Once Wayne Rooney feasted on Newcastle defences. A decade ago he had driven a volley past Shay Given and into the roof of the Stretford End net, a goal that is still remembered as one of the greatest ever scored at Old Trafford. That evening he travelled down to London to receive his award as the Young Footballer of the Year.
It was not much of a Manchester United side then. Tim Howard was in goal, Alan Smith had been converted into a not-very-effective midfielder alongside Quinton Fortune. It was in the middle of what Gary Neville would describe as “the Djemba-Djemba years” when Sir Alex Ferguson’s touch seemed to have deserted him.
Rooney led from the front then and his manager, Louis van Gaal, had expected him to lead from the front now. He tried manfully enough but, three minutes from the end of the stalemate, he overflowed with the frustration of it all.
Manchester United 0 Newcastle 0 player ratings
Manchester United 0 Newcastle 0 player ratings
1/22 Sergio Romero - 6/10
Little concerned the Argentine as he bagged a third clean sheet of the season.
2/22 Matteo Darmian - 7
The right-back impressed again, but his over-zealousness earned him another yellow card.
3/22 Chris Smalling - 7
More of a presence in the opposition penalty area, he was almost the late difference.
4/22 Daley Blind - 6
Continued to fit effortlessly into the centre of defence.
5/22 Luke Shaw - 6
Always looked to get forward, his left flank partnership with Depay needs work.
6/22 Bastian Schweinsteiger - 6
Demonstrated a neat touch early on, but tired long before his removal.
7/22 Morgan Schneiderlin - 7
The Frenchman continues to look the class act that has been missing from the Manchester United midfield.
8/22 Adnan Januzaj - 5
The young Belgian created little on an uninspiring afternoon.
9/22 Juan Mata - 7
Often United's biggest threat, his final ball wasn't always up to expectation.
10/22 Memphis Depay - 6
Often tried too hard to impress the home crowd, he lacked composure at the vital moment.
11/22 Wayne Rooney - 6
Eager and direct early on, he quickly grew frustrated as his spell without scoring continued.
12/22 Tim Krul - 8
Produced a series of fine saves on his way to a well-deserved clean sheet.
13/22 Chancel Mbemba - 7
Solid at the back and showed glimpses of being a threat down the touchline.
14/22 Steven Taylor - 6
Returned to the team in place of the suspended Janmaat and did well.
15/22 Fabricio Coloccini -8
Put in a captain's performance as United threw everything at the visitors in the late stages.
16/22 Massadio Haidara - 6
Gave as good as he got in his duel with Darmian.
17/22 Vurnon Anita - 6
Struggled to contain United's attacking in the first half, but grew into the game.
18/22 Jack Colback - 6
Never stopped running in midfield even if he rarely got his foot on the ball.
19/22 Ayoze Perez - 7
Often found himself in uncustomary defensive positions, but battled well.
20/22 Giorginio Wijnaldum - 5
Had few opportunities to demonstrate his attacking talent.
21/22 Gabriel Obertan - 5
Was unable to trouble his former club before his booking and substitution.
22/22 Aleksandar Mitrovic - 7
Ran himself into the ground on his own up front and nearly broke the deadlock with a thumping long range header.
Trying to thread the ball through on the edge of the Newcastle area, he was adjudged to have fouled Jack Colback. He swore, he punched the air, he raged. Whether it was because of the dying of his light or the simpler, more prosaic fact that he tends to start seasons slowly only time itself will tell.
This was his 10th game without a goal for Manchester United, who, as they had done against both Tottenham and Aston Villa, enjoyed swathes of possession without ever suggesting they would take their opponents apart.
Van Gaal (pictured) described the display as “one of the best under my guidance”. In one television interview he used the word “fantastic” repeatedly.
In the BT commentary booth, Paul Scholes’s laconic voice responded: “Well, it didn’t look fantastic to me. If you are going to win a title, you should be beating teams like Newcastle at home.”
For the opening 20 minutes, Manchester United were fantastic. They were fast, incisive and direct.
Memphis Depay, continuing from his command performance against Bruges in the Champions League qualifier, tormented Newcastle’s right-back, Chancel Mbemba. Rooney appeared to have swept the ball into the net, only to be correctly called for offside.
Steve McClaren decided to watch his first game at Old Trafford as Newcastle manager from the calm of the directors’ box but, as United poured forward, he could stand it no longer, running down to the touchline to issue some frantic instructions.
They seemed to work. The storm passed and Rooney, ever the street footballer, began foraging deeper and deeper for the ball. He is a great player but he lacks the economy of movement of a Ruud van Nistelrooy or a Robin van Persie, whose departure to play in Istanbul seems to have been the kind of error, his former manager, Arsene Wenger, suggested it would be.
The Stretford End began screaming “attack, attack, attack”, but the uncomfortable truth was that the biggest club in the world seemed to have very little to attack with.
Javier Hernandez, who had seldom been thought of as integral to Van Gaal’s blueprint for United, was brought on as the spearhead and, but for a superb save from Tim Krul, he might have given them a third successive win.
Newcastle’s defence, superbly marshalled by Fabricio Coloccini, deserved better and might have taken more back to Tyneside. Aleksandar Mitrovic struck the frame of the goal with the kind of header that Alan Shearer – whose name was chanted back and forth across Old Trafford in memory of old battles – might have produced.
Then, in the scrambled finale after Chris Smalling had struck the post, Newcastle broke away and Papiss Cisse clipped the ball low across the face of the United goal. Another couple of inches and Florian Thauvin would have turned it in, just as Paul Gascoigne might have done in the semi-finals of Euro 96 against the remorseless Germans.
That tournament was staged the summer after Newcastle and Manchester United has slugged out one of the most epic title struggles in the history of the Premier League.
Newcastle may never get that close again, but, unlike his predecessor John Carver, in McClaren they have a manager with more to offer than his Geordie-ness.
Manchester Utd: (4-2-3-1) Romero; Darmian (Valencia, 77), Smalling, Blind, Shaw; Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger (Carrick 58); Mata, Januzaj (Hernandez, 67), Depay; Rooney.
Newcastle: (4-1-4-1) Krul; Mbemba, Taylor, Coloccini, Haidara; Anita; Obertan (Thauvin, 69), Wijnaldum, Colback, Perez (Tiote, 77); Mitrovic (Cisse, 88).
Referee: Craig Pawson.
Man of the match: Coloccini (Newcastle)
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content