As the dust settled, or was washed away by the Lancashire rain, the most salient fact from a wild afternoon was that against 10 men – Jonas Gutierrez was sent off with 15 minutes left – Manchester United had squandered the opportunity to make up significant ground on their neighbours City, who play at Liverpool this afternoon.
The gap will be a daunting seven points if City succeed, United having been denied a fourth straight 1-0 victory by a dreadful penalty decision that allowed Demba Ba to equalise Javier Hernandez's fortunate opening goal. As Hernandez then had a tap-in disallowed for a marginal offside in the fourth minute of added time, the home majority in Old Trafford's largest crowd of the season slouched home feeling deeply hard done by.
Sir Alex Ferguson was naturally among them. "I don't think anyone in the ground thought it was a penalty, apart from the assistant referee," he said. "The referee gave a corner and he was nearer to it.
"Why can't he overrule it when he is only eight yards away? It was an absolute travesty. The problem is the assistants are not full-time even if the referees are. Whether he ever gets a game again, the assistant referee, is not for me to decide, but it was an absolutely shocking decision. It costs you. Two years ago, when the linesman gave the offside goal against Chelsea it cost us the League, so hopefully we're not saying that at the end of May."
United's players, who could be in trouble for surrounding the officials at the time, channelled their own fury into a more impressive half-an-hour than they had earlier managed and forced Newcastle back for the rest of the game, but without tangible reward.
Well beaten by City last week, Newcastle can hardly have been looking forward to visiting Old Trafford, where they have now failed to win in 28 games dating back to 1972. Yesterday was different, however, as their manager, Alan Pardew, agreed. "Manchester City beat us with a bit to spare," he agreed. "But the performance today was outstanding. We were heroes at the end because when you get a guy sent off you've all got to pitch in."
He praised his "Geordie heroes", the Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul having become an adopted one this season and joining the defiant captain, Steven Taylor, in holding the fort as United dominated following the penalty. Before that, there was enough to suggest that if Newcastle are unlikely to sit as high as third place again this season, they can find a comfortable berth in the top half of the table and challenge to bring European football back to St James', or whatever we are now supposed to call it.
Krul needed to make only one save, from Ryan Giggs's flick, before a quiet game burst into life early in the second half. Hernandez having been fouled 20 yards out, Wayne Rooney hit the free-kick, which rebounded back to him for a second effort; this one bounced off Steven Taylor on to Hernandez and into the net. Well might the devout Mexican have said his little prayer of thanks. Devout or not, he must have been tempted to utter a curse when the assistant referee convinced Mike Jones to award a penalty for Rio Ferdinand's fair tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa. Ba calmly slotted his kick past David De Gea.
The pace had become relentless, the incident constant, and all of it took place in Newcastle's half. In the 78th minute Gutierrez, already shown one yellow card, lunged in on Nani and received another. From the free-kick, Nemanja Vidic's header demanded a superb save from Krul, who then turned away a drive from the outside of Evra's foot. Hernandez set up Ashley Young to shoot against a post, and following a short corner the former United full-back Danny Simpson saved acrobatically on the line from Hernandez.
On came Federico Macheda, a striker for a defender, and his first touch was a header just over the bar. Into added time, the heroic Steven Taylor blocked Young's effort, and then Michael Carrick's touch left Hernandez a fraction offside as he appeared to have scored one of United's famous late winners. Not this time. City will begin to feel that fate is for once clad in sky blue.
Manchester United (4-4-2): De Gea; Fabio (Smalling, 90), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra (Macheda, 88); Nani, Carrick,Giggs, Young; Rooney, Hernandez.
Newcastle (4-4-1-1): Krul; Simpson, S Taylor, Coloccini, R Taylor; Obertan (Ameobi, 65), Guthrie (Perch, 74), Cabaye, Gutierrez; Ben Arfa (Lovenkrands, 80); Ba.
Referee Michael Jones.
Man of the match Krul (Newcastle).
Match rating 8/10.
Fergie fears for his young ones
Sir Alex Ferguson says he doesn't want his promising youngsters playing for Great Britain at next year's Olympics if they have already appeared at Euro 2012.
Great Britain play their opening game at Old Trafford on 26 July, less than four weeks after the end of the European Championship.
The United manager says he "wouldn't like to see our young players who might be involved in Euro 2012 then selected for the Olympics".
However, he sees no problem with the 37-year-old Ryan Giggs, who has missed out on major tournaments, taking part in the Games if the Welshman wants to.Reuse content