The pressure on Paul Pogba and Manchester United was marked. Another win for Manchester City earlier in the day had given Pep Guardiola’s relentless side an 11 point lead over their rivals before a ball had been kicked at Old Trafford, and their superior goal difference might end up being worth another point.
So there was little, if any, margin for error for Jose Mourinho’s men, and certainly no place for the slipshod defending that characterised a chaotic opening 45 minutes when the hosts fell behind after another moment to forget for Victor Lindelof only to show the character, perseverance and no little quality to claw themselves into a 2-1 lead on the stroke of half-time.
But even then they were grateful Newcastle made a hash of a golden opportunity to draw level with seconds of the first half to play, a moment that will have left Rafael Benitez tearing out what little hair he has left.
In truth, Newcastle did not deserve to be behind at the break. Their pace and purpose on the counter troubled a disorganised, makeshift United back four missing their injured first choice centre-half pairing of Eric Bailly and Phil Jones.
Lindelof’s Premier League career had amounted to 68 minutes before this and if he was hoping to make a better fist of things than he had in the 2-1 defeat against Huddersfield, when he was at fault for both goals, his wish was short-lived.
The game was only 13 minutes old when Newcastle silenced the home crowd. Jacob Murphy’s ball down the right channel was controlled by Dwight Gayle and laid off into the feet of DeAndre Yedlin.
While Gayle peeled off and made a dart for the penalty area, Yedlin charged down the line and cut inside before having the awareness to pull the ball back for the advancing Gayle.
Lindelof should have intercepted at that point but proceeded only to lose his footing, stumble and watch embarrassed from the deck as Gayle stroked a fine first time finish from 10 yards across David De Gea’s reach and in off the far post. There are slips and there are clumsy landings and Lindelof belonged in the latter category.
Newcastle should have been two goals to the good before Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba sparked the fightback. Jonjo Shelvey may have been overlooked by Gareth Southgate for England’s friendlies against Germany and Brazil but he underlined his credentials with a brilliant, almost blind pass that zipped in behind Smalling, trying and failing to organise the defensive line. Murphy was live to it but his shot sailed just wide of the far post. And then Manchester United’s rallied.
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