Manchester United 3 Newcastle United 1
Daniel James can be maligned but his strike here was precious. It lifted a stuttering Manchester United who went on to kill off Newcastle courtesy of Bruno Fernandes's 22nd goal of the season. It means Ole Gunnar Solskjær's side remain 10 points behind Manchester City and can retain some hope of catching them.
For Newcastle this was an eighth defeat in 10 games and they hover three points above 18th-placed Fulham. Steve Bruce has to turn this form around soon or they may end up in the Championship next season.
At kick-off United’s demand was clear: win a first league game since the second day of the month or, surely, wave goodbye to City and accept the challenge was to improve on last season’s third place.
Solskjær made five changes from the 4-0 win against Real Sociedad on Thursday, with James retaining his place and making his first Premier League start since St Stephen’s Day.
The manager's assistants Michael Carrick, Kieran McKenna, Mike Phelan and Richard Hartis were absent, Solskjær saying that "as a precaution we have isolated some coaching staff". It meant Nicky Butt, Mark Dempsey and Lee Grant, a reserve goalkeeper, taking their place.
Bruce, whose sole switch was to bench Dwight Gayle for Joelinton in attack, had obviously ordered his side to press early as they hemmed United in and claimed a corner. Eyebrows had raised when David de Gea was picked by Solskjær as he has again been unreliable and was to prove again. The goalkeeper is unsafe under a high ball, and when Jonjo Shelvey miscued a cross from Miguel Almirón's short corner it turned out to be the perfect ploy.
De Gea jumped and flapped and United just about escaped. Calamity threatened again when De Gea aimed a pass out, but only to Joelinton. He tapped the ball to Shelvey who – to Bruce’s visible disgust – skied the shot.
The home side were surprisingly muted considering the rout of Sociedad only three days before. Fernandes hit a free-kick straight at Karl Darlow, then James drove a low ball again too close to Newcastle's keeper: two examples of sloppy attacking.
Better were two quick breaks that featured Luke Shaw, yellow shirts being scattered as first James then Marcus Rashford pinned Newcastle back. Yet, each time, conviction was missing around the penalty area.
A further, more glaring illustration came when James was played in by Fernandes and should have produced am instant shot. He dithered and the chance for the opener was gone.
Now, though, Rashford showed how to do it with a goal of sparking individuality. The No 10 received the ball on the left, nutmegged Emil Krafth, and when the right-back recovered Rashford sprinted round him again and beat Darlow with a fierce finish squeezed in - to the keeper's fury - at the near post.
Krafth will also have felt embarrassed but he had a part in Newcastle’s equaliser. Here, any red shirt nearby backed off, before Maguire finally made a challenge and a corner was won by the visitors.
That led to another when De Gea tipped over Allan Saint-Maximin's shot and United's latest defensive horror show took place. Shelvey took it to Almirón before Joseph Willock sent in a cross. Maguire's attempted back-header clearance was amateurish, and there was Saint-Maximin to score, De Gea contributing with a lack of athleticism. Newcastle deserved to be level as the second half began but, surely, there would be a reaction from United.
What occurred initially was another Shelvey dead ball and another weak Maguire header which he directed behind him. Next, a careless James header caused Nemanja Matic to foul Willock, and the free-kick went close to bringing Newcastle’s second: when the ball went to Saint-Maximin his effort had to be saved low by De Gea.
United still misfired. James wandered up his latest blind alley, gave the ball away, hunted it back down, then nearly overhit a simple pass to the anonymous Anthony Martial.
Then, Rashford tormented Krafth once more only to refuse a chance to cross with his left and the opening was gone. Newcastle, though, were about to commit their own defensive mishap: Jamal Lewis missed a Matic pass that went across the area and a composed James struck for a third goal in three appearances and a total of six in 12 – a healthy ratio.
After Rashford drew Willock into fouling him for a penalty with more quick feet, Fernandes beat Darlow to his right, and the match concluded with a two-minute senior United debut for Shola Shoretire, a 17-year-old forward. - Guardian