Manchester United were back to their best on the Tyneside, putting in a fantastic performance to see off Newcastle United 3-0.
The goals all came from the unlikeliest of sources, with Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra putting United 2-0 up from two of United’s first corners in the first half. The two goal advantage was always going to be hard for Newcastle to claw back, and though they put United under plenty of pressure, they eventually conceded a third to a wonder strike from Tom Cleverley.
Sir Alex Ferguson had clearly learnt from last week’s shock home loss to Tottenham, and picked a much more compact, mobile line up, to combat Newcastle’s pace and physicality in the middle. The graft of Tom Cleverley greatly complimented Michael Carrick’s composure and class on the ball, whilst Wayne Rooney had his full range of abilities on display with a fantastic performance in which he often dropped into the middle to help out the aforementioned duo.
United were well in control of the game as early as the fifth minute, when Danny Welbeck failed to convert a good initiated by Cleverley, who clipped a smart ball over the top of the defence to Robin Van Persie who had popped up on the right side of attack. Van Persie squared the ball to Jonny Evans, who gave a cute back-heel to Welbeck, but the young English forward couldn’t convert the chance despite having a bit of time and space to work in.
Only minutes later, Van Persie was denied by Harper from a tight angle after being found by Evans who made a penetrating pass from within his own half.
United were 1-0 up from the resulting corner though, with Van Persie supplying a superb ball to find the late run of Jonny Evans, who scored a deserved goal with a fantastic, powerful header that left Harper with little chance of saving. It was the strong start that United had desperately needed, after failing to make a good start in their last few fixtures. Early goals conceded against Tottenham last weekend and Cluj in midweek meant that United were seemingly constantly having to fight back from losing positions, but that would not be the case against Newcastle, and United’s bright start looked to have been a massive shot in the arm for the confidence of Sir Alex’s men.
Rafael Da Silva, who enjoyed another fine game on the day, might have scored his third goal of the season only three minutes later after a fine exchange between himself and Van Persie had the full back running through on goal. Rafael chose to shoot across the face of goal, firing wide, but he had some good options in the centre, which perhaps meant the cross would have been the better option.
Cheik Tiote set the tone for the fiery affair, in which no less than eight players were booked, when he seemed to stamp on a grounded Cleverley. Fortunately for him, Howard Webb seemed to miss the challenge, calling advantage as United retained possession, working the ball nicely to the edge of the area, where Cleverley popped up again and won a foul following a poor challenge from a Newcastle defender. Wayne Rooney tested Harper from the resulting free kick, with a lovely curling effort that the Newcastle keeper could only push wide.
Wayne Rooney took the corner this time, but the end result was the same. A superb in-swinging, flat delivery found Patrice Evra’s lovely weaving run through a torrent of Newcastle defenders to score the most unlikely of goals from the corner. The left-back clearly enjoyed his goal, his first in almost two years, having come under some intense criticisms in recent week in light of a drop in his form. The full-back’s goal was very well taken, but he will perhaps be more pleased with his defensive contribution, where he looked to be back to his best.
Newcastle United finally worked their first clear chance on goal in the 17th minute. They worked the ball well to the byline down United’s right flank, but their cross could not get past Rio Ferdinand, whose headed clearance only managed to fine Jonas Gutierrez just outside the box. The Argentine smashed his shot on goal but could only put the ball wide.
Shinji Kagawa was the first player to enter Webb’s book minutes later, when he cynically hauled down Hatem Ben Arfa.
It signaled the start of a better period of play for Newcastle. United were forced deeper and deeper by Newcastle’s intense pressure, but the Red Devils denied Newcastle much in the way of real chances. Demba Ba skied a chance well over the bar in the 24th minute following a low driven corner in the 24th minute.
Rio Ferdinand and Robin Van Presie both entered the book in quick succession following fouls on Ba and Davide Santon respectively, before Cheik Tiote finally entered the book after a number of fouls in the 32nd minute.
