Saturday 20 January 2018

United edge ever closer to title

Krul performance helps Magpies slow march of 'champions elect'
Newcastle 0
Manchester Utd 0

Manchester United's Javier Hernandez (L) jumps over Tim Krul after the Newcastle United keeper saved his shot in the opening minutes of
last night's clash. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester United's Javier Hernandez (L) jumps over Tim Krul after the Newcastle United keeper saved his shot in the opening minutes of last night's clash. Photo: Getty Images

Henry Winter

Seven-up but no Champagne. Manchester United stretched their lead to seven points over Arsenal, and still remain favourites for the title, but this was another frustrating evening away from home.

The Premier League leader have now taken only 24 points from a possible 51 on the road and will be pleased to get back to their Old Trafford fortress for Saturday's visit of Everton.

Alex Ferguson and his players still left St James' Park smarting after Lee Probert's decision to book Javier Hernandez for simulation. The visitors were convinced he should have won a penalty following Danny Simpson's ill-judged challenge.

For all Manchester United's improved second-half performance, Newcastle deserved their point. Fabrizio Coloccini was excellent in defence, eclipsed only by Cheik Tiote, who was outstanding in midfield in a game of high-tempo high stakes.

Once all the familiar sounds had faded away, once the strains of 'Blitzkrieg Bop', 'Blaydon Races' and the theme tune from 'Local Hero' had cranked up the atmosphere nicely, one of the traditionally compelling fixtures of English football unfolded.

Although scoreless, the first half was breathless, the Magpies refusing to be daunted by the illustrious nature of opponents Alan Pardew described as "champions elect".

Pardew's tactics were working, his players pressing high up the pitch, doubling up on Nani while Peter Lovenkrands dropped off Shola Ameobi to distract Michael Carrick and Anderson.

Joey Barton was again terrific, lifting in some inviting crosses from the right. On the other flank, Jonas Gutierrez ran at John O'Shea, often to good effect. Only the excellence of Chris Smalling, heading and blocking, helped keep Pardew's men at bay.

Free of suspension, Wayne Rooney returned to the fray like a stone from a catapult, all speed and menace. Within seconds, he was charging down the left, crossing low and hard and only the superb reflexes of Tim Krul denied Hernandez.


But then a storm rolled in from the Tyne towards Manchester United's defence. Newcastle flew into the visitors from every angle.

Gutierrez cut in from the left, gliding past Nani, O'Shea and Carrick before unleashing a shot that cannoned away off Smalling for a corner.

Smalling was deputising for Rio Ferdinand, who had a slight calf problem, and again indicating he will be his long-term successor for club and country. Smalling and Nemanja Vidic were working overtime as Newcastle poured forward. Vidic blocked Lovenkrands' shot.

Tiote let fly from range, the ball thudding into Edwin van der Sar's midriff. Then Ryan Giggs fouled the busy Barton, whose free-kick was headed away for a corner by Vidic.

Ferguson's men were struggling. A bad header from Carrick gifted the ball to Lovenkrands, whose path to goal was well blocked by Smalling.

Newcastle knew the threat of the visitors, particularly when the ball was at the feet of Rooney, so often their nemesis.

Midway through the half, Rooney did manage to break into the box, seemingly with the goal at his mercy. He should have scored, but his shot clipped Krul and flew over.

Newcastle had to be careful. After 27 minutes, Nani drove into the box, falling under the faintest of challenges from Gutierrez.

Newcastle were incensed by Nani's tumble. Vidic and company also complained, arguing it was a penalty, although Probert was having none of it. Newcastle fans were furious that no caution was given.

The action was endless. Now Manchester United enjoyed a period of promise. Danny Guthrie threw himself in the way of a drive from Nani. Hernandez, taking the ball off Giggs, showing wonderful touch and movement, was denied only by great anticipation from Coloccini.

With half-time beckoning, Newcastle really should have scored. Barton delivered again from the right, Ameobi dragged Vidic and Smalling away, but Lovenkrands missed with a free header.

The threat of Giggs and company was always there, although the Welshman wasted a good opportunity just before the interval, failing to note Nani's clear run into the box.

The concern for Newcastle was always whether they could maintain the tempo. Ferguson also had a word at the break, and the visitors emerged with sharpened appetite. Pardew was soon shouting at his defence not to drop so deep.

Newcastle were convinced they should have had a penalty when Lovenkrands, running across the box, was challenged by Anderson. Probert's reaction was immediate and emphatic, waving away Newcastle appeals.

The game seemed to be opening up. As Ralf Rangnick, Schalke's coach, looked on, England's sole representative in the Champions League semi-finals began pushing and pushing for that elusive goal.

Rooney bent in a free-kick that Krul held. As the corner clocks showed 68 minutes, Newcastle had a miraculous escape -- when Patrice Evra cut the ball back from the left, Giggs swept his shot wide.

This was a bruising night for the leaders, Smalling playing on after a knock while Vidic needed attention to a cut. The visitors kept pressing. Giggs fired a free-kick into the wall. Nani flashed a shot wide. They raced through the gears again, culminating in a Rooney shot over.

The stadium then dissolved into boos as Michael Owen ran on, assuming a position in the hole behind Hernandez. Antonio Valencia was right and Rooney left as United attempted to stage one of their famous late, late shows.

No joy. They felt denied a legitimate penalty when Simpson challenged Hernandez, while Rooney sent a header just wide of the upright. All eyes now turn to White Hart Lane for Arsenal's clash with Tottenham. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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