Newcastle upset the odds on Sunday by beating Manchester United 1-0 at St. James’ Park courtesy of second-half Matt Ritchie goal.
The result meant that Jose Mourinho still hasn’t won a game there since coming to English football, and all but sends the Premier League title to the Etihad Stadium if it wasn’t already going there.
Newcastle started the game like a team needing a result from the game, and fashioned two early chances to get the home crowd behind them from the off. A Dwight Gayle free-kick was deflected into the path of Jonjo Shelvey, who stung the palms of David De Dea from the edge of the box. That was followed by a snapshot effort from Ayoze Perez which didn’t go close but definitely allowed the crowd to find their voices.
It took United a good 20 minutes to settle into the game, with Romelu Lukaku’s strong hold-up play allowing Alexis Sanchez and Anthony Martial into the match.
A huge chance fell the way of the Frenchman in the 35th minute when he was played through on goal by Nemanja Matic. He bore down on goal at speed from the right but was thwarted by loan goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, who had an impressive first 45 minutes in front of his new supporters.
Martial then had a more difficult chance to score in the air after some more good work by Lukaku down the left channel.
Newcastle should have been awarded a penalty moments later though after a very clumsy challenge by Chris Smalling on Gayle. The striker was played through and got there before the England centre-back, who took him down in the very corner of the box, only for it to be waved away by Craig Pawson.
Lukaku had a decent chance on the stroke of half-time after Sanchez nodded a long ball down into his path, but the Belgian’s attempt was blocked and the subsequent corner dealt with easily by Dubravka to end the half.
The second half saw United have the ball in the back of the net through Lukaku within seven minutes, only for it to be chalked off for a push by Smalling in the build up, and one from Lukaku himself.
Lukaku, heavily involved in the game, then slipped in Sanchez who rounded Dubravka, but was denied a certain goal by Florian Lejeune who had tracked back fantastically.
United may have looked more likely to score in the early stages of the second half, but it was Newcastle who struck first through Matt Ritchie.
Jonjo Shelvey’s floated free-kick was knocked down into the path of the winger who found himself completely unmarked at the penalty spot. He finished with aplomb, prompting Jose Mourinho to hook the ineffectual Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard.
The goal certainly instilled a sense of urgency into United, with them dominating possession and Rafa Benitez’s side soaking up pressure inside their own half.
Perhaps an indicator that Newcastle would go on to win the game came in the 76th, when Smalling knocked a high ball down for Martial, who has denied twice in succession from the six-yard box number of Newcastle defenders.
Some late United pressure ensued, and Dubravka made an amazing last-gasp save to cement hero status for a fine debut, and the defiant hosts held on for what is arguably their most important victory of the season. They’re now up to 13th in the table with a little bit more breathing room.
Newcastle were fully worth the victory on the day, with Shelvey having one of his best games of the season for the Magpies. The former Liverpool star dictated the play at times tremendously, and deserved to be on the winning side.
For United, yet more poor defending has cost them points and they are now back to 16 points behind leaders Manchester City, and must look over their shoulders at the chasing pack.