Despite a number of clear-cut opportunities, a second-half Matt Ritchie strike consigned Manchester United to a frustrating 1-0 defeat to Newcastle inside an ardent St James’ Park on Sunday afternoon.
The Reds, who donned black armbands in tribute to the late Liam Miller, should have been out of sight after Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku all had clear chances, but Ritchie snatched all three points midway through the second half.
Before the game, Jose Mourinho revealed how much he admired Newcastle’s stadium and the atmosphere on Tyneside and the home crowd were nearly on their feet inside five minutes. Dwight Gayle’s free-kick was blocked by the Reds wall before Jonjo Shelvey fired the rebound towards goal which brought a superb right-handed save from David De Gea to keep the scores level.
Ayoze Perez then snatched the ball off Nemanja Matic on the edge of the United box, but he fired wide from 25 yards, before Lukaku played in Alexis out wide at the other end and the Chilean returned the ball to his partner, but the Belgian could not connect sufficiently.
The Magpies came into this one with a winless record at home in the league since 21 October, keeping just two clean sheets in their last 17 matches and the home crowd were slowly sensing a tough afternoon as the Reds began to take a foothold of the game.
Great hold-up play by Lukaku found Alexis again and this time he found the arriving Jesse Lingard who fired low at Dubravka via a deflection. The Reds had a great opportunity to take the lead on 35 minutes through Martial, but he was denied by the debutant Dubravka’s legs when clean through after an inch-perfect ball from Matic.
Martial again had a chance with a header from a Lukaku cross, before the hosts had a shout for a penalty waved away by referee Craig Pawson after Chris Smalling collided with Gayle just inside the box.
Lukaku boasts a formidable record against Newcastle, scoring six goals and registering four assists in nine previous Premier League appearances against the Magpies in his career, and you would have backed him to put United ahead with the Reds second clear-cut chance on the stroke of half-time. Pogba found Alexis, who headed the ball into the path of the Belgian, but our no.9’s effort was deflected over the crossbar.
Lukaku thought he had added to his record against the Magpies seven minutes into the second half when he headed home from Smalling’s assist, but the referee deemed he had pushed Florian Lejeune.
The Belgian striker was in the thick of it again moments later as he played in Alexis who took the ball around Dubravka, but Lejeune came to the home side’s rescue blocking the ball, before United’s no.7 could slide it into the empty net.
The sucker punch came against the run of play as a Jon-Jo Shelvey’s free-kick was nodded on by Lejeune and Ritchie arrived to slide the ball home from 15 yards.
United looked to hit straight back as Young cut in from the left and fired a wicked effort at goal which Dubravka palmed away, before Martial was somehow denied twice by the Newcastle defence from five yards following a corner.
The Reds battled on and so nearly grabbed a last-gasp leveller after a goalmouth scramble, but it wasn’t to be for Mourinho’s men this time.
Newcastle: Dúbravka, Yedlin, Lascelles (c), Lejeune, Dummett, Diame, Shelvey, Ritchie, Perez (Hayden 90+4), Kenedy (Atsu 84), Gayle (Joselu 79).
Subs not used: Darlow, Merino, Manquillo, Murphy.
United: De Gea; Valencia (c), Smalling, Jones, Young; Matic (McTominay 77), Pogba (Carrick 66); Alexis, Lingard (Mata 66), Martial; Lukaku.
Subs not used: Romero, Lindelof, Rojo, Shaw.