Three quickfire second-half goals helped Tottenham Hotspur maintain their pursuit of Barclays Premier League leaders Leicester City with a 3-0 win over Manchester United.
Kick-off was delayed by half an hour as the visitors’ team bus fell foul of London traffic and the match started slowly, as White Hart Lane endured a first half without a shot on target.
But 0-0 became 3-0 within six scintillating second-half minutes as Dele Alli, Toby Alderweireld and Erik Lamela struck to land blows to Man Utd’s hopes of a top-four finish.
Spurs’ outlook is comparatively more positive after they found an impressive response to Leicester’s earlier win at Sunderland to sit seven points behind the leaders with five matches remaining.
United lie fifth, four points shy of neighbours Manchester City, and contributed little as an attacking force against the dynamic north Londoners.
This result, combined with Leicester’s 2-0 success at the Stadium of Light, means Claudio Ranieri’s men are now assured of UEFA Champions League qualification for next season.
Playing for the first time since suffering medial knee ligament damage in January, Jan Vertonghen made an important challenge to stop Anthony Martial’s mazy run as United started brightly despite their delayed arrival.
A rare handling error from United goalkeeper David De Gea forced Timothy Fosu-Mensah, preferred at right-back to Matteo Darmian, into a last-ditch challenge on Harry Kane with the goal gaping.
The visitors failed to fully clear the danger and Christian Eriksen’s right-wing cross to the recalled Lamela at the back post deserved better than a headed miss.
A lack of service meant Marcus Rashford was hardly the main culprit in United’s first-half struggles but the teenage striker was replaced by Ashley Young, who took up a central attacking role after almost three months out with a groin injury.
De Gea punched clear as Eriksen fired goalwards from the left wing before saving from Eric Dier and Kane.
Young’s introduction as an unlikely attacking spearhead had done little to increase United’s potency but Martial almost opened the scoring in the 62nd minute.
The France forward glided in from the left past a clutch of Spurs defenders but thumped his eventual shot too close to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
De Gea reacted well to clear Danny Rose’s deflected cross with his right boot, while a selfless display from Fosu-Mensah came to a close in the 68th minute as he limped off to be replaced by Darmian.
The opening goal arrived from the Italian’s flank shortly afterwards. Eriksen scampered forward following a scrappy passage of midfield play and his first-time cross was matched by an instant finish for Alli’s eighth league goal of the season.
United’s impressive discipline deserted them as Alderweireld met Lamela’s free-kick with a towering header.
Darmian was booked for a foul on Kane to bring about that opportunity and his difficult cameo continued as he watched Rose spear a low cross past him for Lamela to sweep in emphatically in the 76th minute.
De Gea tipped over Kane’s header as a rampant Spurs underlined their credentials, while United must regroup quickly for Wednesday’s FA Cup sixth-round replay at West Ham United.
Tottenham Hotspur head coach Mauricio Pochettino: “It was a perfect performance in the second half. I’m very pleased and full credit to the players, it was a fantastic job.
“Beating Man Utd 3-0 is a good reason to be happy. We believe that we can still fight. The motivation is massive.”
Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal: “Until the first goal, we were at least equal with Spurs but we gave the goal away with miscommunication and then within five minutes we were out of the game.
“Every team can lose to anybody so we are still in the race for the top four, but when you lose a game you have to close the gap again and that’s difficult. Yes, 3-0 is a big negative result but the way we played until the first goal was good.”