The wisdom is that a point is no good for a team in Newcastle’s position. Not this one. This was an absolute gold dust point, a great point, a superlative point, a point well made, in fact.
And maybe a turning point, too. Newcastle were 2-0 down, then drew level; went 3-2 behind, and equalised. Paul Dummett’s mighty strike, in the 90th minute, could yet transform their season.
He is a local lad, Dummett, which makes his intervention all the sweeter. Newcastle should be a team of local lads, really, rather than this rag-bag of imported proteges, the north east of England a mere stopover halfway to the next destination. Through history, the calibre of players from this region has been remarkable, yet Dummett is a rarity. Maybe that will change, in time. Priority is to survive in the Premier League, and on Tuesday night made that a more realistic prospect.
Naturally, in this most unpredictable of seasons, it seems only fitting that a game billed as an encounter between two teams with a scoring allergy should end 3-3 and provide one of the thrill rides of the campaign.
Yes, there were a couple of dubious penalties given — and a couple of more convincing ones not, particularly when Jesse Lingard appeared to fell Daryl Janmaat in the first half — but the scoreline would have been higher if not for some outstanding goalkeeping from David de Gea, and some pretty woeful finishing at either end. Lingard, certainly, should have done better when set up by Ander Herrera in the 54th minute.
United went 2-0 up in 38 minutes. The first seemed a harsh call by referee Mike Dean. Yes, it was handball. Yet the proximity of Chancel Mbemba to Marouane Fellaini when the Belgian headed the ball would have earned him the benefit of the doubt with some officials. Not Dean. He pointed to the spot and up stepped Rooney. He had taken a penalty in the last minute to win Saturday’s FA Cup third-round tie against Sheffield United, but it didn’t faze him. Different corner, same outcome. Goalkeeper Rob Elliot was given no chance.
United played with more swagger after that, Anthony Martial and Ashley Young combining particularly well on the right, and Rooney always involved. Yet, as is so often the case with United, possession did not convert to opportunity. It took until the 26th minute, when Dummett looked to have handled amid a goalmouth scramble, for United to threaten again. Dean was having none of it this time, but it hardly mattered. Soon after, United widened their lead.
The goal showcased the enormous potential in this United side, if only Louis van Gaal could release it. Mbemba once more made the fateful error, giving the ball away in midfield to Morgan Schneiderlin, but the sheer speed of Manchester United’s counter-attack felt like a blast from their past. Schneiderlin hit Ander Herrera, he played the ball through to Rooney and the captain was off like a shot, four Newcastle men in pursuit, turning Fabricio Coloccini inside out, before hitting an exquisite reverse pass into the path of Lingard. His finish was a thing of beauty, too — the ball planted through Elliot’s legs — in what appeared to bring a premature end to the contest.
Fortunately, Newcastle begged to differ. Neutrals and Reds may have seen little chance of revival, given that Newcastle had not scored since December 19, but there has been a frailty in Manchester United’s back line of late and it was there again when a ball into the box from Coloccini caused unnecessary uncertainty. Fellaini failed to make the distance with his clearing header, the speed of Georginio Wijnaldum’s arrival did not register with Chris Smalling, and the Dutchman’s shot was powerful and accurate. Newcastle’s dander was up and they could have levelled early in the second half with greater efficiency. Coloccini was the provider again, and Moussa Sissoko comfortably outstripped Young but could only force another save from De Gea. Suddenly, it was Manchester United in retreat.
The equaliser was a second controversial award by Dean. It came after a familiar bout of penalty area wrestling — Smalling and Aleksandar Mitrovic coiled together, grappling — but Dean had the Manchester United man pegged as the transgressor. Hard to tell, really, but Dean was certain. Mitrovic took the penalty perfectly. He needs a lucky break every bit as much as his team-mates.
And then, the goal that Rooney and Manchester United felt had won the game. It came in the 79th minute, set up by Memphis Depay, introduced once again as an impact substitute. Just as he won the penalty that knocked Sheffield United out of the FA Cup on Saturday, it was his run and blocked shot that sent the ball into Rooney’s path.
Credit Rooney though, who saw, not an attack thwarted, but a scoring opportunity, the ball sitting up for him 25 yards out. He put his right foot through it and, wow. It was a goal from the old days, so retro it could have come from a time when he didn’t have hair. At once, Rooney looked again like a striker of unlimited potential, Manchester United a team that could turn a game on its head with one magical vignette.
We could only feel pity for Newcastle; yet they fancied a revival, too. The goal was simple enough. Smalling made the defensive header, Dummett came roaring in and belted it past De Gea from range. It needed something special to beat him, as ever.
Rooney and Van Gaal agreed it was a draw that felt like defeat, while McClaren said it felt like three points, not one. ‘People said we lacked character, but we kept fighting to the end,’ he said. Indeed, they did. They must build on this against West Ham on Saturday, if the point is not to be moot.
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