With the rest of the pack chasing those Champions League places winning, this was one United really couldn’t afford to lose and they left it very late before Ashley Young capitalised on a rare error in the Newcastle defence to take the points back to Old Trafford.
Although the Reds had most of the early possession, there was a tendency to give the ball away too cheaply and certainly an element of good fortune when what looked a foul from Smalling on Riviere in the box went unpunished in the tenth minute.
Although much of United’s approach play was laboured, they did look the side most likely to score in the first period and Rooney in particular passed up a couple of excellent opportunities. When Young set him up in the 26th minute, the forward squandered easily the best chance of the half, screwing his shot wide with the goal at his mercy. Minutes later, Di Maria capitalised on a Coloccini error to feed Rooney in again, but once more the captain failed to make the most of it and Krul was able to smother the ball.
Krul also denied Fellaini’s header just before half-time and the fact that this was the only on-target chance of the half says much about United’s inability to make the most of their superiority. There was also a reminder of the home side’s danger on the break when De Gea was called upon to smother a chance after Riviere had threatened to give his team the lead against the run of play.
Rojo started the second half with an excellent effort from twenty yards that just cleared the crossbar, but at the other end De Gea again needed to save from Riviere following a dangerous Ryan Taylor free kick.
United continuing to carry the greater threat, however, and were denied by a fine double save from Krul, first from Fellaini who’d received the ball after springing the offside trap, before showing great agility to parry Young’s follow-up shot. Once again, however, vulnerability to the counter-attack was apparent when a surge forward from Newcastle saw the United defence outnumbered only for Cisse uncharacteristically to hit wide.
When Krul saved well again from a Rooney header, it began to look like the Reds had blown their chances of taking all three points. However, with one minute of normal time left, Rooney’s persistence in the box led to a poorly judged back-pass to the goalkeeper, whose hurried attempt to clear fell to the feet of Young and the winger showed calmness in placing his shot just inside the near post. Hardly a convincing performance from the Reds, but certainly they were the better side and this may well prove a crucial three points at the end of the season.