Tempers flare as United strengthen grip on title

Ronaldo involved in bizarre tunnel row during his side's 2-1 win over Newcastle

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."

i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower