In a tight – and sometimes tedious – Wednesday night affair in the North East, it was not the quality of football which grabbed the headlines but rather a series of alternative on-field events and refereeing decisions (or lack thereof). Ashley Young’s late winner completed something of a crucial “smash ‘n’ grab” for Louis van Gaal’s men as United’s competitors in the race for a top four finish also chalked up winning results.
Jonas Gutierrez’s return to the Newcastle side following his battle with illness was a moment which transcended club loyalties, whilst the second half spat (I’m sorry) between Jonny Evans and Papiss Cisse was one from the very opposite end of the spectrum, as far as footballing moments go.
Following less-than-comprehensive wins against bottom-half teams at the weekend, both sides went into this clash hoping to push on and deliver a performance with a little more in the way of both substance and style. In truth, it was a relatively lacklustre display from either team, though there were chances at both ends.
The first real opening of the evening fell to Angel Di Maria – who retained his starting place ahead of Adnan Januzaj – after United pressure in the middle of the pitch led to a Newcastle mistake and Wayne Rooney set the Argentine clear. However, with the ball on his weaker right-hand-side, he opted to check back inside and the opportunity passed.
The home side had a strong shout for a penalty in the early stages as Chris Smalling clumsily brought down Emmanuel Riviere as he burst into the penalty area. Despite clear contact with the Newcastle man, neither the referee, nor his assistant, deemed the challenge worthy of a spot kick.
The remainder of the half saw United create the better of the chances, with Ander Herrera flashing a shot just wide of the post from the edge of the area after fifteen minutes. Marouane Fellaini had been brought into the starting eleven to replace the floundering Falcao and his headed effort before break forced Tim Krul into an acrobatic save. The best chance, however, fell to United’s front man for the evening – Wayne Rooney – who dragged wide from six yards when he had just the Dutch keeper to beat. It’s likely that the captain was distracted as he anticipated, like most of us did, that he was set to be flagged offside; the replays showed that the officials had called it correctly and that Rooney should have put the away team 1-0 ahead.
The game’s moment of major controversy came in the dying moments of the first period in a bizarre and disappointing clash between Evans and Cisse. As the two came together, the Newcastle forward unsuccessfully kicked out and Evans appeared to return the gesture. What followed was uncharacteristic and is set to land both players in hot water; Evans was caught spitting in the direction of the Senegal man and Cisse – not to be outdone – responded by climbing to his feet and aiming a projectile of his own at Evans. The FA is currently looking into the incident and, with such clear video footage, six game bans deservedly loom for both players.
In the second half, David De Gea produced a number of saves to once again secure his place as Manchester United’s most valuable commodity, whilst supporters’ anxiety at his reluctance to sign on the dotted line grows by the day.
Wayne Rooney saw a goal wrongly disallowed for offside and Marcos Rojo, who was later substituted following a rash tackle whilst already on a booking, whipped a left-footed strike just high and wide. Ashley Young and Fellaini also had good chances blocked by Krul before the breakthrough came in the 89th minute.
Showing a desire and tenacity which had been lacking in large spells, Rooney hassled and harried the Newcastle back line in their own penalty area, forcing Mehdi Abeid into an overhit pass back to his own goalkeeper, who panicked and cleared the ball straight to Young inside the 18-yard-box. The winger coolly slotted home to give United victory on the night.
With much discussion over Falcao’s future in recent weeks, Van Gaal’s substitutions were perhaps telling, with Michael Carrick returning to the side with the score at 0-0 whilst the Colombian remained on the bench. Angel Di Maria was also hauled off and replaced by Adnan Januzaj for the second game in succession, though he did make it past half time this week.
Jonas Gutierrez has spent 17 months away from the Newcastle United first team following his testicular cancer diagnosis and as he returned to the field of play at St James’ Park and was gifted the captain’s armband by Fabricio Coloccini, the South American received the most emphatic cheer of the evening. His swift booking for a mistimed tackle on Januzaj only magnified the enjoyment of his return for the home supporters.
Manchester United Man of the Match – David De Gea
United Ramble would like to thank Grosvenor Casinos and MediaCom for hosting us at their screening of last night’s game, as well as Iain Macintosh, David May, Clayton Blackmore and Andy Mitten for attending as special guests for the evening. Visit http://www.cashcasino777.com/ to view upcoming events or to book space for your own private functions.