Manchester United’s efforts to force their way into the Premier League title race faltered as they were held to a 0-0 draw at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
An outstanding display by Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris together with wasteful United finishing meant Louis van van Gaal’s side were denied an eighth victory in nine games.
Had United claimed three points, they would have increased the pressure on top two Chelsea and Manchester City.
Instead they were left to reflect on a missed opportunity, but Spurs, who finished the game strongly, also had cause for regret after failing to enhance their own challenge for a top-four finish.
Van Gaal’s decision to name an unchanged side for the first time since he took charge at Old Trafford was a clear indication of the manager’s growing satisfaction with his team’s efforts after some good recent results.
Results, however, have told only part of the story, with United having failed to convince on occasion.
Their defensive struggles, which have allowed goalkeeper David de Gea to shine, gave Tottenham grounds for pre-match optimism, particularly with Harry Kane in such good form.
The 21-year-old striker had scored in his four previous appearances and quickly demonstrated he was capable of unsettling United’s back three of Phil Jones, Paddy McNair and Jonny Evans.
An excellent threaded pass from the recalled Andros Townsend almost allowed Kane to get in behind the visitors’ back-line, but McNair was alert enough to smother the danger.
That, though, proved to be a rare example of the home side’s attacking threat as United assumed control to the extent that Tottenham would have been out of the game before halftime had it not been for Lloris.
With Antonio Valancia and Ashley Young finding space on the flanks and Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney buzzing around in midfield, United repeatedly opened up a route to Lloris’s goal, but neither Rademal Falcao nor Robin van Persie could find a finishing touch.
Mata came closest to breaking the deadlock with a 22nd-minute free-kick that struck the post and when the ball bounced towards the goal-line, Vlad Chiriches hacked it away from the feet of Falcao and Van Persie.
Falcao saw an angled shot parried by Lloris, moments before the Spurs goalkeeper snuffed out an opportunity for Van Persie after the striker had deftly brought down Michael Carrick’s chipped pass.
Then, in the final minute of the half, the France international produced an acrobatic, full-stretch save to tip Young’s curling cross-shot around the post.
The goalkeeper’s heroics had kept Spurs in it and his teammates responded after the restart by adopting a more ambitious approach.
Townsend had been Spurs’ most dangerous attacking player and the England international became even more prominent as the game wore on, testing De Gea with a swerving 20-yard shot that the Spaniard did well to hold.
The winger’s pace was troubling United and he appeared to have caught out Young in the 70th minute when he got behind the wing-back only to be hauled back.
Young had been booked 15 minutes earlier for a foul on Nacer Chadli, but although Spurs coach Mauricio Pochettino and his players were convinced he should have received a second caution, referee Jon Moss waved play on.
Moments earlier, Mata had fired over from Rafael da Silva’s cut-back, but that proved to be United’s last clear chance as the momentum of the game tipped in Spurs’ favour, with Christian Eriksen and Federico Fazio threatening.
Van Gaal withdrew the unconvincing Evans in favour of Chris Smalling, while Luke Shaw replaced McNair, but although the visitors hung on, it was amid a growing sense of panic.