Manchester United vs Newcastle match report: Brilliant Wayne Rooney scores twice to fire up United's unlikely title challenge

Manchester United Newcastle: Rooney's double got the ball rolling for United before he set-up Robin van Persie for a thrid

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The Independent Online

This is how Manchester United won games for years and years until the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era ended with a crash last season and any old team ended up coming to Old Trafford with the impertinent belief that they might just win the match.

Alan Pardew’s Newcastle were one such club who beat the home side here last season but 12 months on they looked as far away from doing so as at any point over the Ferguson years. Newcastle had a bright start and a decent penalty shout denied – plus ça change at Old Trafford – then they were undone by the brilliance of certain individuals, Wayne Rooney chief among them, and the game was over.

It was more than a decade ago that Newcastle made a bid to sign Rooney from Everton, triggering the process that would see him join Manchester United in the summer of 2004 and since then he has done nothing to suggest Newcastle’s judgement of him was wrong. He has scored 12 times against the club, including two on this occasion.

 

Captain, and now midfielder, Rooney still has that fortunate knack of arriving at the right moment in goalscoring positions, and it should be said that his first goal was a beauty, a counter-attacking slice right through the heart of Newcastle that was begun and ended by the United No 10. It was also Rooney who looked up eight minutes into the second half and landed a cross on Robin Van Persie’s head for the third goal. 

After Rooney’s first it was rarely less than a cruise for Louis Van Gaal’s team who won their seventh league game in eight. It is not a record which brooks much argument, especially when compared to last season. They are the only side staying close to the top two of Chelsea and Manchester City and in attack they have the kind of quality that can overwhelm any team.

They were missing Angel Di Maria, injured during a warm-up in training on Christmas Eve, the consequence, Van Gaal said later of the pelvis not being “in the right relationship with his leg”. “It was a little bit amazing,” he reflected with Di Maria in the stands and having last started a game against Hull on 29 November.

It is in defence Manchester United continue to look vulnerable and while it no longer mattered that Phil Jones conceded a penalty with five minutes left, it was hardly out of keeping with the rest of his performance. The substitute Papiss Cisse scored on that occasion, a blemish on the record of the defenders Jones, Paddy McNair and Jonny Evans, a back three who still look like they wish they were a back four.

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Wayne Rooney opens the scoring after turning in a Radamel Falcao cross

Pardew bemoaned the state of his injuries, with nine senior players out and what he said was the imperative to sign a striker in January. “We need to score more goals if we are to make an impact in the Premier League,” he said. Manchester United, Pardew said, had “the cutting edge” that his team lacked. “When we were over-committed, they were clinical”.

There was an interesting selection from Pardew in Alan Armstrong, a 17-year-old who was given his first league start. This was never likely to be the most rewarding stage for the boy from the Newcastle academy but he acquitted himself well and was unfortunate that it was on the counter-attack from a shot of his in the first half that the home team scored.

A blocked shot from Armstrong fell to Rooney, well inside his own half, and from there Newcastle never touched it again until it was in their net. From Rooney, it went to Juan Mata on the left and the ball was crossed for Radamel Falcao in the box. He hooked the ball back generously for Rooney, who had continued his run from deep, and the deed was done.

“When a player [Rooney] score two goals and also gets the assist for the third you are happy as a manager,” Van Gaal said. “He is also very happy, I assume. He has the lung capacity to run 90 minutes as a midfielder. That’s why I use him as a midfielder. I also use him as a striker but for the team it is better for now that he plays as a midfielder.”

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Wayne Rooney scores his and United's second of the game

Until then, by far Manchester United’s best attacker had been Ashley Young on the left wing who had left Daryl Janmaat standing on more than one occasion.  As for Newcastle, they could look back with regret on one incident in particular when Mata looked like he clipped the heels of Yoan Gouffran in the area on 14 minutes and referee Mike Jones overlooked the incident.

Padrew said it should have been a penalty, a “bad call” that he said referee Jones compensated for with a “soft penalty” for Jack Colback against Phil Jones later in the game. “He [Mata] ran across the back of a player who is going to head towards goal,” Pardew said. “That was a goalscoring opportunity.”

The second United goal came on 36 minutes when Gouffran played the impressive Ayoze Perez into trouble and the determined Falcao dispossessed him. Jones tapped the ball into Mata’s path and he did an exceptional job of moving across the pitch, waiting for Rooney to move into position and then releasing the ball at the ideal moment for the captain to shoot beyond the reach of Jak Alnwick.

Rooney picked out Van Persie, lurking between Steven Taylor and Janmaat on 53 minutes to head the ball out of the reach of Alnwick for the third goal and from then on it was simple for the home side. Only after Pardew had made changes, Remy Cabella, Cisse and Haris Vuckic coming on, did Newcastle threaten.

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Van Persie scores the third for Manchester United with a perfectly-guided header

David De Gea did come to the rescue with a save on 79 minutes from Perez after both substitute Darren Fletcher and McNair had conspired to create a dangerous situation when there was little on for Newcastle. Jones fouled Colback for the penalty, a careless leg thrust in the way of the midfielder.

Van Gaal will be without Marouane Fellaini and Adnan Januzaj, both ill, for the game against Tottenham and the Dutchman was complaining again about the demands of playing twice in 48 hours. Last January was a ruinous month for United, with four defeats in all competitions. At the moment it is enough for them that there is no prospect of a repeat.

Line-ups:

Manchester United (3-4-1-2): De Gea; McNair, Jones, Evans; Valencia (Rafael, 80), Carrick (Fletcher, 62), Rooney, Young; Mata; Falcao (Wilson, 65), Van Persie.

Newcastle United (4-2-3-1): Alnwick; Janmaat, Coloccini, S Taylor, Dummett (Cabella, 63); Colback, Anita; Sissoko, Perez (Vuckic, 82), Gouffran; Armstrong (Cisse, 63).

Booked:

Manchester United: Van Persie

Newcastle: Taylor, Gouffran

Referee: M Jones.

Man of the match: Rooney

Rating: 6

Attendance: 75,318

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