Double dose of Rooney proves just the medicine for United

Newcastle United 1 - Manchester United 3
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The Independent Online

All honeymoons end but Graeme Souness's relationship with Newcastle United is threatening to head straight into a loveless marriage without the usual hand-in-hand walks through the park which normally come in between.

All honeymoons end but Graeme Souness's relationship with Newcastle United is threatening to head straight into a loveless marriage without the usual hand-in-hand walks through the park which normally come in between.

This was Newcastle's fourth straight defeat and that it was decided by a dubious and fiercely contested penalty would have cut no ice with those streaming away from Gallowgate. Newcastle have had a decade of moral victories. The hard, cold truth is that they have now conceded as many goals as Blackburn which tells its own story; one of a club that sold its best defender to Real Madrid without giving a thought as to how Jonathan Woodgate would be replaced.

If Manchester United's strikers wanted a team to regain their confidence against, recent history would have pointed them Newcastle's way. When Wayne Rooney drove Titus Bramble's desperate clearance off the line back into an unguarded net three minutes into stoppage time, it was the 22nd goal they had scored against Newcastle in seven matches.

For Newcastle, much of the anger sprang from the fact that the penalty was awarded two minutes after Alan Shearer had scored a glittering goal that should have given Newcastle the platform to force victory. Instead, Rooney forced his way past Andy O'Brien, who slipped - or was pushed according to Shearer - and sent over a cross that Shay Given palmed away with one glove and then clattered into Paul Scholes as he made another grab for it. Ruud van Nistelrooy's conversion was unsavable.

"We are all bitterly disappointed in the dressing-room," Shearer said. "I was 50 yards up the pitch and I could see the push on Andy O'Brien. The referee was 10 yards away and he doesn't. Maybe he was under pressure because of all the complaints Alex Ferguson made about not being awarded a penalty against Manchester City."

That Rooney would be the afternoon's decisive figure was grimly predictable. In a classic case of softening up your public, the Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd, anticipated Rooney's arrival on Tyneside by stating that he had been "24 hours" from signing England's greatest footballing talent. He did not do so and yesterday's match was in truth far closer than the race between Newcastle and Manchester United to prise Rooney from Everton.

Although Bramble allowed him an undue amount of space, Rooney's first goal, seven minutes into the match, was smartly taken as he met Darren Fletcher's drive into the area with a first-time shot. Then, Manchester United were as dominant and determined as a side that began the day 14 points off the lead had to be.

Minute by minute, Newcastle dragged themselves back, although they appeared to be hampered by the system Souness employed that saw too many moves disappear down dead-ends. Craig Bellamy, to general astonishment, found himself stationed on the left wing.

Since Bellamy had let it be known he dislikes playing on the right wing, to have wound up on the other flank, where the Welshman is if anything more uncomfortable, was a surprise as was Souness's reply when asked why he was playing there. "Because I asked him where he would prefer to play." Laurent Robert has hardly been a popular man on Tyneside but yesterday the whole stadium began chanting for him to be recalled to the left wing.

The second half saw Bellamy on the opposite flank and it was his run, diverting Rio Ferdinand away from Shearer, that helped set up of one of his captain's finest goals in his eight years at St James'. Having wrestled the ball from Wes Brown, Shearer cut inside; Ferdinand went with Bellamy, Gabriel Heinze slipped and Shearer caught a glimpse of the net, shooting under Roy Carroll's body. It should have been savoured but, instead, Newcastle found themselves almost immediately chasing the game once more. They never caught up.

George Graham, who began his career on Newcastle's books, remarked that the easiest job a manager has is to arrest a club's decline. The difficult bit is dragging them back up. The theory is holding true for Souness.

Goals: Rooney 7 (0-1), Shearer 71 (1-1), Van Nistelrooy 74 (1-2), Rooney 90 (1-3).

Newcastle United (4-3-1-2): Given; Carr (O'Brien, 18), Bramble, Johnsen, Bernard; Bowyer (Dyer, 55), Jenas, Butt, Bellamy; Kluivert (Robert, 63), Shearer. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Ameobi.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Carroll; G Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre (Brown, 57), Heinze; Ronaldo (Smith, 84), Fletcher (Giggs, 75), Keane, Scholes; Rooney, Van Nistelrooy. Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Saha, Smith.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

Bookings: Newcastle: Bramble, Johnsen.

Man of the match: Rooney.

Attendance: 52,320.

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