Neither team was able to craft out much in the way of clear chances for the remainder of the half. Yohan Cabaye hit a long range shot well over the bar, whilst Rooney managed to slip in Welbeck who was forced wide and could only flash his effort harmlessly across the face of goal in the 35th minute. Demba Ba had a decent chance on the stretch following a cross from Pappis Cisse, but could only hit the ball over the bar.
Jonas was the next into the book in the 41st minute after clattering Kagawa, who played his role in the team very well on the day, even if he wasn’t at his spectacular best.
The second half followed much the same pattern as the latter part of the first. United seemed to be comfortable, but were held in deep defensive positions by the aggression of Newcastle going forward. United were containing the threat relatively well though, but David De Gea almost changed that when he rashly came off his line to try and collect a cross in the 50th minute. Demba Ba was already being marked by two United defenders, so the addition of De Gea only complicated matters for the defenders, and made it very easy for Ba to beat all three of his United opponents with a flicked header. De Gea was lucky to see the ball rise high into the air and bounce off of the cross bar, and the Spaniard redeemed his error with a fantastic recovery to keep out Pappis Cisse’s effort on the rebound. It was a tight call, with De Gea scrambling to keep the ball from crossing the line but with al replays proving inconclusive as to whether or not the whole ball had crossed the line, the linesman’s decision to not award the goal was a very agreeable one.
It proved the only chance of note in the second half’s opening exchanges, and Shinji Kagawa was eventually withdrawn on the 55 minute mark, with Antonio Valencia making a surprise return from injury off the bench.
The introduction of the Ecuadorian winger provided a little more attacking impetus for United, and only a minute later, Cleverley missed a decent chance after playing in Welbeck. The young forward did a good job of holding off Santon, before laying the ball back to Cleverley, but the midfielder smashed his effort well over the bar.
Rooney was denied only four minutes later when he stole the ball from the Newcastle defence, driving beyond his marker and trying to smash his effort across the goal, forcing a good save from Harper. Two minutes later, Ben Arfa fired his own shot wide of the goal, after receiving the ball in a central area.
Robin Van Persie had the ball in the back of the net on the 64 minute mark, but his effort was correctly ruled offside.
The ball was over the line again in the 70th minute, but there was no flag this time. Whether or not Tom Cleverley actually intended his wonder goal, which he struck from well outside of the box near United’s left flank, is debatable, but there was no debating the quality of the goal itself. It seemed as though Cleverley was in fact trying to find Van Persie at the far post, but instead of finding the in-form Dutch striker, the ball nestled in the top corner of the helpless Harper’s goal, granting United a deserved three goal lead, sealing all three points for United and extracting some revenge for the 3-0 hammering Newcastle handed Manchester United last season at the same arena.
James Perch found himself in the book at the 74th minute following a poor tackle on Robin Van Persie, before Wayne Rooney was withdrawn after a superb, all action performance in the 78th minute to make way for Paul Scholes to help see out the final few minutes.
Before the end of the game, Scholes was in the book, as was Newcastle substitute Anita, meaning the game ended with no less than eight yellow cards, split evenly between the two sides.
Giggs made a late cameo as United wound down the clock, doing more than enough to ensure a fantastic result away from home against a very good side.
United: De Gea 5.5, Rafael 7.5, Ferdinand 7, Evans 7.5, Evra 7.5, Carrick 7, Cleverley 7.5, Rooney 8*, Kagawa 6, Welbeck 6.5, Van Persie 6
Man of the Match:
Another fine performance from the returning superstar proved Rooney’s importance to this United side.
Rooney sured up United’s midfield, dropping deep to help Carrick and Cleverley when the going got tough, but was back to his best in an offensive capacity too, creating plenty of chances for his teammates, and forcing a number of good saved from Harper himself.
He is still searching for his first goal of the season, but as long as he continues to play so well, his lack of goals will be a mere afterthought.