Juan Mata pulls the strings for United
Champions win 4-0 at Newcastle, West Brom off the bottom after 1-0 win at Norwich
Juan Mata of Manchester United congratulates Javier Hernandez after he scored the third goal against Newcastle. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Juan Mata inspired Manchester United to a 4-0 victory at Newcastle which took them into the Barclays Premier League’s top six.
The 25-year-old Spaniard struck twice to take his tally to three goals in his last two games and pay off another slice of his €45 million transfer fee.
On a day when manager David Moyes was without the injured Wayne Rooney, and decided to make eight changes to the side which drew 1-1 with Bayern Munich in midweek ahead of Wednesday night’s return leg, United ran out deserved winners as the Magpies’ early promised dissolved.
The win was not without controversy, with referee Kevin Friend — the official who had to deal with Alan Pardew’s head-butt on Hull’s David Meyler — coming under fire for awarding the free-kick from which Mata gave United a first-half lead.
However, there were no complaints thereafter as Mata extended the lead five minutes after the break and further strikes from Javier Hernandez and substitute Adnan Januzaj wrapped up the victory.
The defeat was Newcastle’s fourth in five league games, a run which has seen them score just one goal, and in truth there was little prospect of them completing a first league double over United since 1931 from the moment that Mata struck.
West Brom put a troubled week behind them with a 1-0 win at struggling Norwich to boost their survival hopes.
Saido Berahino was left on the West Brom bench and James Morrison started in midfield as Pepe Mel’s side showed a united front following reports of dressing room unrest in the wake of last weekend’s 3-3 draw at Cardiff.
There was no late drama in Norfolk though, where a fine goal from Morgan Amalfitano on 16 minutes proved enough to settle what was for most a scrappy affair, although Norwich did twice hit the woodwork in the second half.
A second successive defeat for the Canaries — whose players had offered to refund the away supporters at Swansea last weekend — was met by loud boos at the final whistle, and leaves Chris Hughton’s men still looking anxious over their shoulders ahead of games against Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Hull began their Wembley celebrations a week early with a 1-0 win against Swansea.
The Tigers will play in their first FA Cup semi-final since 1930 in the capital next weekend and will do so with their league status almost certainly assured following George Boyd’s first-half header.
They were, however, made to hang on in a second half when Swansea might have equalised but for a lack of cutting edge as the Tigers appeared guilty of prematurely casting their minds ahead to Wembley.
And former Cardiff star Joe Ledley helped plunge the Welsh club into chronic relegation trouble after scoring Crystal Palace’s second goal during a dour encounter.
Ledley struck 20 minutes from time, in between Jason Puncheon’s double, meaning a crushing knockout blow for Cardiff, who have just five games left to reach safety and avoid a quickfire Championship return.
And on this latest evidence, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team have little chance of recovering as Palace proved excellent value for their 3-0 win at a shellshocked Cardiff City Stadium.
It was Palace’s second successive victory, arriving just seven days after they toppled title-chasing Chelsea, and confirmed a stunning continued revival under their Welsh-born manager Tony Pulis.
Palace, red-hot relegation candidates earlier this season, are now well clear of the drop zone. Cardiff, though, can only dream of such heights after they failed to deliver when it really mattered.
They remain firmly entrenched among the bottom three ahead of next Saturday’s trip to Southampton, and there can be no excuses following an error-strewn and largely passionless effort.
Quite what watching Cardiff owner Vincent Tan made of it all is anyone’s guess, with his team’s brief stay in top-flight English football looking likely to end at some point during the next five weeks.
But Palace remain upwardly mobile under Pulis, who can surely start planning for next season safe in the knowledge that relegation is no longer an issue.