After a slow start at White Hart Lane, Villas Boas soon found his abilities questioned, as they had been throughout a tempestuous and ultimately unsuccessful spell at Stamford Bridge, rumours of dressing room unrest emerging in the way they had at Chelsea 12 months ago.
As Spurs wrestled to keep hold of their 2-0 first half lead in the face of a concerted second half comeback from United at Old Trafford, Villas Boas’ thoughts, understandably, returned to last season’s meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side at Stamford Bridge in February, when Chelsea allowed a three-goal advantage to be transformed into a 3-3 draw.
There was to be no similar reprieve for United on this occasion and the spirit and commitment shown by Spurs players as they sought their first win at Old Trafford in 23 years provided ample evidence that Villas Boas has not encountered the same personality conflicts in his current job as he did his old.
“That’s nonsense,” said
“You could see from the celebrations at the end of the game, there is a positive atmosphere in the group. We are all very much behind the manager.
“These are the times when you have to stand strong and show your character and I think the boys did that fantastically well. We had to put our bodies on the line – Gallas ran into the post, Brad made a few saves – everyone came together well and defended as a team.
“We’ve got a new manager, with new ideas, and he has brought in a lot of youngsters. They have been training with us and lot of them were on the bench today. So it is all positive from our point of view and hopefully we can push on from here.”
Caulker was not born when Spurs last won at Old Trafford, this victory also ending a run of 26 games in all competitions, home and away, in which Tottenham had failed to beat United.
As evidence that Villas Boas is beginning to turn around the club’s fortunes, following his controversial appointment in place of Harry Redknapp, this was a powerful exhibit.
“It’s more than my lifetime since they last won here,” added Caulker. “I was born in late 1991 so I wasn’t even around when Spurs won in 1989. There have been times over the years when they have been ahead but still not managed to get the win. It’s fantastic to be part of the team that ends that record and makes a bit of history for the club.
“That’s four wins out of four now, including the cup competitions, and that underlines that this is a squad that can go places.”
With Caulker performing admirably alongside William Gallas, 15 years his senior, at the heart of the Spurs defence, it was seconds before the half-time break before Brad Friedel was forced to make a save, a routine gather from Nani, as the visitors led through goals from Jan Vertonghen and Gareth Bale.
But United launched a concerted recovery soon after the restart, Nani turning in a cross from substitute Wayne Rooney, before Clint Dempsey restored the two-goal cushion and Shinjo Kagawa responded, instantly, with the game’s final goal.
Rooney and Carrick hit woodwork but there was to be no further drama as United paid the penalty for a slow start and some appalling defending.
“We deserve to lose as we only played for 45 minutes and to concede three goals at Old Trafford is not enough to win a game,” said United full-back Patrice Evra.
“The problem was about our head. It looked like we stayed in the hotel. And the first 45 minutes there was no speed, no focus, we didn’t win a lot of challenges, we conceded silly goals.
“Maybe I’m hard on myself and the team but we just performed for the Man United fans in the second half and that is not enough if you want to win the title.
“If you want to talk about positive things makes sure we play like in the second half and it will be difficult for any team to beat us – the speed, the anger, we just played with a different attitude and mentality.
“Two losses is really too much. But we have to be positive as well. We have to forget that first half. I hope it was just an accident.”