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Newcastle United produced a dynamic display to see off title-challengers Manchester United in a 1-0 victory, courtesy of Matt Ritchie’s goal.
This was a match where the majority of the Toon army would have settled for a narrow defeat, having had a miserable run against teams in the top half of the division this season, while also losing the reverse fixture 4-1 back in November.
However, Huddersfield’s victory earlier on moved the Terriers out of the relegation zone, with Newcastle in turn dropping down to 18th place; the match now had an extra incentive to it.
Magpies boss Rafa Benitez made a couple of changes to the starting line-up at the back, with January signing Martin Dubravka being handed his debut in the Newcastle goal, while summer signing Florian Lejeune stepped in for the injured Ciaran Clark.
Manchester United boasted a star-studded XI which included new forward Alexis Sanchez, as well as record signings Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku.
It was in fact the black and white United who began the brightest, with Rafa’s men taking the game to the Red Devils for the first 20 minutes.
The Magpies could have been in front after just five minutes when keeper David de Gea saved well from Jonjo Shelvey’s fiercely struck shot after Dwight Gayle’s free kick bounced out to him.
The early opportunity then set the tone for the Geordie faithful, who reflected the passion from the stands on to the pitch.
Forward Ayoze Perez then struck just wide for the hosts shortly after, however it was then Manchester United’s turn to attack after the half hour mark. Debutant ‘keeper Dubravka was kept occupied, tipping Jesse Lingard’s deflect shot around the post.
Dubravka was then responsible for a potential game-changing incident moments later as he denied Anthony Martial one-on-one after the Frenchman was played clean through by Nemanja Matic.
Just before the half-time whistle, the Toon Army thought that the poor officiating that they have been victims of would strike again. This was after referee Craig Pawson waved away Dwight Gayle’s appeal, with the forward deemed to have been brought down by defender Chris Smalling inside the penalty area.
The two teams went in to the break level, with the St James’ Park crowd appreciative of what they saw of their club in the first half.
Manchester United began the second half in the same way Newcastle began the first and they thought they were ahead, however Romelu Lukaku’s goal was chalked off due to a push on a defender; much to the satisfaction of the Newcastle fans.
The Red Devils continued to attack after the break and had another golden opportunity when Sanchez rounded Dubravka. The Chilean however took his time which allowed Magpies defender Lejeune to block his goal-bound effort.
It was then Newcastle’s turn to attack and they broke the deadlock on 65 minutes with a well-worked set piece. Jonjo Shelvey – instrumental all game – lofted a free kick on the head of Lejeune, who picked out Gayle in the box.
Gayle then flicked the ball neatly in to the path of Matt Ritchie who did not break his stride and fired home first-time, sending a sold-out St James’ Park into raptures. It was the Scotsman’s first goal of the season and his first in the Premier League for Newcastle.
The goal resulted in a tense last few minutes, with Manchester United piling further pressure on the Newcastle goal.
After Martial saw a double effort blocked twice on the line and Dubravka forcing a couple of saves close to the death, Newcastle United held on for a precious three points, ending a run of nearly four months without a victory on home soil.
It was an energetic and impassioned performance from the Magpies, with every single player in black and white fighting for the badge.
The Toon executed their game plan with Jonjo Shelvey and Mohamed Diame bossing the midfield ahead of opposition pair Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. Martin Dubravka also had a debut to remember, being vocal and helping to organise his team from the back.
The victory moves Newcastle up to 13th place with eleven games left to play. The required 40 point haul is looking more realistic, while there is no doubt that the victory over the Red Devils will give the Magpies a large boost in their battle to avoid the drop.
Howay the lads.
Written by Dawud Arshad
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