Matt Ritchie sends Newcastle into euphoria and United packing
Second half strike was enough to give the home side a much-needed victory
Newcastle United’s Matt Ritchie celebrates with the crowd after scoring the opening goal of their win over Manchester United. Photo: Lindsey Parnaby/Getty Images
At the end of an afternoon when Jonjo Shelvey really did look worthy of an England place, Paul Pogba appeared a mere mortal and Martin Dubravka shone on his debut in goal for Newcastle United, two things remained unchanged for José Mourinho. Manchester United’s manager had still not won a Premier League game on Tyneside and his second-placed team continued to trail Manchester City, the leaders, by 16 points. For Mourinho’s old rival, Rafael Benítez, though, much had altered by the final whistle.
This timely reminder of Benítez’s coaching abilities represented much more than a rare moment in the sun during what has turned into a painful slog of a season: Matt Ritchie’s well taken second-half winner offered real hope that Newcastle can avoid relegation after all. Kicking off beneath a bright blue, near cloudless winter sky, Benítez’s players looked as crisp as the weather early on. David De Gea was soon required to stretch out a hand and divert Jonjo Shelvey’s goalbound shot, while Mohamed Diamé made dispossessing Nemanja Matic appear deceptively easy.
Yet not for the first time this season Newcastle could not quite convert their chances. How Benítez could have done with Islam Slimani, his new Algeria striker, borrowed from Leicester, recovering from a thigh strain in time to be involved here. With Slimani not even fit enough for a place on the bench Dwight Gayle was offered another run out in the lone striker role but, once again, struggled to convince.
The same could be said for Mourinho’s team. As the clock passed the 30 minute mark they were still to conjure a proper chance and Martin Dubravka, making his Newcastle debt after arriving on loan from Sparta Prague, had not been called into action. A big part of the reason for that was Jonjo Shelvey’s excellence alongside Diamé in central midfield. The moment when Shelvey – who, overall, has proved a big disappointment this season –whisked the ball from Paul Pogba’s toe proved emblematic of an afternoon when Shelvey’s passing afforded Newcastle a rare cohesion.
Eventually though Matic finally woke up to the fact that he and Pogba were being upstaged and got round to unleashing the pass of the afternoon. With acres of space suddenly opening up in front of him, Matic expertly delivered a pass between two defenders for Anthony Martial to run onto. Martial took a steadying touch before shooting but Dubravka proved more than equal to the danger, spreading himself adroitly before tipping Martial’s shot to safety.
That opening arrived in the 36th minute, three minutes after Dubravka’s first significant involvement, namely another impressive save which saw the Slovak tip Jesse Lingard’s shot round a post following incisive approach work from Martial and Alexis Sánchez. If Sánchez, deployed in a largely left-sided attacking role, showed some superior touches, the biggest worry for Mourinho will surely have been Pogba’s rather lacklustre form, epitomised by severely inhibited movement. Granted those clever feet did supply the odd classy pass and, maybe, the midfielder was carrying a minor injury but, overall, Pogba was far from at his best. He will certainly need to raise his game in southern Spain when Manchester United’s Champions League campaign resumes at Sevilla this week.
Benítez clearly harboured similar sentiments towards Craig Pawson, after the referee inexplicably turned a blind eye to what looked a stonewall penalty occasioned by Chris Smalling’s unintelligent trip on Gayle inside the area. Instead no foul was given and Newcastle’s manager was left seething as Mourinho’s side escaped punishment and then nearly scored as Sánchez – a study in quality movement – created a chance from which Romelu Lukaku’s shot was deflected over the bar.
Early in the second half Lukaku, who was having a pretty decent game, succeeded in heading beyond Dubravka but the “goal” was rightly disallowed due to pushes by both the centre forward and Smalling, whose own header across the face of goal had created the opening. Shortly before that another eye-of-the-needle Shelvey pass had sent Matt Ritchie racing into the area, and Ritchie was sent crashing by Phil Jones. This time Pawson’s body language suggested he was set to award a penalty but his mind was changing by the sight of a linesman flagging, correctly, for a marginal offside.
When Florian Lejeune, enjoying a fine afternoon at centre half on his return from a lengthy injury layoff, performed wonders to block Sánchez’s goalbound shot, few Newcastle fans would have imagined that their team were finally about to score.
Yet much to Mourinho’s horror they were. When Smalling was rightly booked for a ridiculous dive, Shelvey’s swerving free kick was headed down by Lejeune and cleverly backheeled into Ritchie’s path by Gayle. All that remained was for Ritchie to beat De Gea with a low left foot shot dispatched into the bottom corner.
Perhaps noting that Pogba had done nothing to subdue Lejeune’s role in the goal, Mourinho promptly hauled him off along with Lingard, thereby prefacing the introduction of Michael Carrick and Juan Mata. By now an initially subdued ground was echoing to the familiar strains of Blaydon Races and, thanks to some at times heroic defending from Lejeune and company, for once the Geordie choir were not destined to be silenced. – Guardian service