Rafa Benitez was making a half-hearted complaint about a foul awarded following a trip by Ayoze Perez on Juan Mata when he glanced to his left.
Completing their stretches and fully stripped were the Manchester United substitutes Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez. It was the 63rd minute. Benitez’s concern immediately altered, and with good reason.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer perhaps knows better than anyone the importance of a good Man United substitute. It was also a reminder of a fairly huge gulf between the top of the Premier League and those in its lower reaches. Newcastle’s number nine shirt has a loan forward in it.
Marcus Rashord drilled the free-kick from fully 30 yards straight at Martin Dubravka in the home goal. It would be generous to say there was possibly a difficult bounce as the shot arrived, but it was unquestionable that the fumble and rebound lit a spark inside the previously misfiring Lukaku.
In front of his new manager, the Belgian pounced, Dubravka hurt a hand in his attempt to make amends, but it was meaningless. With his first touch of the game Lukaku had put his side ahead. It was the 64th minute.
Newcastle are the third lowest scorers at home in the division, with just seven goals from 11 games. The goal felt like it would be part of a victory almost as soon as it hit the net.
Blunting Newcastle's strike force has been such a desecration of club tradition. For all their woes, and a fourth successive victory at the start of a managerial career that brings mention of Sir Matt Busby has to be contextualised - four teams who will be happy enough to start next season in England’s top division - Man United have retained firepower.
Perhaps that more than anything has been the biggest emergence after Jose Mourinho. Solskjaer has let players off their leash, and the result was a victory which ended comfortably and was sealed in the 80th minute.
Both substitutes were involved this time. Lukaku fed Sanchez on the edge of the Newcastle penalty area, there was a clever toe poke to his left and Rashford had an age to pick his spot and cooly shoot past Dubravka. There were chants of ‘Ole, Ole, Ole’ from the 3300 visiting supporter in Level 7 of the Leazes End of St James’ Park.
Their side had started well. Dubravka could only parry early efforts from Pogba in the fourth minute and then from a Marcus Rashford free-kick from distance.
It was in the reshaped defence that Solskjaer’s problems lay and will still need solutions. There remains a nervousness in Phil Jones’ game and Newcastle played on it. Much is made of financial differences but nothing highlighted the gulf better between the sides than the fact the returning central defender, included because of suspension to Eric Bailly and injury to Chris Smalling, cost only slightly less, at £16.5 million, than Newcastle’s front five.
There is always context, but in there, came a fine first half display from Christan Atsu.
Three times he was denied in the opening 45 minutes, first, when David De Gea saved smartly to his left, then when he shot straight at the Spanish goalkeeper and then, with all three opportunities coming in the space of six minutes, when he dragged a shot wide of the far post after a clever cross field ball from Fabian Schar.
Pogba shot wide late in the half and Jones headed on top of the Newcastle net. There were chances for the home side. Atsu shot wide again just before the hour and Perez’s shot after a fine ball from Jonjo Shelvey was blocked by Luke Shaw.
This, however, for more context, was Newcastle’s eighth defeat at home this season. Solskjaer has afforded a major change, but he has done it against Premier League lite.
Bigger challenges await, most notably away to Tottenham on January 13, but that wasn’t being mentioned as he waved his arms in joyous celebration towards those fans of Manchester United. He was met with roars.
Job starts do not come much better.
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