Newcastle Utd 1 Manchester Utd 5: Rooney and Ronaldo's double act edges Magpies closer to drop zone

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The Independent Football

One of the best days of Sir Alex Ferguson's season, one of the worst of Kevin Keegan's managerial career. That 5-0 Newcastle video from 1996 can go back on to the shelf where it belongs as Manchester United's 5-1 victory last night was of such emphasis and ease that it obliterated memory. All that could be seen was the here and now and while for the champions it is beguiling and full of anticipation following Arsenal's dropped points at Birmingham, for Newcastle it is miserable and the worst may yet be to come.

The day had begun with the possibility that United would end it eight points adrift of Arsenal. It was therefore a potentially pivotal afternoon in the title race. After James McFadden's late equaliser at Birmingham, Ferguson's players had the incentive to make that theoretical eight points a much more realistic three.

But Newcastle had then to be overcome. Despite having battered the managerless Geordies 6-0 last month at Old Trafford, there was still the thought that Newcastle under Keegan might rally, just as they did under Sam Allardyce against Arsenal here in December. How fanciful that proved. This was embarrassingly one-sided from the moment in the 25th minute when Wayne Rooney ran on to a perfect Cristiano Ronaldo cross and volleyed the visitors ahead. On the final whistle, Newcastle had lost 11-1 over two games.

James Milner offered some individual resistance but he plays on the right wing and Newcastle's faults were right down the middle. For Alan Smith, Joey Barton and Steven Taylor, this is a game each will wish to forget. For Rooney and Ronaldo it was the opposite. The Portuguese will be able to recall the 20th and 21st League goals of his season, while Rooney will remember his late beauty with understandable pride. Together with the Arsenal result and the flow of United's display, it left Carlos Queiroz with a "special taste". That home defeat by Manchester City has been dealt with.

For Newcastle this was a seventh defeat in 10 League games, none of them won. It leaves them six points off relegation and facing Blackburn here next Saturday. "We need 40 points and we've got 28," Keegan said. "We need four wins or three wins and three draws. We need to win a match for the players. I think they are an honest group but being honest and caring isn't enough in the Premier League, you need to be clever and streetwise. But I think we have four wins in us. I'm still optimistic."

That was so difficult to believe that Keegan was even asked about his heart for the fight just 38 days after his shock appointment. "This is a club I love, my commitment is absolutely100 per cent," he said. "You can't give more than that."

Keegan had felt that Newcastle had given all they could for those first 25 minutes and, indeed, there would have been something to focus upon had Ronaldo not scored the second on the stroke of half-time. Michael Carrick benefited from a Barton error and had the poise to exploit it. The local boy slid a pass between Taylor and the struggling Habib Beye and Ronaldo took a touch before steering the ball beyond Shay Given.

Keegan thought that was the killer point yet Carlos Tevez squandered a four-yard header four minutes earlier following fleetness of foot from Nani. Nani, Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo, they are not the four horsemen of the apocalypse but the quartet were terrifying Newcastle's defence.

Had Damien Duff converted a good chance seven minutes into the second half, things might have been altered but Edwin van der Sar made a save with his legs and five minutes after that Ronaldo made it 3-0. He hardly requires help but Abdoulaye Faye and Taylor gave it anyway. With Ronaldo having fallen over, Faye gave the ball to Darren Fletcher. His first-time pass found Ronaldo back on his feet and Taylor diving in rashly, as he does. Steve Harper had replaced Given in goal but was unable to prevent Ronaldo rounding him and lifting the ball in.

Faye did at least score for the hosts, belting in a close-range volley in the 79th minute but the prospect of a recovery was snuffed out. Smith failed to make a proper clearance from a corner and Rooney curled a 20-yarder wide of Harper. The goalkeeper still made two fine saves but could do nothing once Louis Saha had profited from some more rank defending. The champions had delivered a statement. Ferguson came up with an understatement: "It was a good team performance." Aye, it was.

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