Tempers flare as United strengthen grip on title
Ronaldo involved in bizarre tunnel row during his side's 2-1 win over Newcastle
Thursday 05 March 2009
Winning ugly is not an accusation levelled often at Manchester United but on a night of swirling drama at snow-spattered St James' Park, that was literally the rebuke directed at Cristiano Ronaldo during an alleged bizarre half-time confrontation in the players' tunnel between the European Footballer of the Year and the Newcastle United full-back Steven Taylor. Moments after Taylor wrapped his left arm around Ronaldo's neck, then cleared out Michael Carrick – for which Taylor was fortunate to be shown a yellow card – Ronaldo and Taylor squared up and Ronaldo informed Taylor that he is a "rubbish footballer". According to an eye witness, Taylor hit back with: "And you're ugly." Ronaldo repeated his statement and Taylor repeated his before Rio Ferdinand and the referee Steve Bennett intervened. Ferdinand was an outraged figure on the pitch.
It was all part of a compelling give-and-take night on Tyneside, at the end of which the champions had reasserted their seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League. United, however, were shaken by a Newcastle side giving their best display since the opening day of the season, when they drew 1-1 at Old Trafford.
"Steven was a bit headstrong in his endeavour to pull Ronaldo back," the Newcastle coach, Chris Hughton, said of Taylor. Asked if he thought Ronaldo had been hit in the face, Hughton replied: "Anybody who has seen the incident will see Steven's made contact with the top of his [Ronaldo's] shoulder and his neck."
The collision had the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, pacing down the touchline and he spoke afterwards of his players' "grit". They needed it. Newcastle were unrecognisable from the motley crew that lost at Bolton on Sunday and, as Hughton said, "took the game to them, took the lead, came close to a second, got pulled back to level terms and still had enough to cause them a threat".
Newcastle went ahead through Peter Lovenkrands after only eight minutes. Released by Schalke in January and recruited for nothing by Joe Kinnear, the Dane was on hand to tap in after Edwin van der Sar spilt a diagonal shot from Jonas Gutierrez. "Edwin himself says he made a mess of it," Ferguson said of the goal. "We could have been 2-0 down actually. It was a hairy spell for us." But Wayne Rooney equalised on 20 minutes and 11 minutes after the interval, Dimitar Berbatov scored what proved to be the winner following an ugly error by Steven Taylor's namesake Ryan.
"It wasn't a great performance," Ferguson said. "We got off to a terrible start and Newcastle were pumped up for it. We expected that and we should have dealt with it better. Coming from 1-0 down was a good result for us. It required a lot of grit."
The victory was United's 11th in succession in the league. If they maintain this sort of form, with their game in hand, they are set to seal an 18th league title, equalling Liverpool's total, in early May. There is a beguiling – for United – possibility it could be clinched at home to Manchester City.
For Newcastle, however, for all their spirit last night, a first top-flight relegation since 1989 is a real possibility. Stoke moved above them last night, Hull and Tottenham away from them. Blackburn got a point. Newcastle, who have one win in 10, next go to Hull. Michael Owen should return for that and Owen said: "The game at Hull City on Saturday week is shaping up to be our cup final."
Latest in Sport
Paul Scholes: Manchester City paid the price for not dealing with Barcelona's Sergio Busquets
Arsenal vs Monaco: Theo Walcott 'involved in spat' with fans after Champions League defeat
It's time to stop the 'small club' jibes after Chelsea signed £200m Yokohama deal
Paul Scholes: Jose Mourinho's attempt to influence football's decision-makers is not working. In fact, it may have backfired
After record-breaking £5.136bn Premier League TV deal, why are Everton the only British club to win in Europe?
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 What color is The Dress, white and gold or blue and black? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
- 5 Fearne Cotton quits Radio 1 after ten years for 'family and new adventures'
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia