‘Fortune was not on Manchester United’s side tonight,’ Jose Mourinho told journalists at the post match press conference with an enigmatic shrug of frustration. ‘We deserved at least to share the points.’
There seemed little more the manager wanted to say… but the untold story of Newcastle United’s 1-0 victory was a tale of missed Manchester opportunities and a tenacious Newcastle team that for long stretches of play actually dominated their more illustrious opposition.
Playing away from home in front of 68,300 hostile supporters, Newcastle were on the back foot early as Manchester United began is ominous fashion. Silky smooth passing and sweeping movements wide down the sidelines had the visitors stretched in the opening stanza. Rattled, Newcastle weathered the opening storm and then struck back with a counter-punch that would prove to be the knock out blow.
In the 21st minute, man-of-the match, Mikel Merino latched onto a loose midfield ball and drove forward for Newcastle on a counter-attack. Merino was Newcastle’s best player, and his overlapping run against a narrow Manchester United defense threw the home team into disarray.
Merino then looked up to find Ayoze Perez lurking in the middle of the pitch, surrounded by red shirts. Miraculously Merino threaded a perfect centering pass for the Newcastle striker to run on to. Perez took the ball into the penalty box leaving defenders in his wake. But his shot was parried by David De Gea, deflecting back tamely for Perez to shoot again. The second attempt was from just 6 yards out. The Newcastle striker made no mistake and – to the stunned horror of the Old Trafford faithful – Manchester United were a goal down
Merino on the ball looks up and sees Perez lurking. The centering pass was sublime and Perez seized his opportunity to put Newcastle United into the lead.
The passages of play following the goal were a test of Manchester United’s character, and to their credit, the Red Devils remained composed… until the 38th minute when a highly promising raid down the left wing was cut wickedly short by a cynical challenge from a Newcastle United defender. Manchester had momentum, and the Newcastle defense was stretched. The attack was ominous until the tackle… but inexplicably the incident was not called by the referee, who instead allowed Newcastle to regain possession and refused to blow his whistle for the blatant infringement. The home crowd roared their disapproval and the echo of booing resounded around the stadium and followed the officials into the sheds at half time with Newcastle’s lead still intact.
At the break, Mourinho went to his bench and changed formation, hunting a goal. He switched to a 3-4-3, adding strike power to his attack at the expense of security at the back. It was a bold move, and a telling sign of how the home team planned to approach the second half.
Yet Newcastle too were unwilling to allow the match to drift, and in the 60th minute they almost snatched a second goal after a long midfield switch of play from left to right caught the truncated three-man Manchester defense out of position. Once again it was Ayoze Perez who threatened as he scythed through the desperate cover defense and stormed inside the penalty box. Only a brave diving save at the feet of the striker by the Manchester United keeper saved a near certain second goal.
Heroic: De Gea dives at the feet of Newcastle United’s Ayoze Perez to prevent an almost certain second goal.
Five minutes later, Manchester United had their own chance at the other end of the field after a raid down the right wing and a neat through-ball saw Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic find space at the top of the box. The tall robust striker took a touch to balance himself, but as he pulled the trigger to unleash a shot on goal, a Newcastle defender made a miraculous tackle that diffused the danger.
Desperate defense: Newcastle United defenders converge on Zlatan Ibrahimovic to stifle a shot on goal.
As the ignominy of a home defeat closed in on Manchester United they took more risks – threw more men forward in attack. In the 78th minute that desperation almost backfired completely when a De Gea clearance was intercepted by Newcastle United and the ball played forward quickly. Ghana midfielder Christian Atsu found himself on the ball for Newcastle on the edge of the penalty box with De Gea hopelessly out of position.
It was a simple matter to tap the ball into the open goal… but Atsu hurried his shot, and missed, leaving the full time score as a 0-1 victory to Newcastle United.