Rooney is left frustrated as United suffer Cup hangover
Newcastle United 0 Manchester United 0
Wednesday 20 April 2011
Once more Manchester United failed to impress on the grand stage but, unlike at Wembley on Saturday, the dressing-room walls of St James' Park were safe.
The hole left in the wall in one of the national stadium's dressing rooms – for which the club has apologised – was a sign that defeat against Manchester City had stung. This was a mere disappointment, although as he prepares for his last stand in the north London derby, the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, might wonder how a side that has won as many away games as Blackpool could be cruising to the Premier League title.
Significantly, Ralf Rangnick, the coach of Schalke, based in Newcastle's twin town of Gelsenkirchen, would have watched this game from the directors' box and perhaps been less afraid of Manchester United. A first-half performance like this on the banks of the Ruhr might be punished rather more severely than it was on Tyneside. Schalke have Raul to lead their attack, Newcastle have nobody with the class to fill a No 9 shirt.
Manchester United had plenty. Wayne Rooney averages more than a goal a game here, and tried to reprise his stunning volley that settled a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford half a dozen years ago. But late in the second half his attempt was only good enough to whistle into the Leazes End. Another struck Cheik Tioté in a place that would have flattened most men. The Ivorian barely flinched while Rooney often seemed to be teetering on the brink of dissolving with rage.
Midway through the second half, Patrice Evra set up Ryan Giggs with a wonderful cut-back only for Giggs to screw a shot that screamed "goal" wide. The Welshman flashed a wry, ironic grin. Even banished to the stands, Sir Alex Ferguson noticed that a Newcastle defender had just touched the ball, which had the effect of fractionally putting Giggs off his aim.
Then came Michael Owen, whose lacklustre displays and enormous salary in a Newcastle shirt still linger painfully on Tyneside. He was howled down while Javier Hernandez's greatest contribution was to get himself booked for diving. If he did fling himself to the pitch in search of a late penalty, it is the first unworthy thing he has done since exchanging Mexico for Manchester.
Few imagined Dimitar Berbatov, Manchester United's No 9, would start this game. Like Ruud van Nistelrooy and Dwight Yorke before him, he has learnt there is no telling when the coldness that marks Sir Alex Ferguson's displeasure might be felt on your cheek and he had made a mess of his return in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
However, few thought the man who is still the Premier League's leading goalscorer would fail to appear at all. He did travel to Tyneside but felt unwell on the morning of the match while Rio Ferdinand was not risked because of a calf strain.
It would have been tempting to say that the diffident, elegant, cigarette-smoking Bulgarian was not missed. However, this was a night that craved the kind of cleverness and inventiveness Berbatov displayed in the first half of the season.
After a distinctly uncertain first half Manchester United, presumably invigorated by Ferguson's words in the interval, gradually exerted a measure of increasing control over proceedings. All they really required to extend their lead over Arsenal's now faint challenge to nine decisive points was someone to finish things off.
Alan Pardew had suggested that Manchester United might be intimidated; not the Newcastle manager acknowledged, by the patched-up team he was able to field but by the atmosphere St James' Park might generate.
The season has probably passed the point where fear can be seen sauntering through a Manchester United dressing room – Rooney and Giggs were chatting among themselves as the teams lined up – and on paper they have come through fiercer cauldrons than this.
However on an otherwise gentle spring night by the Tyne, the masses in the Gallowgate had plenty to shout about. It may have been a decade since they last overcame Manchester United in an electric bare-knuckle fight that finished 4-3; their team may have been wrecked by injury but they displayed an often ferocious determination to prevent this match becoming a procession many had predicted. They are, after all, a team that has held both Arsenal and Chelsea here and beaten Liverpool.
In the stands, the old wounds surrounding Alan Shearer were picked open and left to bleed. In Newcastle they will never forget he turned Ferguson down to come home; in Manchester they always remember he won nothing by doing so. Had Pardew possessed a striker of Shearer's quality, they might have taken the lead before the interval.
However, Andy Carroll, the man who should have inherited Shearer's kingdom, had been sold to Liverpool for £35m and when Peter Lovenkrands was given the kind of free header the giant, pony-tailed Geordie might have buried, the Dane steered it limply wide.
The cross was provided by Joey Barton, who seemed anxious to use a big night to back up the statements about his own ability that somehow found their way into the pages of a French magazine. Barton may be a man with an ego but on nights like these, his talent seems too obvious to deny.
So is that of Jonas Gutierrez, who this time was deployed in midfield and showed Newcastle's intentions early by cutting past first Nani and then Michael Carrick before shooting low. There was a header from Fabricio Coloccini and a shot from Tioté, although Manchester United's defence, without Ferdinand, coped.
That Nemanja Vidic was unflustered surprised nobody. Few defenders win awards but the Manchester United captain, beaten to the PFA Footballer of the Year title by Tottenham's Gareth Bale, deserves some recognition.
Alongside him was Chris Smalling, who against Marseilles in the Champions League, had demonstrated he was rather more than Ferdinand's understudy and did so again in another city where life is measured out in football.
Man of the match Tioté.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee L Probert (Gloucestershire).
Manchester United Saturday, Everton (h); 1 May, Arsenal (a); 8 May, Chelsea (h); 14 May, Blackburn (a); 22 May, Blackpool (h).
Arsenal Tonight, Tottenham (a); Sunday, Bolton (a); 1 May, Man Utd (h); 8 May, Stoke (a); 15 May, Aston Villa (h); 22 May, Fulham (a).
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