MAN UNITED 3, NEWCASTLE UTD 1
Manchester United piled the pressure on former player and Reds’ favourite Steve Bruce as they defeated Newcastle United at Old Trafford.
It was the eighth loss in the last 10 Premier League matches for under-pressure Bruce whose side is fourth bottom and suddenly only three points clear of Fulham who are threatening to pull clear of the bottom three.
United got the job done, but it was a performance which was unconvincing for almost an hour with Newcastle the superior side.
Once Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side gained the upper hand, though, they looked like the side that is second and the main challengers to neighbours City.
Goals from Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Bruno Fernandes kept the Reds 10 points behind City who maintained their sizeable cushion by winning at Arsenal in the afternoon.Embed from Getty Images
Solskjaer said: “We had to up the tempo a little bit, especially in the last third and I felt we managed to do that. It is always difficult to get going after an away game in Europe.
“Even though we dominated possession and had a lot of the ball, we couldn’t create many opportunities. I felt in the second half we found our positions better.
“We can’t control any other team. We just have to focus on ourselves and be the best possible Manchester United every game. Things happen and there are many surprises in football.”
Solskjaer was also delighted for James, adding: “He never disappeared. He has been working hard behind the scenes and always been available. He is always a player you can use in different areas with his energy and pace.
“We work with him, we try to help everyone but, of course, Dan came from the Championship. He hit a few goals in the first games and it is bound to take some energy from you. He has knuckled down and really worked to get back to full fitness but maybe more so confidence, to believe in himself.”
Bruce described himself as “quietly confident” his side will beat off the threat of relegation.
He said: “Everyone near the bottom will be looking nervously over their shoulder. I’ve been saying for many years it is about the accumulation of points.
“We’ve been stuck on 25 points for a little while, we have to win a few games to get to that magic figure whatever it it is.
“If we perform like we did in the first hour, I am confident we will get the results we need.”
James made his first Premier League start since Boxing Day as Solskjaer makes five changes to the side which beat Real Sociedad 4-0 on Thursday.
James kept his place after scoring in that game, while Nemanja Matic replaced Scott McTominay who was an injury doubt.
David de Gea was back in goal, while Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial came in for Eric Bailly, Alex Telles and Mason Greenwood.
There was also a place on the bench for midfielder Shola Shoretire who only turned 17 on February 2.
Steve Bruce made one change to the side which lost at Chelsea last Monday as Joelinton replaced Dwight Gayle in attack.
It was an unconvincing start from the Reds as Newcastle started brightly belying their lowly league position.
David Ge Gea had to make an athletic save to turn over Joelinton’s shot which was looping in after taking a deflection off Victor Lindelof.
A wayward pass out of defence from De Gea was intercepted by Joelinton who ought to have taken aim rather than squaring a ball to Jonjo Shelvey who blazed over.
It needed something special to spark United to life and Rashford provided that just short of the half hour with a fabulous solo effort for his 18th goal of the season.
Harry Maguire released Rashford on the left from where he cut in past Emil Krafth and fired low inside goalkeeper Karl Darlow’s near post.
Newcastle equalised six minutes later following another fabulous solo effort.
Saint-Maximin had an effort superbly turned over by De Gea, but it was the briefest of reprieves.
From the resulting corner, Maguire’s headed clearance found Saint-Maximin whose side-footed a shot into the top corner from 10 yards, displaying brilliant technique for only the Frenchman’s second goal of the season.
Saint-Maximin was relishing the Old Trafford stage and early in the second half called De Gea into action with a smart stop.
United, still second best, somehow regained the lead in the 57th minute through James.
Rashford and Matic combined on the left and the latter’s cross was helped on by Bruno Fernandes for James, free and unmarked at the far post, to fire home his fifth goal of the season, and three in three games, from six yards.
It reignited United and moments later Anthony Martial’s fierce shot was beaten out by Darlow.
United made their first change with 21 minutes left as Martial made way for Mason Greenwood wo this week had signed a new four-year contract.
The Reds sealed victory in the 75th minute through a Fernandes penalty which was awarded for a trip on Rashford by Joe Willock. It was his 22nd goal of the season and seventh penalty.
Suddenly there was a swagger to United’s play, a marked contrast to almost the opening hour.
In the latter stages Maguire had a header well saved by Darlow as they could have won by a wider margin.
United by a double late change handing a debut to Shoretire and bringing on Juan Mata for James and Rashford.