Sunday 11 February 2018

Match report: Newcastle 1-0 United

Matt Ritchie's second half strike punished a profligate United performance and lifted the Magpies out of the bottom three and into the relative safety of 13th. Rafa Benitez's side were dogged and resilent and - after Alex Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku all missed clear openings, Ritchie's finish from 15 yards on 65 minutes proved decisive in a smash and grab raid for the St James' Park side . It was United's second successive away defeat agead of two more fixtures on the road against Huddersfield in the FA Cup and Sevilla in the Champions League.

Newcastle came into this tie as one of ten sides in the thick of a relegation scrap, having not won at St James' Park since October. In a bid to avoid an immediate return to the Championship, Benitez handed a debut to January signing Martin Dubravka, the goalkeeper on loan from Sparta Prague. It proved to be an inspired decision, with the Magpies indebted to a string of fine saves as the Reds controlled much of the match for long periods. 
Dwight Gayle went close with a free-kick early on before man of the match Jonjo Shelvey was denied by a stretching David de Gea on the rebound. 

Ayoze Perez flashed a shot wide from distance, before Lukaku picked out Alexis who returned the ball to the Belgian, but he failed to make the most of the chance. Jesse Lingard fired straight at Dubravka, before the Slovakian came to his side's rescue again on 35 minutes. Nemanja Matic played in Martial with an inch-perfect through ball, but his side-footed finish was kept out by the legs of the advancing Dubravka. Martial again had a chance with a header from Lukaku's cross, before the hosts had a penalty appeal waved away when Gayle went down under a challenge from the hapless Chris Smalling in the box.

Lukaku has enjoyed a strong scoring record against Newcastle but this was not to be his - or United's - day.  He went close again on the stroke of half-time when Alexis linked up with Paul Pogba to pick out the striker, but his deflected effort could only clear the crossbar. He then had a goal correctly chalked out when he headed in from close range, but referee Pawson ruled he had fouled Florian Lejeune. Then came United's biggest opening of them all, with Lukaku again involved. Sanchez latched on to his through ball and looked certain to score having rounded Dubravka, but Lejeune snuffed him out superbly with a lunging challenge as the Reds started to wonder if this was to be their day. 

The sucker punch came against the run of play when Smalling was comically booked for diving, and then failed to clear Shelvey's resultant set-piece, which dropped for Ritchie who slammed in an excellent finish from 15 yards. 
The Reds laid siege to the Newcastle goal but the Magpies continued to hold firm as Ashley Young's effort was palmed away by the excellent Dubravka, who enjoyed a superb debut. Martial was then somehow denied twice in quick succession when the Slovak blocked his flick and Jamaal Lascelles threw himself in the way to turn away the follow up. 
United forced a flurry of late corners which almost led to a dramatic leveller, but it was not to be as Jose's winless run on Tyneside - he's never won at St James' Park - continued.

Overall team performance: 6.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Romelu Lukaku


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