Kyle Walker put the hosts in the lead with a free-kick before the full-back then made a mistake at the other end to allow Wayne Rooney to equalise. Sandro then put Spurs back in front with a screamer before a penalty created and scored by Rooney levelled the scores again, with neither side able to take advantage of a nervy finish to claim all three points.
Spurs hadn't looked too dangerous up until the point when some loose play from Phil Jones allowed Paulinho, playing in an advanced position behind Roberto Soldado, to pick up the ball outside the United area. Jonny Evans dived in with an ill-advised tackle and gave away a free-kick in a dangerous area, which Kyle Walker stepped up to take. The full-back chose to hit his shot hard and low, and the United wall dutifully leapt over it to give David de Gea no chance and put the hosts in front.
Spurs almost added a second from a corner immediately afterwards, but Michael Dawson saw his shot blocked before a brilliant intervention from Danny Welbeck prevented Spurs from scoring an almost certain goal. United had looked good up until the deadlock was broken, but Spurs began to run rings around David Moyes' men. First Roberto Soldado skied an absolute sitter after being picked out by Paulinho after some woeful defending from Chris Smalling, then Aaron Lennon far too easily broke free of the United backline but found De Gea well-positioned at his near post.
Just as United were looking in disarray however, they struck back to claim an unlikely equaliser. Phil Jones stole the ball and put in a hopeful cross which only went to Walker, but the right-back took a horrendous touch to put the ball back into the centre of his own area, and Rooney stretched out to toe-poke it past Hugo Lloris and undo Spurs' fine start.
United started the second half in the right mood, immediately winning a corner and putting the hosts under pressure, but the game increasingly became scrappy. Nonetheless, Jones was growing into the game and United appeared to have put the kibosh on Spurs' earlier threat, but there was to be an unexpected twist. Sandro, of all people, picked up the ball in midfield and lashed a shot from 30 yards, which De Gea didn't even dive for - the ball nestled right into the top corner and put Spurs back in the lead.
United hadn't looked particularly dangerous, with Shinji Kagawa utterly anonymous, but a switch with Danny Welbeck moving to a more central position, the Japanese playmaker being pushed out to the wings and Rooney dropping deeper, created a second equaliser for United not long afterwards. Rooney played a brilliant ball for a brilliant run from Welbeck, and Hugo Lloris came flying out of goal to bring down the forward. A clear penalty, and Rooney stepped up to put it away straight down the middle of the goal and level the scores once again.
United were pressing for an equaliser, but more uncharacteristically poor deliveries from set-pieces from Rooney eventually allowed Spurs to break, and Andros Townsend - substituted on for Lennon to much derision from the home fans - was inches away from connecting with Walker's cross with De Gea badly exposed.
A needlessly given away corner from Smalling then allowed Spurs in, but the United defence held firm - a ball back into the box presented a danger with Paulinho lurking, but Rooney was able to use his strength to deny him the opportunity, before the Brazilian was ruled offside anyway.
The introduction of Nani appeared to give United a bit more edge going into the final ten minutes, and he, Javier Hernandez and Rooney were involved in a fine chance towards the end, but too many touches from Rooney and then a poor one from Hernandez saw the move break down, despite otherwise fine work from all three involved.
Spurs put United under pressure with a series of set-pieces as injury-time loomed, but Smalling was twice well-placed to make an invaluable contribution and prevent the concession of a late goal. United then had a late chance from a corner of their own to win it at the death, but although Lloris spilled it initially, he was able to gather at the second attempt to see the game out.