Bloody hell, football.
I have to admit that I was anticipating NUFC ruining an otherwise pleasant weekend for me personally, as the side that has done so much damage to our dreams down the years turned up looking for a record-extending 13th Premier League win at SJP.
Given that Huddersfield’s win in the early kick off sent us into the relegation zone, something spectacular was required to get this season back in gear. Luckily, today was one of those spectacular ones that serves as a reminder as to why you keep going back.
The energy was there from the start, as United tore at Manchester in a dominant first 15 minutes. The best chance came when Gayle’s weak free kick hit the wall and deflected perfectly for Shelvey to hit an absolute piledriver. Unfortunately, one of the best goalies in the world was looking at him and De Gea’s outstanding instinct save was the type that will probably see Real Madrid pay 100 million for him some time soon.
However, De Gea was definitely not the best keeper on display today, as Martin Dubravka had an incredible debut for United, showing signs that the lowest profile January signing could prove to be the most vital.
When Matic’s excellent pass sent Martial through behind the defence it looked like Man U had defied our early pressure to take a certain lead. Dubravka flew off his line and looked the epitome of cool as he produced an excellent block to deny the visitors.
I am actually a bit of a fan of Darlow, who has put in some fine performances in recent years, but today showed signs of why Rafa has been consistently desperate for a new number one. The Slovakian international was dynamic and proactive, marshalling his area and talking to his defence throughout. The biggest difference for me was in distribution, as counter attacks were launched quickly and more accurately, Darlow often guilty of aimlessly booting possession back to the opposition.
Meanwhile, at the other end there was further proof that widespread VAR is a necessity if Newcastle constantly getting robbed is to be a thing of the past. Smalling’s clumsy challenge on Gayle was only just inside the area and Dwight has developed a nasty habit of silly dives of late, but this was a stonewall penalty. The ref’s decision to seconds later give Manchester a free kick instead, due to Pogba falling over, made you fear that this could be one of those bent performances by a corrupt official who clearly loves Man Utd. He turned out to be OK though.
A bit of Manchester pressure made it a relief to get to half time goalless and there was some hope we could get at them second half. There are games where the man of the match is a stand out contender or two, but today was a team performance of such stunning application it almost makes you annoyed that so many games have slipped away from these players as they defied their status as a Championship squad masquerading in the Premier League.
Lascelles was steady as ever, with the returning Lejeune excellent alongside him. Ritchie had his best game of the season and Kenedy continued to show his class. However, if I had to choose, the Man of the Match award would be a tie between two of the unlikeliest contenders, as the middle of the park was utterly bossed to a match winning degree.
Shelvey has flattered to deceive in a disappointing season but today he played to his full potential, tracking back, launching counters and crucially playing hard but fair. His partnership was stellar with a player who claims to be Mo Diame, but appears to be some gut-busting all-action combative midfield dynamo who bears little resemblance to the clumsy, ineffective passenger seen regularly prior to the recent resurgence.
Their joint display was clinically effective, with roars of approval consistently appreciating the regular subtle dispossession and full-blooded thumping tackles that resulted in the multi-million opposing duo of Matic and Pogba being withdrawn from proceedings.
The second half continued in this momentum, although there was an initial scare as Lukaku had the ball in the net. The ref indicated he might be alright after all by choosing to pull up Man U on one/both of the blatant fouls leading to this. Sanchez then introduced himself to the game, first with a stunning mazy run that Lejeune deflected wide, then with a terrifying opportunity when played through by Lukaku. First Yedlin got a vital touch, although he sparked our own keeper in doing so, then Sanchez’ struggle to control the spinning ball gave Lejeune a vital split second to get back for an outstanding block to save a certain goal.
Moments later it happened. Full redemption for the referee as Smalling’s embarrassing little hop over Shelvey’s imminent non-tackle saw him shamefully booked. The resultant free kick saw Lejeune unmarked to head over for Gayle, whose clever flick back gave the onrushing Ritchie an opening to gleefully steer home his first goal of the season.
Delirium, followed by a quick check of the clock (miles away now since they removed the pitchside timer) to reveal it was going to be 25 minutes of squeaky bum time.
Dubravka once again showed his class in the closing quarter, saving smartly from Ashley Young’s vicious strike. Gayle performed stellar defensive duty with a double block from Martial’s two efforts. In injury time, when Man Utd have so often sickened so many, Carrick’s point blank effort from Mata’s cross brought more heroics from the debutant goalie, whose safe gathering of the return ball brought riotous celebrations as the whistle went and United shot up to 13th in the table.
In this volatile and close run relegation battle, this must provide the spark that kicks in a long running revival that continues at Bournemouth. In deference to our manager, it could prove to be what a more pathetic, tragic set of individuals would deem our “Manchestanbul”. We’ll just call it a solid victory over a fellow Premier League side though.
A stunning team performance where I have to say no one was less than a seven and many turned in their best showing of the season. If Shelvey and Diame can continue like this, Dubravka turns out to play like that every week and Ritchie is back scoring goals, safety should be a formality.
A final thought: today’s win made it 3 wins, 4 draws and defeats only to the unstoppable Man City in our last 9. The previous 9 games had brought one draw and 8 defeats.
Nine games ago saw the return from injury of Paul Dummett. Coincidence? Perhaps.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle United 1 Manchester United 0
Newcastle: Ritchie 65
Possession was Man Utd 64% Newcastle 36%
Total shots were Man Utd 13 Newcastle 10
Shots on target were Man Utd 6 Newcastle 3
Corners were Man Utd 10 Newcastle 0
Referee: Craig Pawson
Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett, Ritchie, Diame, Shelvey, Kenedy (Atsu 84), Gayle (Joselu 80), Perez (Hayden 90+4)
Darlow, Manquillo, Murphy, Merino
Crowd: 52,309 (Man Utd 3,000)
(Alan Shearer gives his reaction to the win HERE)
(Read Jose Mourinho’s reaction to the match HERE)
(Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the victory HERE)
(Match ratings for all Toon players after beating Man Utd HERE)
(Rafa Benitez verdict after beating Manchester United HERE)
(Read Mohamed Diame reaction HERE)
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf