Newcastle United 0-0 Manchester United

United moved seven points clear at the Barclays Premier League summit but will feel aggrieved not to have put the other title-race contenders under maximum pressure after a dramatic end to this testing clash with Newcastle.

It's all about fine margins and when Javier Hernandez was felled by former Reds right-back Danny Simpson inside the box in injury time, virtually everybody in St James' Park felt a penalty had been given. Instead, referee Lee Probert cautioned Chicharito for diving, much to the visitors' frustration and bitter disappointment.

The best chances from open play earlier fell to strike partners Hernandez and Rooney - both denied by Newcastle's Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul - and to Ryan Giggs who swept Patrice Evra's cross agonisingly wide of an inviting target.

Further opportunities were scarce, however, and not even the introduction of substitute Michael Owen, to a chorus of boos from the home fans, could provide the golden touch needed to snatch victory.

Sir Alex made five changes from the FA Cup semi-final line-up including Chris Smalling deputising for Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs returning in midfield. Dimitar Berbatov travelled but was unwell and failed to make the bench as Wayne Rooney made his comeback from suspension to play in tandem with Javier Hernandez in attack.

The Reds started like a team on a mission with Patrice Evra releasing Rooney down the left and his centre seemed certain to provide a second-minute opener for Hernandez, only for Krul, deputising for Steve Harper, to pull off a superb save from point-blank range. However, the home side then enjoyed a spell of possession after that early scare with Edwin van der Sar dealing comfortably with efforts from Shola Ameobi and Cheik Tiote.

The league leaders found some rhythm again but Michael Carrick and Hernandez fired shots off target before Rooney skipped past Mike Williamson to go one-on-one with Krul. The in-form striker altered his body shape to try to finish with his favoured right foot but the ball struck Krul in the face and deflected over the top, even if no corner was awarded.

Nani became more involved but shanked a poor clearance by Tiote and then enranged the home players by going to ground under a Jonas Gutierrez challenge inside the area. No penalty nor yellow card was given by referee Lee Probert but it seemed to spark the Magpies into life again with Gutierrez lashing wide and Peter Lovenkrands wasting a free header when an accurate cross by the dangerous Joey Barton was misjudged by Smalling.

Lovenkrands blazed a speculative attempt high over van der Sar's bar and the hosts continued to cause problems with Carrick harshly booked when Ameobi went sprawling after a tangle of legs.

United were not on top form in the first half but ended the period with another dangerous break as Rooney fed Giggs but Hernandez's shot from the Welshman's pass was blocked and there was no time to take the corner.

The Reds started the second half with a greater tempo. Nani supplied a headed chance for Giggs before firing over and TV replays suggested Danny Guthrie was fortunate to avoid conceding a penalty when he handled inside the area. However, there was also an appeal at the other end when Peter Lovenkrands fell in the box between Anderson and Smalling.

After Lovenkrands almost profited with a header when a John O'Shea clearance fell to him, most of the chances were created by the visitors - the clearest of which was created by Hernandez and Evra for Giggs but the veteran sent a measured finish with his trusty left foot inches wide of Krul's right-hand post.

Antonio Valencia replaced Anderson but it was another substitute, Stephen Ireland, who almost made an instant impact when volleying wide after Ameobi challenged Nemanja Vidic in the air. It was a rare threat to van der Sar's goal but Sir Alex's side just couldn't break through. Nani cut in following a short corner to lash across goal and Rooney's shot was too high after a skilful dribble. With Owen thrown on for Nani, any late openings needed to be taken but Giggs scuffed well off target when O'Shea picked him out after a patient build-up.

The late drama will be the talking point for many as Simpson caught Hernandez but it was a huge call from referee Probert. Newcastle will argue about their own appeal involving Lovenkrands but that would have been incredibly harsh.

One last chance was created by Valencia's cross but Rooney was unable to divert a difficult header on Krul's goal despite climbing high.

At least the Reds have extended the lead at the top after a tiring weekend at Wembley but, after failing to score for consecutive games, Sir Alex's side will be looking to put that right against Everton on Saturday.

PLAYER RATING

Edwin van der Sar
Rarely troubled throughout but was safe in his routine handling of any Magpies' shots on target. A couple of Joey Barton free-kicks worked the veteran Dutchman but he was comfortable all evening.

John O'Shea
After initially struggling to contain lively winger Jonas Gutierrez, he proved more than up to the task despite some theatrics from the Argentinian. A little fortunate when his attempted clearance was headed over by Peter Lovenkrands but he also got forward to put in a dangerous flick-on of his own. Set up one opportunity for Ryan Giggs late on after some measured play.

Chris Smalling
Strong in the tackle and a formidable presence alongside Nemanja Vidic. Made smart blocks and headed clearances and showed his unflappable nature with one cool backpass under pressure to van der Sar. Went over on his ankle after 67 minutes but soldiered on bravely.

Nemanja Vidic
Another captain's display from the Serbian centre-back who competed for everything in the air. After getting the better of Shola Ameobi, he was subjected to a couple of rough aerial challenges from substitute Nile Ranger but nothing was going to knock the granite-tough defender off his stride. Aggressive and dominant.

Patrice Evra
A fine pass down the left flank helped create the second-minute chance for Javier Hernandez but, otherwise, it was an unusually shaky start for the Frenchman. By the second half, he was displaying his more familiar swagger and it was his burst into the box that laid on the best opening of the second half for Ryan Giggs.

Nani
Had little change out of referee Lee Probert, his tumble inside the box under a Jonas Gutierrez challenge bringing no action from the official. It was looking a frustrating evening for the winger when he sliced a chance off target but he had more of his old zest after switching flanks. One surge drew a foul and a booking out of Mike Williamson and he was unlucky with a shot from a short corner. Withdrawn towards the end.

Michael Carrick
Measured in possession and alert to any danger posed in United's half, this was a fine way to bounce back from the mistake against City. Although he dragged one chance wide in the first half, it was his play deeper on the pitch that most impressed including one fine challenge to win a loose ball from Wayne Rooney's misplaced backheel and a sweeping pass out wide to Giggs.

Anderson
Another who appeared to improve as the match wore on after some understandable rustiness in the first half. A clever backheel to Nani showed what he's capable of and his long ball to Hernandez almost released the Mexican front-runner. Replaced by Antonio Valencia with 20 minutes remaining.

Ryan Giggs
Guilty of a couple of fouls early on but showed his class with some neat passes, linking well with Hernandez. Not at his sharpest in front of goal as he managed to arrive late in the box to great effect but was unable to supply the finishing touch. Sent one header to Tim Krul and fired wide with his left foot with 21 minutes left after being picked out in an inviting position by Evra. Also scuffed a shot wide following a patient build-up with time running out, appealing in vain for a corner.

Wayne Rooney
Had an immediate impact when his sprint down the left flank almost provided Hernandez with an early goal. After skipping past Williamson, he will feel he should have scored but Krul got a touch to his attempted finish. One free-kick was comfortably held by Krul and he lashed over the top after an eye-catching dribble but his approach work was often excellent.

Javier Hernandez
Denied from point-blank range in the second minute by Krul and he never had a better sight of goal. After shooting wide when having other options, he was mystified to have two free-kicks awarded against him when he was clearly the player being fouled. Displaying aerial prowess and a bravery to try and lead the line, he was booked in injury time when being clipped by Danny Simpson inside the area - arguably the third time when he was punished when actually being sinned against.

Substitutes:
Antonio Valencia
(for Anderson, 70)
Took time to adjust to the pace of the game but hugged the right touchline and tried to carve out openings from the wing. Supplied the last cross of the game that was headed wide by Rooney.

Michael Owen (for Nani, 81)
Jeered by the St James' Park faithful, he was unable to get a shot in goal to silence the taunts. Worked extremely hard to try and get moves going in midfield but the ball never fell to him once inside the danger zone.

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