NEWCASTLE 3, MAN UTD 0.
Manchester United’s Barclays Premier League title was blown off course on a blustery night in the North East as Newcastle inflicted a 3-0 loss.
It was the first time in three seasons in which the Reds had suffered back-to-back league defeats which must be a worry to Sir Alex Ferguson.
It is not simply the defeats, but the manner of the losses against relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers and out-of-form Newcastle in which the defensive fragility of the side surfaced once more.
Ferguson conceded the defeat was a major setback in their title bid adding this is no time to panic.
He said: “Yes, City have the advantage. They played last night and won while we played tonight and lost so it is advantage to them.
“We will soon have two or three players back and that will make a big difference. This is no time to panic and we have the experience to cope with it.”
Ferguson recalled Wayne Rooney after he had been left out against Blackburn for a breach of club discipline but, perhaps more significantly, Anders Lindegaard was preferred in goal to the under-fire David de Gea.
They were still badly depleted, however, as the squad has been ravaged by injury and illness which undoubtedly had a bearing on events on the pitch.
It was another poor performance from United whose defence was tormented by Demba Ba and Shola Ameobi while in midfield they were second best to Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye.
Ferguson reflected on what might have been had Dimitar Berbatov not struck the upright and another chance which fell to Rooney when the game was scoreless.
Ba broke the deadlock in the 33rd minute as the Senegalese striker scored his 15th league goal of the season for Newcastle, a remarkable return for the free-transfer summer signing from West Ham.
It was a great parting shot from Ba as he headed to the African Cup of Nations. How he will be missed.
United were unable to cope with the route-one approach as a long kick from keeper Tim Krul found Ba who hooked a delightful shot beyond Lindegaard.
Newcastle doubled their advantage two minutes after the restart through a wonderfully-struck free kick from Cabaye which eluded Lindegaard’s despairing dive to his left.
And Newcastle’s third in stoppage time just about typified their misery at the moment when United failed to cope with another long punt forward by keeper Krul.
This time the hapless Phil Jones, attempting to make a clearance, only succeeded in diverting the ball past Lindegaard.
It might have been even worse as earlier Rio Ferdinand was fortunate not to concede a penalty after bringing down Ba with an ill-timed challenge as United lost at Newcastle for the first time in a decade.