Newcastle United 1 Manchester United 5: Ferguson basks in brilliant light of shining stars
Monday 25 February 2008
Some day Sir Alex Ferguson will get the credit he deserves. Perhaps it will be when he is gone from Manchester United. A result as comprehensive as this inevitably provoked another outbreak of sneering at Newcastle United and Kevin Keegan, but that should not be allowed to obscure the controlled swirl of the champions' attacking on Saturday night and Ferguson's primary role in assembling both the personnel involved and instilling in them a philosophy that embraces risk and beauty with the overlooked genius of common-sense defending.
Across three competitions in eight days, the FA Cup, Champions League and Premier League, United re-established their authority following the home league defeat by Manchester City on the weekend of the Munich anniversary. That turned out to be an emotional wobble. And City did not oblige as Newcastle did at St James' Park.
"We can say that this week was our week," said a satisfied Carlos Queiroz, Ferguson's assistant. Ultimately United may win nothing this season, though that feels unlikely, but what they continue to represent under Ferguson is to be applauded.
Keegan came up with a brilliantly simple tribute: "They're full of football." Keegan applied that to Arsenal too and both main title contenders are coming to the delivery end of a seven-month gestation period. "The great news is that it's real football teams that are winning. No one can complain and say they're negative. That was a very attacking side we played tonight, with a bench to die for."
John O'Shea, Anderson, Paul Scholes and Louis Saha were the outfield four in the dugout. Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Owen Hargreaves were elsewhere, as were impressive young bucks such as Danny Simpson and Jonny Evans.
Mikaël Silvestre cannot be forgotten. It is a squad of talent, variety, experience and youth, and when they step on the pitch there is also, generally, the courage of their conviction.
In that they are in Ferguson's image. A lot of attention fell on the rubble around Keegan's ankles just six weeks into the job, but it is worth recalling the state of Old Trafford when Ferguson walked in over 21 years ago. With United 19th in the table, the previous home game, the last under Ron Atkinson, was watched by 37,000, some 20,000 short of capacity. Only an extra 5,000 paid to witness Ferguson's first home game – a 1-0 win over QPR. Those were the days.
There had been no league title for 19 years then, but there have been nine from 1992 and there could be a 10th in May. Yet Ferguson is not feted as some national treasure in the way that for instance, Sir Bobby Robson, who won much less, is. Ferguson has too many spikes to be cuddled – his criticism of FC United is not agreeable – but appreciation of his work should not be dulled by the sneer.
It can be argued that buying Wayne Rooney for £30m-odd is no wonder-stroke, but big signings have backfired before and Rooney was exceptional in his skill and endeavour here. He is not regressing.
His 25th-minute opener quelled any doubt that Arsenal's dropped points at Birmingham would not be exploited. Newcastle had displayed some of the self-belief Keegan is so insistent about prior to that, but Cristiano Ronaldo had begun to find his stride.
Until Ronaldo and Rooney overcome a Milan or Real Madrid the highest acclaim will feel premature, but nights like this will keep them in a smooth groove. Newcastle's defence invited derision when Ronaldo converted the second from Michael Carrick's pass just before half-time, but Steven Taylor and Habib Beye were left exposed by their midfield. Joey Barton is yet to play well in a black and white shirt. Damien Duff, also struggling, might have made it 2-1 but Edwin van der Sar blocked and Ronaldo was gifted a third – his 21st league goal of the season. Abdoulaye Faye pulled one back but Rooney bent in a sweet fourth and Louis Saha added a late fifth.
It was emphatic and enlightening and it left Newcastle dry-mouthed, staring at relegation. It left Rooney, Ronaldo and Ferguson licking their lips.
Goals: Rooney (25) 0-1; Ronaldo (45) 0-2; Ronaldo (56) 0-3; Faye (79) 1-3; Rooney (80) 1-4; Saha (90) 1-5.
Newcastle United (4-4-2) Given (Harper, h-t); Beye, Taylor, Faye, N'Zogbia;
Milner (Geremi, 84), Barton (Carroll, 61), Butt, Duff; Owen, Smith. Substitutes not used: Cacapa, Ameobi.
Manchester United (4-4-2) Van der Sar; Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic (Scholes, 74), Evra (O'Shea, h-t); Ronaldo (Saha, 67), Fletcher, Carrick, Nani; Tevez, Rooney. Substitutes not used: Kuszcak (gk), Anderson.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).
Booked: Newcastle United Faye, N'Zogbia, Butt, Owen.
Man of the match: Rooney.
Anticlimax of King Kevin
Under Kevin Keegan Newcastle have played six, lost four and drawn two:
* 19 Jan: Premier League
Bolton (h) drew 0-0
* 26 Jan: FA Cup fourth rd
Arsenal (a) lost 3-0
* 29 Jan: Premier League
Arsenal (a) lost 3-0
* 3 Feb: Premier League
Middlesbrough (h) drew 1-1
* 9 Feb: Premier League
Aston Villa (a) lost 4-1
* 23 Feb: Premier League
Man Utd (h) lost 5-1
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