Red Devils show killer instinct as Magpies flop
Manchester United 4 Newcastle United 1
By the end, Harry Maguire was weaving in and out of Newcastle United bodies and trying to stick one in the top corner from 25 yards.
A game that threatened to turn into another inquest for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had become a stroll, Manchester United taking full advantage of comical defending to record their second-biggest league win of the campaign.
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After the Watford debacle, Solskjaer needed a reaction but he could not have imagined the opponents would be this accommodating.
Newcastle United arrived in some form but you do not get far making individual errors this elementary and, after taking an early lead through Matty Longstaff, they resolved to press the self-destruct button.
Two goals from Anthony Martial, a rocket from Mason Greenwood and a 15th of the season for Marcus Rashford secured an ultimately serene victory, even if it was soured slightly by the loss of Scott McTominay to injury.
McTominay was seen leaving Old Trafford on crutches, with Solskjaer worried the Scotland midfielder damaged knee ligaments.
"I don't know how bad (it is)," the United manager said. "Let's see - when they knocked together, you see the attitude of the kid (to carry on). I'm not sure if he's going to be ready for Saturday [against Burnley], but we've seen him heal quickly before."
Having just got Paul Pogba back from a lengthy lay-off, Solskjaer will be desperate to avoid McTominay facing a long spell on the sidelines.
Pogba looked lively after replacing McTominay at the interval and had made an impression of a different kind before then by asking his team-mates to wear "No to racism" and "We are one" wristbands in the warm-up following recent racist incidents.
This was only the second home league game United have won in which they dominated possession since Solskjaer became permanent manager.
Given the hosts' struggles against teams that sit back and let them have the ball, Newcastle should have had a firm foothold when Matty Longstaff gave them the lead a minute.
But systems, tactics and game-plans go out of the window when individuals make clusters of defensive aberrations managers cannot legislate for and, by the end of a chaotic game that offered an engrossing B movie kind of entertainment, Steve Bruce cut a most despairing figure.
Manchester United punished those mistakes mercilessly and, for a team that had started the game so poorly, they were welcome gifts.
"It was a bad equaliser, a worse second one, a poor third one and a ridiculous fourth one," Bruce said.
"We gifted them it. Manchester United didn't have much to do. You can't expect to come here and make those mistakes and not be punished."
They were inauspicious beginnings for Solskjaer's side, though. Gayle missed a superb chance to put Newcastle United in front before more slipshod defending preceded their goal.
Fred lost the ball in midfield, from which Gayle whipped over a cross from the left into Matty Longstaff just outside the penalty area. He lifted the ball over Manchester United's defence, where Joelinton held off Maguire, before laying the ball off for the Newcastle United midfielder - scorer of the winner in the reverse fixture at St James' Park in October - to fire home a fine finish into the bottom corner.
Bruce's team should have been flying. Instead, from there, they shot themselves in the foot repeatedly.
Andreas Pereira laid the ball off for Martial from Luke Shaw's pass but, while the France striker struck his shot cleanly, Martin Dubravka's attempts to keep the ball out were feeble, the goalkeeper pushing the ball into his near corner.
Still, not quite as feeble as Fernandez's own moment of weakness 12 minutes later. Initially miscontrolling Dubravka's pass out, the defender then played an abject, aimless pass into no-man's land, allowing a grateful Greenwood to latch on to the ball and unleash a thundering drive that, courtesy of a slight deflection, cannoned in off the underside of the crossbar.
Solskjaer had been willing Greenwood to pass but was not protesting too loudly as the ball hit the net.
The third did not derive from a specific individual error, and Longstaff felt he was fouled by McTominay in the build-up.
But Bruce will have been more concerned by the ease with which Fred and then Pereira worked the ball to Aaron Wan-Bissaka and even more worried by the sight of the England U-21 defender running past Jetro Willems in a straight line before crossing for Rashford, who rose quite superbly above Fabian Schar, to head home.
The second half brought little improvement for the visitors and, when Sean Longstaff played a blind pass backwards, Martial raced on to the loose ball and dinked a finish over Dubravka. Martial was denied a hat-trick when a shot from the edge of the penalty area hit a post.
This was as easy as it has probably ever been for Solskjaer as permanent manager. (© Daily Telegraph, London)