Manchester United will be looking to cement their place in the top four with a win over Rafa Benitez’ Newcastle United. Manager Jose Mourinho has never won a Premier League match at St James’ Park (Played six, Drawn three, Lost three) and will be hoping his side can end that bad record here.
Mourinho decides to field the same eleven that lost 2-0 to Tottenham. De Gea starts in goal with a back four of Valencia, Smalling, Jones and Young. Pogba and Matic are the central midfielders, Martial, Lingard and Sánchez play in an attacking trio. Romelu Lukaku is the lone striker.
Newcastle get a free kick in the opening minutes from a Chris Smalling handball. It’s around 20 yards out, a prime shooting position. In the end it is a poor attempt to hit it under the wall but the ball bounced to Jonjo Shelvey who fires an absolute rocket requiring a good save by de Gea to stop the Red Devils going behind early.
That shot gives the Newcastle fans something to chant for and the players react off that excitement, pressing high and causing Manchester United to make several passing errors.
In the opening ten minutes Newcastle have had five shots and conceded none. Pogba or Matic need to calm their team down and try to have some sustained possession. A scrappy game will suit Newcastle as they seem intent on challenging for every ball, their work rate so far has been incredible.
Manchester United are beginning to get a foothold in this game now, predominantly though Alexis Sánchez. His defensive work rate is higher than any other United forward and his vision for passes is fantastic. He finds Lukaku with a wonderful lofted ball which the linesman incorrectly rules offside, it would have been a goalscoring opportunity for the Belgian and he’ll feel a little hard done by there.
Dubravka, a deadline day loan signing from Sparta Prague, has made a confident debut so far in goal for Newcastle. Matic cuts the Newcastle defence in half with a delectable pass to Martial, putting him through one on one with the keeper, a position you would expect him to score, but Dubravka makes a fine save.
Not a minute later, St James’ Park erupts in anger as Chris Smalling takes down Dwight Gayle in the very corner of the penalty box and a penalty nor a foul is given. Replays show that Smalling’s foot misses the ball and lands on Gayle’s foot, a very poor decision by referee Craig Pawson who was in a good position to see it.
At the end of the first half it is hard to choose a more dominant team. Both have had long spells of possession, equal goalscoring opportunities and a lack of quality in the final third. Newcastle may suffer towards the end of the game however due to their work rate. There are no substitutes at half time.
The second half begins much like the first, end to end and very scrappy. Lukaku manages to head the ball into the back off the net in a bit of penalty box pinball but he fouls his man to get to their first. Sánchez then tries to break through this Newcastle defence singlehandedly, going past two players in the box but his shot hits the side netting.
Lukaku receives the ball on the edge of the box and finds Sánchez with a sublime pass. The Chilean then takes on the keeper and, only needing to tap the ball into the empty net, does a fake shot which allows the defence to recover. He really should of taken that first time and I can’t quite understand what he was trying to do. In such a close game that could prove very costly indeed.
Newcastle are not without their chances too, however they are limited more to counter attacks. The Manchester United defence, particularly Young, don’t look entirely confident on the ball and if Newcastle get a goal here it’ll be from a defensive error or a set piece from a nervous tackle.
Chris Smalling, inside his own half, dives and receives a yellow card. Not just that but he concedes a free kick in a good position for a set piece attempt. The ball is lofted in, headed down, and then flicked on to Matt Richie with acres of space to pick his spot. He finds the back on the net to make it 1-0. All originating from a Smalling dive.
Immediately after Lingard and Pogba come off for Carrick and Mata. Pogba sustained an injury in the warm up and it is surprising he has lasted this long, he spent all of the second half so far ambling around and it would have perhaps been better for the team to bring on some fresh legs earlier.
Newcastle have 20 minutes defend this lead. The will undoubtedly use every ounce of energy doing so and Manchester United will only get a few more chances, they’ll have to be ruthless to come away from here with any points.
The final substitute is Scott McTominay coming on for Nemanja Matic. His first piece of action is a Manchester United corner. The ball is crossed in and headed down by Smalling to Martial. The Frenchman has two stabs at goal but both are blocked by a Newcastle defender. You get the feeling this might be Newcastle’s day.
Antonio Valencia, desperate to get the ball back and set Manchester United back on the attack, comes in with an high foot and kicks Atsu in the head, reminiscent of the Mané challenge with slightly less contact. The player only gets a yellow card and he’ll be relieved to still be on the pitch.
With just minutes left Newcastle do not look likely to concede at all. Their defensive work rate has been phenomenal, spearheaded by Jonjo Shelvey. The fourth official hold aloft a board announcing four minutes extra time, every Manchester United player except de Gea is in the Newcastle half looking for an equaliser.
The defending is desperate but every home supporter in the stadium is on their feet cheering the team on. In the last seconds of the game Dubravka makes an astonishing reacting save. As the whistle blows the fans celebrate wildly and rightfully so, it is their first win since October an a deserved one too.
Rafa Benitez’ side moves from the relegation zone all the way to 13th. The bottom half of the table in incredibly tight and that win gives Newcastle fans hope that they can survive. On the other side of the table, the loss for Manchester United means they are just six points away from missing out on the top four with Chelsea and Liverpool in their next three games.