MANCHESTER UNITED 4, NEWCASTLE UNITED 3
Forget the Christmas cracker – this was more like a fire cracker of a game as comeback kings Manchester United did it again to extend their lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League to seven points.
This was the 11th time this season that the Reds have been behind in a league game and they have come back to win eight of them.
United were trailing three times in this Old Trafford encounter, but their remarkable never say die philosophy pulled them back time after time after time again.
Newcastle could feel hard done by that they did not leave with a point after scoring three away goals and twice hitting the woodwork.
There were thrills, spills and the usual note of controversy in a game which had everything.
The visitors’ second goal sparked a remarkable reaction from United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and he was lucky to escape being sent to the stands.
It came in the 28th minute with he score at 1-1. Danny Simpson’s cross from the right corner of the United box was turned into his own net by Jonny Evans on the near post.
The goal was initially disallowed for offside against Papisse Cisse, who was stood behind Evans with no United player betwen him and goalkeeper David De Gea.
Linesman Jake Collin’s flag went up, but his decision was countermanded by referee Mike Dean after consultation between the two.
Ferguson’s angry reaction came before the start of the second half as he remonstrated with first Dean, then fourth official Neil Swarbrick and finally with Collin.
He said: “The linesman correctly signalled for offside against Cisse and he also held Evans’ arm.
“The referee said it was an own goal, but Cisse was clearly interfering with play because he held Evans’ arm.
“The referee deserved a video replay. I saw a video replay and he made a mistake”
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew said: “It was clearly an own goal, so offside doesn’t come into it.”
Footage seemed to show Evans holding Cisse’s arm and not the other way round, but Ferguson could be in hot water if the pre-second half confrontation is included in Dean’s report.
While United’s fightback showed the tremendous character of the side and their attacking play was of the highest quality, the question marks over the defending and De Gea’s goalkeeping keep growing.
Newcastle’s opening goal encapsulated both. Michael Carrick’s slapdash attempt to control a straightforward pass from Javier Hernandez midway inside his own half was seized upon by Demba Ba who raced forward and fired a speculative 25-yard shot at goal. De Gea parried the ball straight into the path of James Perch who slotted it home from six yards.
Like United, Newcastle were also guilty of pantomime defending – the first example being for the Reds equaliser in the 25th minute.
Robin van Persie’s free kick from the right was deftly headed on by Ryan Giggs. In the scramble that followed, Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul blocked a shot by Hernandez, but Evans was first to react to the situation by touching the rebound home from close range.
After United had gone behind, things could have got even worse in the 39th minute when De Gea watched Sylvain Marveaux’s free kick from 25 yards rebound off the bar.
United levelled the scores in the 58th minute.Van Persie’s ball into the Newcastle penalty area was cleared by Michael Williamson, but Patrice Evra was quickest to react when he collected the ball and scored with a low shot from 25 yards.
Newcastle were ahead again 10 minutes later. Substitute Gabriel Obertan raced past Chris Smalling down the left and his cross to the near post was sweetly swept into the net first time by the unmarked Cisse 12 yards out.
The visitors’ lead lasted only three minutes. Antonio Valencia’s cross from the right found van Persie marauding into the box. Although the Dutchman’s first shot was well saved by Krul, the ball was worked back to van Persie by Carrick and his second effort from 12 yards found the bottom corner of the net.
In a frenetic finale, Hernandez was a whisker away from scoring with a header, while, at the other end, De Gea was lucky when substitute Sammy Ameobi’s shot rebounded into his arms off a post.
But, with only seconds of normal time remaining, Carrick’s superbly floated cross into the Newcastle box was stroked into the back of the net when Hernandez beat the Newcastle offside trap to score from 10 yards.
Newcastle’s Vurnon Anita was carried off on a stretcher with an ankle injury following a dreadfully late tackle by Valencia as the drama continued right up to the final whistle.
Ferguson said: “You have to be concerned about the defending. It was the courage and attacking ability of the team which got us through today.”
Pardew added: “I was upset by the tackle on Anita, but I don’t think it was malicious – just badly timed.
“We came here with a game plan to take things to United and put them under pressure on the break, but we lacked a bit of experience and we have to defend better than we did.”