Cristiano Ronaldo rode to the rescue of beleaguered Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Saturday as the visitors thumped toothless Tottenham 3-0 to restore pride after their humiliation by Liverpool.
United arrived in London smarting from their 5-0 home hammering by their fiercest rivals last week, which led to a storm of speculation over the future of the Norwegian boss.
But a sublime first-half strike by Ronaldo, a clever finish from Edinson Cavani and a late Marcus Rashford goal lifted the visitors to fifth in the table, just three points behind third-placed Manchester City.
A delighted Solskjaer praised his “brilliant” players and labelled Ronaldo “the best” but denied it meant they could now move on from the Liverpool game.
“That’s always going to be in the history books — one of the darkest days,” he told the BBC. “A dark spot on our CV. But football becomes history so quickly.
“The experience of Edinson Cavani and Cristiano is massive. We need it. We can’t hide. The week has been difficult for all the players. They really stuck at it. Experience counts in situations like this.”
But was a bleak result for Spurs boss Nuno Espirito Santo, who faced boos and chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” as his side slipped to their fifth defeat in 10 league games.
Solskjaer rejigged his line-up, pairing veteran forwards Ronaldo and Cavani up front for the first time, with Mason Greenwood and Rashford missing out.
He also opted for a central back three, bringing in the returning Raphael Varane alongside Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof.
The game took time to catch fire in front of a crowd of more than 60,000, with clear-cut openings at a premium.
Son Heung-min fired over from close range for Spurs and moments later Cavani headed wide from a Bruno Fernandes cross.
Tottenham had the ball in the net just before the half-hour mark but Cristian Romero’s effort was ruled out for offside.
But it was United who broke the deadlock in the 39th minute.
Ronaldo peeled off Ben Davies at the back post to get on the end of Fernandes’ pin-point cross, hitting a fine first-time volley across goal and into the far corner.
Solskjaer responded with a muted celebration, putting his finger into the air.
Ronaldo thought he had scored a second early in the second half when he lashed the ball into the net after running onto a through ball from Scott McTominay but he was flagged offside as he wheeled away in celebration.
Nine minutes after the break Nuno threw on Steven Bergwijn to replace Lucas Moura to loud boos from the frustrated home fans.
– Cavani strike –
The mood soured when United doubled their lead in the 64th minute as 36-year-old Ronaldo turned provider, feeding Cavani, 34, who lifted the ball over Hugo Lloris to spark delirious celebrations among the United fans.
Substitute Rashford added gloss to the scoreline with four minutes to go, coolly finishing past Lloris as more boos rang out.
Solskjaer is not out of the woods yet, with a home match against City to follow a midweek date against Atalanta in Italy but he will breathe a huge sigh of relief as he travels back to Manchester.
But Nuno’s situation looks more tricky after Tottenham fans called for his sacking and the removal of chairman Daniel Levy.
Spurs did not manage a single shot on target and Harry Kane, who was largely anonymous, has managed just one Premier League goal this campaign.
“We are not on the right track,” Nuno told Sky Sports. “This season is part of football. The fans suffer when you’re not performing well. They have showed they’re not happy. We keep on trying.”