Date:Saturday February 23 2008
My happiness over Arsenal dropping points at Birmingham was marred by the horrible injury to Eduardo da Silva - I just hope that, well, he will be able to play football again. There's not a single person on Earth whom I would want to suffer this kind of grievous injury. Get well soon!
But for us the most important thing was that they've dropped two points and we had to capitalise on that. The build-up, inevitably, was around the Ferguson v Keegan duel, the famous 'I will luv it' rant... and I could not help thinking that they might fluke something.
How utterly wrong I was. Newcastle started in a spirited, positive fashion and especially the two wingers, James Milner and Damien Duff were active. However, swinging in crosses to Owen and Smith was a pretty futile excercise so despite Evra's uncharacteristic sloppiness, we were not punished for the slow start.
And then we took control. I liked our starting line-up, with Giggs and Scholes omitted and Carrick paired with Fletcher in central midfield. Carrick is obviously in good form and it was clear from the very first minute as he was a calm, authoritative presence in the middle. However, what decided the outcome was the movement of our front four of Nani, Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo.
The Argentinian looked a bit off the pace but he divided the defenders' attention and the other three were too much for them. We were sometimes over-elaborative in front of goal but the breakthrough was coming, you had to feel that. It was, somewhat predictably, supplied by Ronaldo: this time he swung in a brilliant cross from the left, near the byline after leaving N'Zogbia stranded and Rooney arrived at the far post to hammer home from close range.
Before the goal, Newcastle had a weak penalty shout but replays confirmed that Rio played the ball so Owen was not fouled. And Newcastle were struggling to reply to our goal whilst United's speed on the break threatened to render the game a walkover but Tevez headed above the bar from close range good opportunities were spurned simply because our players opted to pass instead of shooting.
But the Barcodes did not escape the first half trailing with only one goal: this time it was a brilliant, defence-splitting Carrick pass that made the difference and Ronaldo did his homework coolly: I don't think anyone expected him to miss that kind of chance.
The second half started a bit sleepily as Newcastle tried to put us under pressure and our lack of concentration in defence, that was noticeable in the first half, became apparent once again. But they could not take advantage of it and soon it was game over when Fletcher set up Ronaldo beat Taylor brilliantly, rounded Given and slotted home.
The Red machine eased off but comfortably picked Newcastle off on occasions while the home side was struggling. Duff had a good chance but hit it straightly at Van der Sar - who, by the way, was very shaky at corners and crosses - then Milner fired wide from outside the area.
Their big moment finally arrived with eleven minutes from time when substitute Carroll's presence put off Rio Ferdinand at a corner and the ball deflected off the young striker into the path of Faye who made no mistake from close range. A miraculous comeback was not out of reach for Newcastle...
... but Rooney quickly took it out of their hands. United responded by a brilliant counter-attack, Nani setting up substitute Paul Scholes whose header was tipped over the bar by Steve Harper who replaced Shay Given in goal at half-time. The resulting corner was only half-cleared and the ball fell to Rooney who took a step inwards then curled a brilliant effort into the far corner.
Game over but not for Rooney who seemed determined to claim an assist: neat work between him and Saha ended with the Frenchman advancing on Harper one on one but his shot was tipped over the bar by the busy substitute keeper. But Rooney was not to be denied: later, demonstrating physical strength and great ability at the same time, he set up Louis Saha at the end of a flowing counter-attack and the striker made no mistake this time, slotting it home low from 12 yards.
A sweet win: United's travelling fans comfortably outsung the hosts for 90 minutes, our midfield totally dominated - Carrick's passing was a joy to behold again - and the front four seemed unstoppable at times. Newcastle have now conceded 11 times in two games against the Reds - they must be happy that they do not have to face us again. The fact that Fergie could afford to replace Vidic with Scholes with 15 minutes to go speaks volumes about how easy this game was for United...
Our title hopes are well and truly alive once again: we boast a superior goal difference than Arsenal so it's simple: if we win all our remaining games, we'll end up as Champions again. Unless they win 10 out of 11 with greater margins...
Date:Saturday February 23 2008
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