Magpies look fit to fly clear

Guy Hodgson on the problems facing Manchester United as they prepare to face the Premiership leaders tonight

Christmas, according to Manchester United's manager Alex Ferguson, does not decide a season but it certainly shapes it. By that measure his own team have metamorphosised into something giving cause for concern.

The state United find themselves in at Old Trafford tonight as they prepare to meet the Premiership leaders, Newcastle United, in one of the formative matches of the season, is such that an infusion of extra personnel might be required. They look, in short, awful.

Losing to Liverpool could be written off as a bad day at the office (particularly for Ferguson whose decision to leave his midfield without a ball winner was misguided) but that match was a part of a trend confirmed by their defeat at Leeds on Christmas Eve. Just three points have been accrued from the last five matches and Newcastle have a massive advantage now of 10.

That would be bad enough going in against leaders who are out of a trough and playing with zest and imagination again but United will be without their foundation, their centre-backs Gary Pallister and Steve Bruce, both of whom will be missing for the forseeable future.

Ferguson has several options including moving Roy Keane back or employing the on-loan French international from Bordeaux, William Prunier, but none appears a convincing argument to put up against the rampant scoring of Les Ferdinand or the trickery of Peter Beardsley and David Ginola.

"It has become a big game for us," Ferguson said with measured understatement. "There's nothing wrong with our confidence, things are just not going our way at the moment and we've been unlucky with injuries. It's not the youngsters who are picking up the knocks but the experienced ones."

Injuries to young players can be a blessing because it gives them a rest and helps them through dips in form but even United's prodigies cannot compensate for such losses as Pallister, Ryan Giggs and, until Elland Road, Keane. The team looks short in invention and pygmy-like in defence.

Indeed just about the only things to soothe Ferguson's mood in the season of goodwill has been the re-appearance of Keane and a glimmer of light in the dark self-questioning that Andy Cole has inflicted upon himself.

The conviction in Keane's return from a hernia operation against Leeds was staggering given that he had not played since 4 November and it required a virtuoso performance from Tomas Brolin to prevent him being the outstanding player on the pitch. "The man's desire to win is incredible," Ferguson said. "There's not a player who can touch him."

There was not a player whose touch had deserted him so completely as Cole but his goal against Leeds provoked a transformation. It was as if United had brought on a substitute as their striker, a lonely and out- of touch figure hitherto, suddenly started raining shots on goal. But for Mark Beeney's reflexes he could easily have had a hat-trick.

Newcastle, of course, know more about Cole's menace than anyone - particularly Mancunian supporters - but it is unlikely to worry them given their form against Nottingham Forest on Saturday.

Ginola was brilliant, both playing through the middle and on the left flank, while Robert Lee is unlikely to go into his shell like he did at Old Trafford last season. Kevin Keegan is in the happy position of knowing that even defeat will leave his side with a substantial lead, although he may well protect his advantage by playing a back five with the former United player, Keith Gillespie, making way for an extra defender.

"It's only three points," the Newcastle manager said, "but if we win it will put a massive gap between ourselves and the team I regard as our closest rivals. They have to go for a win and maybe we can profit from that."

Given United's defensive problems, he is probably right. Newcastle should get a draw, at least.

FERDINAND v COLE: A story of two strikers

Newcastle's visit to Old Trafford tonight will see the spotlight fall on two of the Premiership's leading strikers, Les Ferdinand (left) and Andy Cole (right). Cole left Newcastle for Manchester United a year ago and it was not until the summer that Kevin Keegan found his long-term replacement, signing Ferdinand from Queen's Park Rangers. Although Ferdinand has enjoyed the more productive season, statistics show that Cole was marginally more prolific in his early days at Newcastle and has a better goals-per-game ratio.

Les Ferdinand

Lge FA LC Eur Oth Tot

1987/88 0 (1) 0 0 (1) 0 0 (1) 0 (QPR, Brentford loan)

1987/88 0 (3) 0 0 0 0 0 (3) (Brentford loan)

1988/89 0 0 0 0 0 0 (QPR)

1989/90 2 (9) 0 0 0 0 2 (9) (QPR)

1990/91 8 (18) 0(1) 2(2) 0 0 10 (21) (QPR)

1991/92 10 (23) 0 0(2) 0 0 10 (25) (QPR)

1992/93 20 (37) 2(2) 2(3) 0 0 24 (42) (QPR)

1993/94 16 (36) 0(1) 2(3) 0 0 18 (40) (QPR)

1994/95 24 (37) 1(3) 1(2) 0 0 26 (42) (QPR)

1995/96 8 (18) 0 3(4) 0 0 21 (22) (QPR)

Total 98 (182) 3 (7) 10 (17) 0 0 111 (206)

Andy Cole

Lge FA LC Eur Oth Tot

1990/91 0 (1) 0 0 0 0 0 (1) (Arsenal)

1991/92 3 (13) 0 0 0 1(2) 4 (15) (Fulham, loan)

1991/92 8 (12) 0 0 0 0 8 (12) (Bristol C, loan)

1992/93 12 (29) 0(1) 4(3) 0 1(6) 17 (39) (Bristol City)

1992/93 12 (12) 0 0 0 0 12 (12) (Newcastle)

1993/94 34 (40) 1(3) 6(2) 0 0 41 (45) (Newcastle)

1994/93 9 (18) 0(1) 2(5) 4(3) 0 15 (27) (Newcastle)

1994/95 12 (17) 0 0 0 0 12 (17) (Man Utd)

1995/96 3 (15) 0 0(1) 0(1) 0 3 (17) (Man Utd)

Total 93 (571) 1 (5) 12 (11) 4 (4) 2 (8) 112 (185)


Ferdinand: 3 goals in 8 games Cole: 0 goals in 1 game

TOTALS (including international record)

Ferdinand: 114 goals in 214 games Cole: 112 in 186 games


Ferdinand: 1.87 Cole: 1.66


Ferdinand: 26 goals in 42 games

Cole: 27 goals (15 for Newcastle) in 34 games


Ferdinand has played 22 matches for Newcastle, scoring 21 goals.

Cole scored 22 goals in his first 22 matches at St James' Park

One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all