[Premier League] Newcastle United 3-0 Manchester United
Newcastle : Demba Ba (33), Yohan Cabaye(47), Phil Jones (og. 90)
Manchester United's miserable turn of the annum continued into 2012 itself as Newcastle United emulated Blackburn Rovers on New Year's Eve by putting three goals past the champions to inflict a damaging defeat.
Despite the return of Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney, the Reds were second best at the Sports Direct Arena where the Magpies scored in each half with exquisite strikes from Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye. The third and final nail wasn't quite in the same class - Phil Jones bundling an own goal past Anders Lindegaard, the keeper of a clean sheet in all of his previous league appearances.
Demba Ba was involved in two half-chances for Newcastle as the home side opened proceedings with a rapid tempo. First, the Senegal striker swung a boot at and missed Danny Simpson’s cross when any connection might have tested Lindegaard – shortly after, he laid the ball off for Yohan Cabaye to successfully let fly and find the gloves of the Reds’ diving Danish goalkeeper. Chiek Tiote, the Mohican-sporting Ivorian, also brought a straightforward save from Lindegaard with his early strike from distance.
At the opposite end, Tim Krul – a defiant obstacle in the sides’ 1-1 draw at Old Trafford six weeks ago – parried an effort from Nani and was perhaps lucky to gather the ball when the rebound proved too high to present Rooney with a shooting chance. Patrice Evra set up Nani for that first Reds attempt and he was again the supply line when Dimitar Berbatov’s header, via an unspotted deflection off Davide Santon, struck the base of Krul’s right-hand post.
Rooney’s first real chance to make positive headlines came with a direct free-kick, awarded against Cabaye for handball, but his setpiece was diverted wide by Tiote in the wall.
Giggs tried to give Rooney another sight of goal when he slid a delicious ball between two Newcastle defenders but the striker couldn’t strike it and Krul smothered the threat.
Ferdinand’s concession of a costly spot-kick in the previous meeting was controversial to say the least, so perhaps there was some karma when the defender’s penalty-box tangle with Demba Ba on 25 minutes brought a ‘play on’ gesture from referee Howard Webb – despite howls for the opposite decision from the partisan Tyneside crowd.
If replays suggested Ba was rightly aggrieved not to get a penalty, he meted out some justice of his own by breaking the deadlock in style. The approach at the Sports Direct Arena was certainly direct with Krul hoofing a long kick to the edge of the Reds’ area but the finish was accomplished as Ba hooked Ameobi’s flick-on over Ferdinand and Lindegaard and into the net.
It was the first league goal against Lindegaard in England, and the first against the Reds on the road domestically since the now infamous October draw at Anfield. But the rarity of the concession was of no interest or consolation to Sir Alex’s men with the live league table showing a three-point lead for Manchester City with the same number of games, 20, played.
With the excitable home fans baying for more, Ryan Taylor's free-kick just failed to meet their expectations, marginally clearing the crossbar after an angry Giggs was deemed to have brought down Demba Ba. The half ended with Lindegaard saving from Ba and then Rooney banging the turf in frustration at the other end after an apparent foul against him was ignored by Webb.
Sir Alex’s players may have been first onto the pitch for the second half but the hosts beat the Reds to it in terms of making an impact, with Demba Ba driving forward until Jones’ barge brought the game’s first booking as Webb awarded Newcastle another free-kick. This time, Cabaye took it and how, arrowing a Goal of the Season contender into the top left-hand corner with Lindegaard well beaten – just like any other keeper in the world might have been. It was the most delicious of deadballs from the Frenchman, reminiscent of Ronaldo or Beckham’s finest for the Reds. But this was no time to be misty-eyed of course; it was eyes down for the champions and minds firmly on a difficult job with two goals now to be clawed back.
Danny Welbeck, replacing Dimitar Berbatov, was sent on to assist, and assist he almost did when his flick from Nani’s cross was volleyed towards goal by Rooney, only for former Reds defender Simpson - celebrating his 25th birthday - to block brilliantly on the line. Welbeck instantly kept the attack alive but the ball he fizzed across the six-yard box couldn’t find Park and the Magpies escaped.
Park was substituted soon after, with Sir Alex bringing on Javier Hernandez – the last Red to score against Newcastle, in November. The manager's third change, to the delight of the home fans, was the withdrawal of Rooney with 15 minutes to go. Anderson came into the engine room for a reshuffle with Giggs, one of the champions' better attacking players, going 'home' to his familiar left flank.
The midfield scrap, yielding yellow cards for Valencia's aerial challenge on Gutierrez and Tiote's mistimed tackle on Carrick, seemed to suit Newcastle more as they battled to preserve the two-goal cushion held since just after half-time. Certainly the likes of Tiote and Perch worked hard to screen Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson but even when the Reds did manage to attack the Newcastle centre-backs, they were equal to the task.
The Reds' rearguard, by contrast, had endured a difficult night - never more so than when Jones, trying to prevent another long kick from Krul reaching Newcastle sub Leon Best, thighed the bouncing ball past Lindegaard for an awful own goal. Three-nil down, the final whistle couldn't come quick enough for Sir Alex's men - even if Manchester City, clear league leaders again, lie in wait at the weekend in the FA Cup third round.
The Danish keeper, preferred to David De Gea, was hoping to maintain his record of not conceding in the Barclays Premier League but could do little to prevent any of Newcastle’s three goals.
Although again playing out of position at right-back, the Ecuadorian winger turned in a decent performance, using his considerable strength and versatility to cope with Ryan Taylor on Newcastle's left flank.
The returning centre-back used all of his experience to manage the Magpies’ significant aerial threat but he could have conceded a first-half penalty following a challenge on Demba Ba.
Won his fair share of headers and tackles during a typically combative display, but he will have been disappointed to have scored the decisive own goal following a late mix-up with Lindegaard.
The captain showed his attacking threat after just 10 minutes, cutting inside to tee up Nani for a shot. Also crossed when Berbatov hit the post.
Went close in the first half, and plugged away in the second, but this was largely a frustrating night against Newcastle's well-organised defence.
Back in midfield following a spell in defence, the possession expert rarely gave it away despite sometimes being rattled by the impressive Cheick Tiote.
One of United's best performers, the Welshman once again showed his eye for a killer pass by threading a ball through for Rooney in the first half. Also sent in the odd glorious cross that begged a connection.
Like the team, the South Korean started positively but as the home side took control his impact on proceedings receded and he was eventually replaced.
Hoped to mark his recall by adding to his fine scoring record against the Magpies. Spurned a great chance from Giggs' afore-mentioned through-ball and was later unlucky when ex-team-mate Danny Simpson blocked his shot on the line.
His first-half header from Evra's cross was deflected against the woodwork but he struggled to get involved after that as his recent scoring run came to an end.
Danny Welbeck (for Berbatov, 56)
The young striker almost created a goal for Rooney when he flicked on Nani's low cross and then fired the rebound across goal. Had few chances himself to score.
Javier Hernandez (for Park, 65)
The Mexican striker scored against Newcastle at Old Trafford but he was starved of opportunities here against the impressive centre-back pairing of Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini.
Anderson (for Rooney, 74)
Brought on too late to really influence matters, the Brazilian will hope to feature more against Manchester City on Sunday.