Monday 19 March 2018

Newcastle brave Red blitz to exploit disputed penalty award

Just as with Benfica in the Champions League the other night, the result was all wrong for Manchester United, but the entertainment was first rate.

Newcastle United fully deserved a point from a pulsating game after defending stoutly throughout. They were unlucky to go behind in the first place, even luckier to get back on terms, but, with Steven Taylor outstanding, they repulsed everything the home side threw at them afterwards, even when a man short in the last 10 minutes.

Both sides have still only been beaten in the league by Manchester City, though a single point was much more valuable to Newcastle than their opponents, and -- rubbing salt into a wound inflicted by a penalty equaliser that he admitted was lucky -- Alan Pardew suggested his players had found it easier at Old Trafford than at the Etihad last week.

"We played City at the top of their game," the Newcastle manager said. "They beat us with a bit to spare, but not so today. It was even against Manchester United -- we had to be heroes at the end, but in the first half we were probably the better team."

Even Alex Ferguson cracked a smile at that. "I don't know which game he was at," the Manchester United manager said. "Most games we would score three or four goals playing like that, it was an incredible result, and a travesty that we didn't get all three points. Apart from the assistant, I don't think anyone in the ground thought it was a penalty, including the referee."

Manchester United began the game with Wayne Rooney back in his more familiar attacking role and spent the first 10 minutes terrorising the Newcastle defence with a bewildering array of incisive runs and off-the-ball movement. With Javier Hernandez, Ryan Giggs, Nani and Ashley Young all breaking forward in turn, Newcastle must have felt as though they were dealing with a human cluster bomb, and it seemed unlikely they would manage to hold out for long.

Hold out they did, however, their solidity and organisation gradually dulling their opponents' initial sharpness, and once they gained a foothold in the game they even put together an attack of their own, Demba Ba forcing a decent save from David de Gea after Hatem Ben Arfa's cleverly lofted pass.

All the home side's early promise had amounted to was a tame shot at keeper Tim Krul from Hernandez, after Rooney had nonchalantly slipped a disguised pass into his stride, and -- when another excellent pass from Nani gave the Mexican another shooting chance on the half hour -- he missed the target altogether.

Giggs did bring a sharp save from Krul with a flick from Fabio da Silva's cross into the box, but by half-time the lively opening was just a memory as the game settled into a midfield stalemate.

Then, just as Manchester United were beginning to despair of finding a away through, fate lent a hand and smacked Newcastle in the face, just as it had at City last week. On that occasion, Ryan Taylor was unlucky to give away a penalty that broke the deadlock; this time it was his namesake, Steven, who stretched out a foot to block a Rooney shot and succeeded only in knocking the ball against Hernandez, from whom it rebounded over the line.

The good news for Newcastle was that, this time, luck evened itself out fairly quickly. It seemed that was not going to be the case when De Gea made a breathtaking save to deny Coloccini's goalbound shot, but, 11 minutes after the opener, Newcastle scorer a controversial penalty of their own.

The referee, Mike Jones, initially saw nothing wrong with Rio Ferdinand's challenge on Ben Arfa -- indeed, replays suggested the defender reached the ball first and played it beyond the reach of his tumbling opponent -- but his assistant flagged for a foul and, after a consultation, the referee pointed to the spot. While Ferdinand clearly thought the decision was a reffing joke, or words to that effect, Ba stayed calm to send De Gea the wrong way.

The match was anything but uneventful now and, after Young put one opportunity just wide from Nani's square pass, he saw another chance from the same provider whipped off his toe by Steven Taylor.

Then Newcastle went down to 10 men, Jonas Gutierrez deservedly receiving a second yellow card for a poor challenge on Nani, and Krul managed to keep out a Nemanja Vidic header that he knew little about.

The last few minutes were hectic, with Young striking a post, Hernandez seeing a header cleared off the line by Danny Simpson, and Ferguson even sending on Federico Macheda for Patrice Evra, to beef up his attacking options.

In the final, fourth minute of stoppage time, Hernandez finally found the net from Giggs's low cross, only to be flagged offside.

Newcastle would not have deserved defeat in that manner and, for all the attacking they managed, it was hard to argue that United were worth a victory. "We absolutely slaughtered them," Ferguson said, "We just couldn't get the result."


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