Goalscorer: Matt Ritchie 65
Newcastle United: Martin Dubravka, Paul Dummett, DeAndre Yedlin, Jamaal Lascelles, Florian Lejeune, Mohamed Diame, Jonjo Shelvey, Kenedy (Christian Atsu 84), Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle (Joselu 80), Ayoze Perez (Isaac Hayden 90)
Manchester United: David de Gea, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Nemanja Matic (Scott McTominay 77), Paul Pogba (Michael Carrick 66), Jesse Lingard (Juan Mata 66), Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial, Alexis Sanchez
Referee: Craig Pawson, Attendance: 52,309
Whilst Manchester United’s chances of catching Manchester City in mid-February 2018 were slim to nil, the Red Devils were locked in a tight battle for the runners-up spot with outgoing champions Chelsea, Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur.
Jose Mourinho’s side travelled to Tyneside to face Newcastle United, who following Huddersfield’s 4-1 victory over AFC Bournemouth earlier in the day, kicked off in the bottom three. Rafa Benitez’s team were in desperate need of a result, having not won infront of their home supporters since beating Crystal Palace 1-0 in October. This meeting also brought together the old foes Mourinho and Benitez, whose rivalry during the Chelsea/Liverpool FC showdowns of the previous decade were spiky to say the least.
Mourinho began with the same starting XI that had lost to Tottenham at Wembley just under a fortnight earlier but whilst they struggled to muster anything clear-cut on that evening, they did create plenty of opportunities here. However, they ran into Martin Dubravka, who was in inspired form on his first-team debut. Dubravka had signed on-loan from Sparta Prague and he showed agile reflexes throughout to deny the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial.
Despite not having as many opportunities, Newcastle worked tirelessly for their manager. They ran further than their opponents in the 90 minutes, clocked up more sprints and closed down the space relentlessly on United’s more dangerous players. Romelu Lukaku had a quiet afternoon, whilst Paul Pogba cut a forlorn figure as he was outfought by Jonjo Shelvey in the midfield battle before being substituted for Michael Carrick in the 66th minute.
60 seconds earlier, Newcastle got their big chance and seized the moment. From Shelvey’s free-kick, Pogba was easily outmuscled in an aerial duel with Florian Lejeune. Lejeune’s header found Dwight Gayle, who flicked the ball cutely into the path of the onrushing Matt Ritchie. The Scottish international drilled his shot beyond David de Gea and sent the home support into a wave of joy and delight. It was Ritchie’s first goal of the season with his 43rd shot of the campaign.
Dubravka continued to deny Manchester United after that moment and Newcastle held on for a priceless victory. Mourinho sportingly congratulated Benitez afterwards and admitted Newcastle had fought “like animals.” Defeat here left Manchester United 16 points behind Manchester City and that deficit increased by the end of the season. It also meant another winless trip to St James’ Park for Mourinho, who has failed to win any of his seven previous visits as a Premier League boss.
Newcastle rarely looked back after this fantastic victory. They lost just once at home after this day and finished a creditable 10th.