Not quite Howay 5-0 but a win that feels just a sweet right now.
Four months since Newcastle United last managed a win in front of those faithful fans who turned out once more, 52,309 in fact, but one that was worth the wait.
From back to front, from the first minute to the last, from manager to every last Geordie in the ground today, BRILLIANT.
With no Slimani again due to injury, Rafa would hand a first start to Dubravka, and what a decision that would prove to be.
STARTING XI: Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Diame, Kenedy (Atsu, 84), Perez (Hayden, 94), Gayle (Joselu, 80)
Where to start?
How about at the end. A 1-0 win gave Newcastle United the only result that would lift them back out of the bottom three having fallen into the drop zone following a combination of results yesterday and a 4-1 win for Huddersfield earlier in the day.
Any win against a Manchester United side, sitting second in the table and boasting a cast of players NUFC could only dream of now, was always going to require a combination of desire, heart, luck and a little bit of quality in front of goal, Oh yes, lots of that stuff.
And Newcastle were up for it from the start. And within the first five minutes they could have been ahead. A foul on the left corner of the box resulted in an free kick from Gayle that was blocked into the path of Shelvey who’s fierce drive would be brilliantly tipped wide by DeGea.
A couple of minutes later Perez would then drag an effort wide from inside the ‘D’ when surrounded by opposition players.
But it wasn’t the number of attempts for either side that would perhaps be the telling factor in this one, more the battle for the centre of the park. And in that departments Newcastle won the game hands down. So much so that Pogba would get the hook and Matic is due to climb out of Diame’s pocked some time early next week.
For Diame and Shelvey would be immense. The sort of imperial displays you would associate with the great Manchester United teams of past decades under Ferguson. Mourinho said Newcastle fought ‘like animals’ during this one and he wasn’t wrong. Quicker to every ball. Harder in every tackle. Faster with every run. The Shelvey who sometimes worries us was a yard quicker than ever. As for Diame, we saw the lad who’s turned up in the last few weeks again, not the one of earlier in the season. And long may that continue.
Manchester United did have their chances of course, with Sanchez looking looking a different quality to those others in red all game. Man U’s best chance of the first half also raised the biggest cheer from the home crowd after Anthony Martial looked certain to score after racing clear of the Newcastle back line only to find debutant Dubravka an impregnable last line of defence. More on the giant Slovakian later.
By the half time whistle there as a growing feeling that perhaps there was something there for Newcastle. The better team in the first 45 but Manchester United always looking dangerous and surely would play better in the second period.
And the visitors did come out of the blocks the quicker in the second half. Sanchez first with a shot blocked from the left side of the area then, moments later, managed to get around the rushing Newcastle keeper but with an empty goal to aim at he couldn’t get the ball out of his feet quick enough allowing Dummett to make a wonderful goal line clearance to keep the score at 0-0.
Manchester United knew they were in a fight though. Using every trick in the book to try and force a winner. One ‘trick’ that didn’t fool the referee however was a totally unnecessary dive from Smalling on the half way line, trying to con the ref into thinking that Shelvey had tripped him. Oh how he will wish that his punishment for that indiscretion would have stopped at the yellow he was flashed by Craig Pawson.
Instead the resulting free kick would be one the defining moments in the tie. Free kick from Shelvey, knockdown by Lejeune (outstanding throughout) and a flick from the hard working Gayle would find Ritchie totally unmarked 6 yards out and in the centre of the Manchester United box. GOAL!!! And how the fans and players celebrated.
Wit the clock then on 65 minutes it was now a case of game management and squeezing ever last ounce of energy out of tanks that were starting to run on empty.
Manchester United now rattled would at least throw everything forward. Wave after wave of attacks sporadically separated by a Newcastle United counter attack would be a test of mental strength as much as anything else.
Try as they might they could not find a way past this defence, sometimes formed of 10 outfield players, and typified by a double goal line clearance from Gayle to deny Martial again.
And then they did find a way past those in black and white they couldn’t find a way to beat a new hero in blue. For Dubravka was immense between the sticks. Making 3 point blank saves that would ultimately release a wave of joy and relief around St James Park the like of which is saved to such monumental performances and such significant results.
No point in trying to name a man of the match either. Whilst it is quite possible to highlight a select few for special praise it is perhaps most apt to just say this one was down to the sum of the parts being greater that a team of individual stars. To that end, lets badge them all as heroes and enjoy a couple of weeks of sitting up in 13th.