Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored for the second successive match as Manchester United returned to winning ways in the Premier League with a 1-0 victory over Tottenham at Old Trafford.
The Armenian followed up his first Reds goal against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday by firing home a thunderous drive just before the half-hour mark after Ander Herrera’s pass cut open the Spurs defence.
And Paul Pogba was unfortunate not to add to the lead in the second half with a sensational free-kick from distance which struck the woodwork.
But after three consecutive draws in the league, it was a welcome three points and a resilient display from Jose Mourinho’s men, who cut the gap behind Spurs in the table to three points with a repeat scoreline of last season’s corresponding fixture.
Both sides had booked their place in the last 32 of the Europa League during the week but crucial league points were on the agenda as they sought to maintain the pressure on the teams above them.
With the Reds only returning from Ukraine in the early hours of Friday morning, Mourinho understandably freshened up his team with six changes – Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian and Michael Carrick were among those restored, after being rested at home for Thursday’s 2-0 win over Zorya.
United made a fast start and, inside the first minute, Zlatan Ibrahimovic escaped down the left and played a perfect cutback into Pogba’s path but the Frenchman was denied low down by his compatriot Hugo Lloris in the Spurs goal.
At the other end, Heung-Min Son curled an ambitious effort over the crossbar from the edge of the box as both teams settled into the game during the early exchanges.
David De Gea, back in goal in place of Sergio Romero, then had to be alert to push away a dipping Christian Eriksen free-kick from 25 yards.
As proceedings continued to ebb and flow, Mkhitaryan – making his fourth successive start for the Reds – saw his fierce effort diverted behind by Jan Vertonghen before Herrera’s cushioned volley from range brought a comfortable save from Spurs skipper Lloris.
With United starting to seize the initiative, former Spurs man Carrick – wearing the captain’s armband from the outset – drilled a powerful effort over the crossbar from distance. And, not long after, the Reds made the decisive breakthrough as Mkhitaryan raced onto Herrera’s incisive pass before rifling home an unstoppable finish into the roof of the net.
With the momentum now with the Reds, top scorer Ibrahimovic almost added to his 13 goals this season five minutes later as his low shot was kept out by Lloris.
However, his opposite number De Gea had to produce another fine save to tip over Son’s effort from 20 yards and protect United’s lead heading into the break.
Possession: United 41% Tottenham 59%
Shots: United 11 Tottenham 7
Shots on target: United 4 Tottenham 2
Corners: United 2 Tottenham 4
United began the second period by troubling the Spurs defence on numerous occasions but the visitors almost levelled when De Gea punched away a stinging shot by Eriksen, who then curled in a free-kick which found an unmarked Victor Wanyama but he couldn’t direct his header on target.
The Reds continued to look a threat on the counter attack as Pogba came close on two occasions – rattling the crossbar with a stunning 25-yard free-kick, before lashing a shot at goal which was denied by Lloris after combining well with Herrera.
As a lively second half swung from one end to the other, Eriksen went close with a free-kick of his own, which brought a fine reaction save from De Gea to turn the fierce low effort away.
With 20 minutes remaining, Mourinho introduced Marcus Rashford in place of Anthony Martial as the Reds pushed for the second goal to kill off the challenge of the visitors. But there was a concern for the Reds when Mkhitaryan was caught late on the heel by Danny Rose, who was booked for the challenge, and after being treated for several minutes was taken off on a strtecher and replaced by Eric Bailly.
Urged on by the passionate United faithful, the Reds saw out the closing stages without too much concern, despite seven minutes of stoppage time being played, to secure a vital Premier League victory.
With four more games to play in December, the Reds continue their busy schedule on Wednesday night against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park (KO 20:00 GMT).
Possession: United 40% Tottenham 60%
Shots: United 15 Tottenham 12
Shots on target: United 5 Tottenham 4
Corners: United 3 Tottenham 8
United: De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Darmian; Carrick, Herrera (Fellaini 90+6); Mkhitaryan (Bailly 85), Pogba, Martial (Rashford 71); Ibrahimovic.
Substitutes: Romero, Blind, Mata, Rooney.
Booked: Valencia, Pogba, Mkhitaryan
Tottenham: Lloris; Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama, Dembele (Winks 67); Eriksen (Nkoudou 83), Alli, Son (Sissoko 57); Kane.
Subs not used: Vorm, Wimmer, Davies, Dier.
Booked: Wanyama, Walker, Rose