A poor weekend is not expected to turn any worse over the next few days for either Sir Alex Ferguson or Saturday's referee Mike Jones in the wake of the latter's horribly misjudged decision to award Newcastle a match-saving penalty, converted by Demba Ba, and the Manchester United manager's reaction to it. Jones's assistant John Flynn, who convinced him that Rio Ferdinand had tripped Hatem Ben Arfa, when the tackle was a perfectly fair one, may not be so fortunate and could carry the disciplinary can.
Ferguson, who still refuses to attend any press conference after League matches, gave broadcast interviews to the BBC, Sky Sports and United's in-house television channel, the suggestion being that MUTV may have used an edited version to protect him. Last season he briefly stopped speaking to the station after footage they used led to a touchline ban for his comments about referee Martin Atkinson. The strongest remarks on Saturday came on Sky, when he said: "Whether he ever gets a game again, the assistant referee, is not for me to decide, but it was an absolutely shocking decision."
Although infringing rules, as many managers still do, by commenting on officials, that statement clearly qualifies as fair comment. The United manager and the half-dozen players who swarmed round Jones and Flynn were adamant that the referee should have overruled his assistant, but his predicament was plain: although confident enough of his own sight-line to have instinctively indicated a corner-kick, he knew Flynn's full-on view of the incident was a better one and therefore decided to trust his colleague's judgement.
Guidance given to referees is that they can change their mind about a decision on the word of linesmen or the fourth official, but that penalties can only be awarded when one of the four is 100 per cent convinced. The wider benefit will be another boost to the urgent demand for video assistance, although Ferguson said on Friday that he doubts whether even the possible introduction of goal-line technology could be pushed through in time for next season, as the Football Association surprisingly hinted last week.
As for the wider context of Saturday's game, when an opposing goalkeeper and centre-half are emerging as the obvious contenders as man of the match, the ball is being scraped off the line and only crossing it as a fluke, and one of the worst decisions of the season goes against you, then, as Ferguson said in one of his calmer moments, it begins to feel like "just one of those days". The danger for United is that too many more of those and the prospect of pushing Manchester City as hard for the League championship as in the two-horse race of 1968 will quickly recede.
Newcastle, of course, had a part to play on that occasion, losing 4-3 at home on the final day to City, who therefore took their most recent title by two points. Last week Alan Pardew's team were well beaten 3-1 in east Manchester, and in truth they could have suffered a similar sort of defeat on Saturday, but there was much to admire in their football during the first half and defiance in the second after Jonas Gutierrez was rightly sent off. Fabricio Coloccini summed up the spirit with his determination to play despite suffering a back spasm the day before the game, thus enabling his back-four to maintain their unchanged record this season. Alongside him Steven Taylor was again a colossus and Danny Simpson, once of United, denied his former club with a stunning goal-line clearance from Javier Hernandez, who knew little about the goal credited to him with a deflection off Taylor and was then fractionally offside as he tapped in during added time.
Defeat would have been particularly hard on the young Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul, of whom Pardew admitted: "I thought when I first arrived here he still had a lot to do. His first little spell in the team he looked a bit nervous but this year we gave him the belief that he's No 1 and had a chance – 'go and take it'. And really he hasn't put a foot wrong this season, he's grown from strength to strength."
Scorers: Manchester United Hernandez 49. Newcastle United Ba pen 64. Substitutes: Man United Macheda (Evra, 87), Smalling (Fabio, 90). Newcastle Sammy Ameobi 5 (Obertan, 65), Perch (Guthrie, 74), Lovenkrands (Ben Arfa, 80).
Booked: Man U Fabio. Newcastle Cabaye, Guthrie, Ben Arfa.
Sent off: Newcastle Gutierrez (78).
Man of the match S Taylor. Match rating 8/10.
Possession: Man United 53% Newcastle 47%.
Attempts on target: Man United 13 Newcastle 6.
Referee M Jones (Cheshire). Att 75,594.