MANCHESTER, April 24 – An exquisite finish by Nani helped send Manchester United back to the top of the English Premier League table after a 3-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford here on Saturday.Following a drab first half, Ryan Giggs opened the scoring from the penalty spot but United looked set for a frustrating afternoon after Ledley King powered in a 70th minute equaliser.
But Nani’s wonderful finish made it 2-1 10 minutes from time before Giggs sealed the points with his second goal from the penalty spot.
United are two points clear of nearest challengers Chelsea, who play host to Stoke on Sunday, with two games remaining while Tottenham still have work to do if they are to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Just as the sudden return of Wayne Rooney from injury lifted United in their recent Champions League game with Bayern Munich, his surprise absence from this game left the team subdued.
The England striker, who only returned from an ankle injury last week, was missing after suffering a groin strain in training on Thursday.
It was left to Dimitar Berbatov to lead the attack against his former club yet the Bulgarian endured another frustrating afternoon as he failed to find the target for the sixth successive game.
Both teams have produced some cracking entertainment this season and this was an eagerly-awaited showdown between two of the league’s in-form clubs.
Yet the high-stakes clash was a dull affair for half an hour, Tottenham enjoying plenty of possession but doing little with it while United looked anything but title contenders.
The second-versus-fourth game was so devoid of incident that the first shot of the match did not arrive until the 29th minute, Roman Pavlyucheko’s tame effort causing United keeper Edwin van der Sar no problems whatsoever.
Fortunately, the game livened up towards the end of the half with United carving out four chances in quick succession without hurting the visitors.
Berbatov was denied his 13th goal of the campaign by Ledley King’s excellent 29th minute block before Heurelho Gomes saved well from Antonio Valencia after the Ecuador international let fly with a vicious low effort.
Tottenham’s defence, which had remained solid, was starting to feel the strain as left-back Patrice Evra blazed another opportunity over the bar before half-time.
However, it did not look like it was going to be United’s day, particularly when Berbatov, who cost United 30.75 million pounds when they brought him from Tottenham in September 2008, failed to keep his composure after Rafael da Silva’s cross.
Tottenham, who had won seven of their previous eight league games, were living dangerously as they invited United to attack them.
The visitors survived another scare when Darren Fletcher narrowly failed to divert Berbatov’s header over the line before United’s pressure finally paid off when Benoit Assou-Ekotto upended Evra inside the penalty area.
Former Monaco full-back Evra had vomited on the pitch at the start of the second half but it was Tottenham who were feeling sick when Giggs kept his composure to beat Gomes from the penalty spot in the 58th minute.
Yet United’s lead lasted just 12 minutes as King stunned Old Trafford after taking advantage of sloppy defending to power home the equaliser following a corner by Gareth Bale.
But Nani, who was United’s best player, came to the rescue with a wonderful 80th minute finish to restore his side’s advantage after a great move involving Darren Fletcher and substitute Federico Macheda.
Tottenham’s hopes of stealing a point faded when Giggs kept his cool to make it 3-1 with his second from the penalty spot in the 86th minute after Nani had been fouled by Wilson Palacios.