Following their disappointing defeat at the hands of Blackburn on new years eve, United looked to quickly bounce back with a trip to St James’s Park to face Newcastle United. Having not lost to the Tyneside club since 2001, United were confident of reducing the 3 point gap on league leaders city to merely goal difference, going into the second half of the season. However, with Demba Ba having scored 14 goals already this season, United’s defensive woes of late would have to subside in order to get a positive result. Rio Ferdinand alleviated some of the pressure by returning to the side along with Wayne Rooney, as Antonio Valencia continued at right back in an auxiliary role.
With a boisterous home crowd roaring them on, Newcastle began the game very brightly, putting pressure on Anders Lindegaard, replacing David De Gea, with a barrage of long balls into the penalty area. United however looked dangerous on the break, and brought the first save of the game as Nani’s curling effort was parried by Tim Krul, nearly into the path of the onrushing Rooney. The Portugese winger was beginning to find some joy down the right hand side, as United looked to break the deadlock, but the final ball was constantly letting the reds down. This was telling, as Giggs’ perfectly weighted through ball was poorly controlled by Rooney, who had the goal at his mercy if he could have brought the ball under. United were made to pay on the half hour mark, as an arrowing Tim Krul long ball was nodded on by Shoala Ameobi, and expertly volleyed home by Demba Ba past a helpless Lindegaard to leave United facing another mountain to climb at the half time interval.
Any words of wisdom issued at half time were quickly out the window, as Yohann Cabaye produced one of the goals of the season just 2 minutes after the restart, curling a sublime free kick from 30 yards into the top corner and all but condemning United to a second successive defeat. With their tails up, Newcastle ramped up the pressure on a creaking United, who instead of rallying in typical fashion to mount a classic comeback, appeared to be wilting. The introduction of Danny Welbeck brought some respite for United, who nearly found an unlikely way back into the game as Nani’s cross was flicked on by Welbeck to Rooney, whose side footed volley was frustratingly cleared off the line by ex red Danny Simpson, preventing an inevitable United siege in the final stages. For all their possession, United were failing to find the target with the frequency required to get back into the game, and with Demba Ba constantly harassing the United back four, the reds were unable to build sustained pressure from the back.
Another insipid United display culminated in a farce, as with only stoppage time remaining, a seemingly harmless long ball down the middle was nodded by Phil Jones into his own goal, leaving United well an truly beaten and 3 points off the pace at the top. Next up for United, the small matter of a trip to Eastland’s to face Manchester City in the FA cup 3rd round.
Lindegaard – 5 Could do nothing for goals, but unconvincing display.
Valencia – 6 Attacking force but vulnerable defensively.
Ferdinand – 5 Couldn’t live with Ba’s movement and pace.
Jones – 3 Shocker, but will be back.
Evra – 4 Constantly exploited by Newcastle.
Nani – 4 Couldn’t get into the game.
Carrick – 5 Regressed back after positive performances.
Giggs – 4 Willing but not able.
Park – 4 Inept performance, not needed in these sorts of games.
Rooney – 3 Looked horribly out of sorts.
Berbatov – 3 Unlucky to not score with header, only touch in final 3rd however.
Welbeck – 6 Immediately improved attacking threat.
Hernandez – 4 Constantly offside.
Anderson – 5 Provided some drive.