How wrong can you be?
Newcastle United 3 Manchester United 3
Tuesday 12 January 7.45pm
NUFC Wijnaldum 42, Mitrovic 67 (pen), Dummett (90)
MUFC Rooney 9, 79 Lingard 38
Well. Heading into this one there was a definite feeling that we could witness the worst game of the entire Premier League season, as Louis van Gaal’s self-confessed bores took on our own blunt, unambitious shower of midfield interplay. A repeat of the 0-0 at Old Trafford earlier this season was a popular shout.
How wrong you can be. Within 8 minutes 0-0 was no longer an option, as Newcastle’s bright start was undone by an atrocious refereeing decision. Fellaini’s point blank header that bounced off Mbemba’s arm from all of 6 inches was deemed deliberate handball and Rooney sent Elliot the wrong way from the spot. 1-0 to Man Utd had been the second favourite score suggestion, but surely with 80 minutes + to play there was potential for something to happen?
Encouragingly, the home side reacted with resilience as opposed to a Pardew-sequel crumbling. Less encouragingly, it seemed like this would be typical of recent times, with a strong performance seeing a zero return thanks to a mixture of bad luck and bad finishing. Wijnaldum did magnificently well to get through on goal, but a combination of poor choice of shot and great reactions from De Gea kept the other United ahead.
Referee Mike Dean was also not a popular character, with bad memories of the recent Derby injustices resurfacing as Fellaini was allowed to maraud around, viciously fouling people in a Cattermole-esque fashion, with little more than a ticking off his comeuppance. When Janmaat ploughed into the box and was upended there was nothing doing for (God forbid) a Newcastle penalty, but maybe this served its purpose later in the game.
Despite the obvious effort, there was still a clunky feel to Newcastle’s play and it was Manchester who struck the second. With the midfield pif-paf falling apart, we succumbed again to the counter attack as Rooney was released down our right, fending off the close attention of Coloccini before playing a sublime reverse pass for Lingard to slot between Elliot’s legs. Game over.
Hang on, no! In a reversal of the season’s trend, it was actually Newcastle who scored a vital goal shortly before half time. Coloccini, having just smashed a wicked drive narrowly wide himself, knocked a neat ball through that bounced off a Mitrovic/Fellaini melee and landed for Wijnaldum, who smashed it first time past the beaten De Gea. Could be interesting second half.
It turned out to be a brilliant second half. Sissoko had that look on his face that he was going to batter past/through anyone daft enough to be in his way and it was another sweet Coloccini pass that gave him the chance to do this right through to goal. Again De Gea saved his side as Moussa’s near-post attempt proved the wrong choice.
There was almost immediate punishment as a rare Man U attack saw Lingard played in with practically an open goal at the far post. Given his clinical finish earlier it looked like a done thing, so the relief was tangible as he ballooned it high, wide and ridiculous.
With United mostly camped in the Manchester half, there was a definite sense that something was coming. I don’t think anyone expected it to be a penalty, but perhaps the shoddy decision for the visitors and the earlier Janmaat incident had influenced Dean’s thinking.
With Colback’s out swinging corner nowhere near them, Smalling and Mitrovic were indulging in a spot of Greco-Roman wrestling that the official deemed the defender to have started. Mitrovic grabbed the ball instantly, with worries about our temperamental striker’s suitability at spot kicks, but his cool, placed finish sent De Gea the wrong way.
Manchester would later complain about the nature of this award given it was a bit of both in the wrestling tussle. They also cited a more likely handball by Dummett in the box as being more evidence why only they should get penalties. Given their ridiculous award earlier and the Janmaat call, I make that even in my book, expect for the fact Fellaini should have been on his seventh yellow card.
Regardless, Newcastle now had the bit firmly between their teeth and there only looked like one winner. Wijnaldum swiftly looked to have put the home side ahead for the first time but he was rightly ruled offside. Wave after wave saw desperate blocks from Man U defenders as the pressure cranked up, but again the breakthrough came at the wrong end, severely against the run of play.
Depay’s shot deflected up off Dummett and found Rooney in an unexpected amount of space. Annoyingly belying his status as a bit of a waste of space this season, the England captain cracked in a superb strike, the highlight of a fine performance from him that was, as I said, hugely annoying both at the time and in the coming summer should he revert to anonymous type for England in the Euro finals.
Surely the resistance was broken now as Newcastle looked utterly knackered. Fellaini should have ended all hope, but Elliott saved superbly from a close range header the Afro-sporting Belgian should have given him no chance at. Manchester kept the ball frustratingly well, annoying the clock down as another hard to take defeat loomed.
As tends to be the way, there was one more attack. Sissoko drove forward, the ball broke to Janmaat and his cross was half-cleared in almost identical fashion to the move leading to Rooney’s strike. Instead of England’s leading scorer though, we had a full back running on to the ball. However, there was something about Paul Dummett’s run up that suggested he was about to take the net off. Naysayers will point to the deflection off Smalling but the credit goes to Dummy, who smashed his shot with unquestionable unstoppability.
There was potential for an amazing finish as Wijnaldum again drove into the box with the final move of the game, but his attempt to find Mitrovic ran out of steam.
A thoroughly exhilarating match, a stunning performance and a cracking atmosphere to boot. However, this point is only any good if it is used as a springboard.
Wins from upcoming games, starting with West Ham, are essential if we are to escape a still perilous position.
Here are the stats from BBC Sport:
Possession was 54% Newcastle and 46% Man Utd
Total shots was 14 for Newcastle and Man Utd 12
Shots on target was Newcastle 6 and Man Utd 4
While corners was Newcastle 5 and Man Utd 3
Team: Elliot, Janmaat, Coloccini, Mbemba, Dummett, Colback (Gouffran 81), Tiote (Toney 85), Sissoko, Wijnaldum, Perez (de Jong 90+2), Mitrovic
Unused Subs: Darlow, Sterry, Lascelles, Marveaux
Ref: Mike Dean
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