Man Utd 1 Newcastle 1: Man Utd begin title defence in disappointing fashion

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The Independent Football

Manchester United's desperate need for a striker was laid bare at Old Trafford as the Barclays Premier League champions began their title defence in disappointing fashion against Newcastle.

Sir Alex Ferguson is unlikely to get too stressed at the loss of two points, given United finished top last term despite collecting only two from their opening three games.

But he ended today's match with Patrice Evra providing Wayne Rooney with support up front.

He will also know that, unless the gap in his desired pool of four forwards can be filled before the transfer window closes in a fortnight, it may be asking too much of his team to complete a championship hat-trick - after they could find only a Darren Fletcher equaliser to Obafemi Martins' early opener.

Normally, a home game with Newcastle would be exactly what United required to begin their title defence.

After all, members of the Toon Army born since 1972 have not lived long enough to see their team triumph at Old Trafford.

Yet this United side look vulnerable, given their difficulty finding a couple of fit strikers.

The return of Rooney was supposed to help solve Ferguson's troubles; instead it merely allowed the United boss to bring in a replacement for Carlos Tevez, who flew back to Argentina following a family bereavement.

That is not to say the inclusion of Fraizer Campbell for his debut had much effect on United as an attacking force.

Campbell was impressive as an individual, and the Red Devils as a whole were a pretty fearful unit in the opening stages before their cutting edge was blunted.

Ryan Giggs could easily have had a penalty when his early free-kick crashed into James Milner, and Shay Given was required to stand firm amid a barrage of United attacks.

At one stage, Given even saved with his head as Paul Scholes flashed a shot goalwards.

The hosts' problems were at the back against a Newcastle side aided in no small part by the excellence of one of their Argentinian new boys Jonas Gutierrez.

Gutierrez's claims for a penalty when he was flattened by Nemanja Vidic were invalid - replays showing the former Real Mallorca player was outside the box - but by keeping the United defence on their toes, he seemed to unsettle their whole rearguard.

Certainly there was no excuse for failing to track Martins as he leapt alone to meet Milner's corner with enough power to send it past Scholes, who was trying to clear off the line.

The pity for Newcastle was that their lead lasted just two minutes.

Evra was getting forward even more than usual and fed Giggs, who struck a low cross to the near post.

In the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo - who was in the stands but will not be seen on the pitch until October - and his suspended compatriot Nani, Fletcher had been given a big hole to fill.

But the Scot is a determined character, and his eye for an opportunity was to be admired as he stole in to steer a first-time effort past Given.

With the second half taking on a similar pattern to the first, United looked as likely to concede a second as score one.

Martins tested Edwin van der Sar from long range - but then so did Campbell as Given stretched once more to keep the youngster's shot out.

As Newcastle's confidence grew, so did United's problems.

Already short of numbers, Giggs had clearly been troubled by his hamstring before he was replaced by young Brazilian Rodrigo Possebon.

If Martins had been able to keep his header down from point-blank range after United had once again got their marking all wrong from a Milner corner, the hosts really would have been in trouble.

As it was, an increasingly tired-looking Campbell tried his luck before Vidic - who had earlier pulled off a superb tackle to deny Gutierrez a clear run at goal - saw his downward header bounce up on to the crossbar.

Rooney floated a cross-shot on to the roof of Given's net near the end and, having also been booked, bent a free-kick round the post in stoppage time.

But Newcastle were hardly under siege as they collected the point they deserved.