Honest Evra lays blame at United's finishing
Man United 1 Newcastle 1
Amid the acrimony and anger that followed the dropping of two points by Manchester United in the wake of Demba Ba's contentious second-half penalty, a rare sense of perspective was offered by Patrice Evra.
"No, it wasn't a penalty," Evra said. "It was a difficult decision, but the referee was responsible and he went to see the linesman to say: 'Are you sure?' He said: 'Yes, it's a penalty,' and the referee trusts his man. What can you say? We have to be more focused on how many chances we missed."
If a team spurn nine goal-scoring opportunities in 45 minutes, be that through poor finishing, inspired defending or even divine intervention, an erroneous split-second decision by a linesman with half an hour left to play cannot be the sole reason for a failure to claim all three points.
Evra might be a divisive figure outside of Old Trafford, but the United defender cannot be faulted for his honesty on this occasion.
Yes, referee Mike Jones and his linesman, John Flynn, made a bad call when deciding that Rio Ferdinand had fouled Hatem Ben Arfa, and therefore conceded a penalty with a 62nd-minute challenge, but it was not the only mistake on a day when United's failings came to the fore.
As United carved Newcastle open in the closing stages of the second half following Ba's penalty, and Jonas Gutierrez's dismissal for two yellow cards, it appeared to be nothing more than a case of too little, too late.
Javier Hernandez, who had given United a 49th-minute lead by being in the right place at the right time when Steven Taylor's clearance struck him on the hip, saw a glancing header brilliantly cleared off the line by Danny Simpson before having a goal correctly ruled out in the fourth minute of stoppage time for offside.
But the free-flowing, penetrating attacking shown by Manchester City when defeating Newcastle 3-1 seven days earlier was not evident in United's play. It was predictable and bogged down by a lack of drive and energy from midfield and Wayne Rooney's urge to go searching for the ball in deeper positions.
Ferguson has spoken of his fruitless search for "another Bryan Robson or Roy Keane" and the lack of a midfield dynamo is beginning to tell.
But having scored 21 goals in their first eight league games this season and just eight in their last seven, United are giving the appearance of an engine running low on oil.
They spluttered into life late on against Newcastle, but Evra is hoping that the ultimately futile surge is a sign of better things to come.
"It is a draw, but you have to take the positives," Evra said. "I think the team have not played that way for a long time and created so many chances, but if you want to win the league, you have to score more goals.
"Against Arsenal, we created eight chances and scored eight. Today, we scored only one goal. It's frustrating, but it's a positive game for Manchester United.
"There's a long way to go and I'm confident that, if the team keep playing that well, we're going to win the league."
While United's title-winning ambitions appear in the balance, Newcastle's hopes of securing a top-six finish and European football should not be written off.
Alan Pardew's team possess the organisation and discipline required to prosper in the Premier League and confidence is clearly growing throughout the club.
January will provide the acid test of Newcastle's prospects, however, with the focus on owner Mike Ashley and whether he will resist the temptation to cash in on the club's best players once again.
But with Chelsea next on the horizon, Pardew admits his players have exceeded his own expectations so far.
"I didn't expect it to be quite as good as this. The points total is outstanding considering the games we've had," said Pardew.
Meanwhile, Alex Ferguson is expected to escape punishment by the English FA for critical comments about linesman Flynn following the game.
The United manager questioned whether Flynn would "ever get a game again" and described his decision to inform referee Mike Jones that Rio Ferdinand had conceded a penalty by fouling Hatem Ben Arfa as "one of the worst I've ever seen" and a "travesty".
Although the English FA's disciplinary unit will review Ferguson's comments today, the prospect of a charge seems unlikely. (© Daily Telegraph, London)