alderweireld meeting a Lamela free-kick with a powerful header.
Provider turned goalscorer in the 76th minute as matters got worse for United, with Lamela sweeping home a Rose cross.
Walker and Memphis Depay were booked as tempers frayed late in a match which saw the former hit the post, albeit from an offside position.